Well. That was fun.
Toronto had no real business winning Saturday night's squeaker in D.C. The Raptors turned the ball over 22 times, relied far too much on isolation and attempted only half the number of free throws they would on a normal night (14 last night, 27.6 season average). But the Wizards' inability to capitalize on Toronto's numerous mistakes and a deftly drawn up end-of-game play allowed the Raptors to push its win streak to four.
Toronto returns home tonight to take on the 7-9 Suns, a team that could provide some problems for the Raptors on the second game of a back-to-back thanks to their deep roster and blistering pace of play. Toronto might just be perfectly equipped to shut Phoenix down though.
Here are three things to watch for in tonight's game:
The Suns roll deep
There aren't many teams more well-suited to exploit teams on the second night of a back-to-back than the Suns. Coach Jeff Hornacek digs deep into his bench with regularity; 12 Phoenix players average more than 11 minutes a game. And it's not as if the Suns' reserves are incapable. Mirza Teletovic is a high-volume, 40 percent three point shooter who sits third on the power forward depth chart behind Jon Leuer and Markieff Morris. T.J. Warren has been awesomely efficient as the team's sixth man. And Alex Len is probably a starting-caliber centre who has been relegated to bench duty with the arrival of Tyson Chandler.
Think of the Suns like a far more talented version of the Boston Celtics. There isn't a massive drop off in the team's play as you roll through its endless bench. Given the Raptors played last night and are essentially using eight players with Jonas Valanciunas sidelined, it could be tough for Toronto's legs to keep up with the running-and-gunning Suns for 48 minutes.
This game should feature a constant struggle over which team will establish the tempo they're most accustomed to playing. Phoenix is a bear in transition, ripping the nets at a clip of 1.23 points per possession when they get out running - tied with Atlanta for the league's most efficient fast break offense.
Phoenix also plays faster than any team in the NBA, racking up 103 possessions per game; they outpace the Raptors by six possessions a night.
That said, the Raptors might be able to hang if the Suns get their way and push the pace. While Toronto is most at home when DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry are driving into the heart of the defense in half-court sets, the Raptors have made the most of their transition opportunities. While they rank 20th in terms of the frequency with which they run, Dwane Casey's squad has managed to be the fifth-most efficient team in the fast break, potting 1.18 points per possessions.
If they're forced run more than usual, there's a good chance they can hold their own thanks to the ever-looming threat of Lowry and DeMarre Carroll draining a three in transition.
Attacking the Suns with Small Ball
Phoenix general manager Ryan McDonough seems to have cracked his team's back court jigsaw puzzle with the duo of Brandon Knight and Eric Bledsoe. The pairing has been tremendously productive this season, combining for 44.6 points, 11.5 assists, 8.2 rebounds and 3.5 steals on better than 40 percent three-point shooting.
Their collective quickness makes them a tough cover. The idea of DeRozan trying to keep in front of the fast and relentless Bledsoe is worrisome in particular.
But because the Suns at their best are undersized, there is an opportunity available for Casey to rely heavily upon his most trusted four-man combination: Joseph, Lowry, DeRozan and Carroll.
Casey isn't one to alter his starting line-up too often, but the match-ups tonight make the prospect of starting the game small at least somewhat interesting. With Lowry on Knight and Joseph guarding Bledsoe, DeRozan can be hidden on the sparingly used PJ Tucker while Carroll handles Markieff Morris, who has been more perimeter oriented than ever this season (just over 20% of his shot attempts are threes), with disappointing results.
The smaller look might be the best way for Toronto to combat Phoenix's funky starting five.
Where to Watch: Sportsnet, 6pm EST
What are you looking for from tonight's game?