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3 In the Key - Toronto Raptors Game-Day Preview vs. Suns

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After now securing two wins in a row, the Raptors roll into Phoenix to try and keep up with a fast-paced Suns team.  Vicious D takes a look at how these two teams will stack up against each other.

I'm sure you guys have heard by now, but I've been in a Fantasy Draft with a bunch of reporters and bloggers over at PeteMarasmitch.com.  When I took Chris Bosh in the first round, I was actually debating between both Bosh and Amare Stoudemire for my first pick.  In the end, I went with Bosh who had bulked up, was in his contract year and was less likely to suffer any huge injury.  And so far, who could be disappointed by Chris Bosh's game this year?

It's the rest of the team that has left us questioning at times. 

Nevertheless, the Raptors roll into Phoenix riding a two game winning streak built on comebacks thanks to some limited effort on the defensive end.  Against the Suns, they'll need a full game's worth of work, but I'm not holding my breath.  These are the Phoenix Suns after all and behind Jason Richardson's newly rediscovered offense, Steve Nash's impeccable leadership, and Amare Stoudemire's athleticism and power, the Raptors will be tested even when firing on all cylinders.  Heck, if past Raptors vs Suns contests are any indication, this game is in danger of working out much like the previous Memphis, Spurs, and Orlando games of this year. 

That is a game with little attention to defense along with tons of high-powered scoring.

Which is why this team has to bend their trends that they've shown so far.  We can talk all we want about the Raptor's defense the past two games, but the Clippers and the Bulls are hardly offensive juggernauts who have two or three options available at their disposal.  The league definitely has more teams with two or three players who can get it going at any game and Phoenix has at least seven players who can score double digits for them on any given night.  These are the kinds of teams that the Raptors have to get better at stopping.  And to pull out a win against these high-powered Suns?  The Raptors will need to focus on these keys:

1)  Personal Defensive Accountability

The Raptors have yet to hold down a team like the Suns because their defense is often effective when they help and collapse on people.  However, against teams like the Suns who create their offense based of finding the open man for a high percentage shot, help defense is the first step towards a Raptors loss.  Defensive accountability for every player is going to be a big factor in this game. Every person has to try to defend their position without help, otherwise the Raptors will be asking for trouble.

2)  Fight the Bench

The Suns have a bevy of bench talent that starts with Leandro Barbosa and ends with young players such as Earl Clark.  Fast, capable of scoring at will, athletic, and with a bit of toughness int the form of Louis Amundson, the Raptors have to be careful as a Phoenix second unit can easily destroy the Raptors as well as the starters.

3)  No Slow Starts

A bad start by the Raptors in this game will lead to the team getting blown out of the water.  There just can be no room for that error against an elite team.  Make no mistake about it, the Suns are one of the top teams of the West thanks to their change back to their free-style basketball.  If the Raptors are once again caught napping at the gate, there will simply be no miracle come back.  The Raptors need four quarters of effort to pull this one out.

For a take on the Suns' side of things, we turn to our weekly "Blogging with the Enemy" feature.

This week we've asked "Phoenix Stan" from the Phoenix Suns' blog, "Bright Side of the Sun" to give his take on Phoenix, and tonight's match-up:

 

1)  RaptorsHQ:  The Suns took the league by storm with their surprising start.  Last season the club disappointed with Shaq Daddy slowing the once high-powered offence to a crawl.  So what’s your take on this team in general?  Is the return to the running game the reason for its early success or are some of Kerr’s moves, (Frye, Dudley etc) and the job Gentry is doing not getting enough pub?

Bright Side of the Sun:  First it is kind of a myth that the Suns have returned to the running game. This team is playing very different from the 04-07 Suns. Those teams relied 100% on their speed and offense. They really did shoot within 7 seconds. This team is much more willing and able to work in the half court and they are definitely more focused on the defensive end and on rebounding which is also slowing things down.

Steve Nash told me recently after beating the tar out of the Hornets that as long as the team is winning and scoring he's fine with less running.

Kerr deserves a lot of credit for building the bench. Jared Dudley was a great pick up and was not a throw-in. Kerr said that he had to be included in that trade so that wasn't just luck. Amundson is another great find and Dragic is looking good so far. Mostly though there was a change in thinking from the D'Antoni days. Kerr decided the team needed to be deeper and better defensively and he went out and made that happen on the cheap.

So yes. Credit to him. But it's going to take a lot of Amundson's to make up for Shaq.
 

2)  RHQ:  Everyone’s talking about Nash being back to his old self but let’s talk about Amare.  Do you think he sticks around Phoenix next year and if so, is it for max dollars?

BSOS:  This is the single biggest decision facing the Suns organization. Much like Chris Bosh's situation, Amare is holding the cards here. He's made a few things clear in his many interviews on the topic. a) He likes it here and feels the Phoenix fans support him b) He wants to be somewhere competitive which is one reason he wasn't keen on being traded to the Warriors in that draft day deal for Biedrens, Curry and friends that fell through. c) He wants to get max money.

For the Suns it's just too soon to say what they will do. I don't think that right now they feel Amare is a max player and likely are skeptical about hitching the wagon to him for the next 5 or 6 years. But at the same time they aren't likely to get a star back in any trade scenario and this isn't a franchise or fan base that has the patience for a long rebuilding project. With Nash signed for a couple of years it really is a pickle. I would think best case is they extend Amare for only a couple of years so that his contract matches Nash's remaining term but that's not going to happen.

My best guess right now is that the Suns won't make a trade at the deadline and that Amare will end up not opting out and we will be right back talking about this again next season when he is in the final year of his contract. Anyone that tells you they KNOW what is going to happen though is on crack.

3)  RHQ:  Keys to tonight’s game; what do the Suns have to do to get the W?

BSOS:  The Suns just need to do what they do. They will be well rested and displeased about getting blown out in LA. The Raptors are putting up a lot of points but I think the Suns match up well. Frye and Amare on Bargnani and Bosh at least physically aren't over-matched like with bigger centers (Howard, Bynum, Oden) and on the wings I am confident that Jason Richardson and his new found defensive focus will do just fine and I will always take my chances with Hill on Hedo.

Obviously, Nash is playing at a tremendously high level and I just want you guys not to feel too bad if he tears the Raptors apart. He's pretty much done that to everyone so far - Paul, Rondo, Chalmers, Evans, Davis, etc...

The biggest advantage for the Suns though is probably the bench. Our four guys have done a great job holding and even extending leads. Dudley and Amundson are bringing it on the defensive and hustle end and Dragic is really looking like a different player than last season. Confident and efficient. Barbosa is a bit banged up with a sore wrist but even without him the Suns are getting solid production from the reserves which is probably as big a factor in the Suns success as anything else.

 

A big thanks to "Phoenix Stan" for the answers and be sure to check out Bright Side of the Sun for their take on tonight's game as well.

We'll be live-blogging as usual so drop by to discuss what should be a very high-scoring and fast-paced match.