The Raptors have been floundering of late, unable to take advantage of the relative schedule softness that has been presented to them. There are obviously a number of reasons for that, injury and a semi-cool off from Kyle Lowry chief among them. No matter how you try to explain it, the Raptors should not be losing by 40 points to the Charlotte Hornets. You’d imagine the panic among Raptors fans would be far more pronounced if the Celtics and Cavaliers weren’t dropping games left and right as well.
With that in mind, the Suns roll into town as the worst team in the Western Conference, and a team very much trapped in between their past and what could be a promising future. They obviously defeated the Raptors before the turn of the new year, so the Suns know full well they have a chance here. Pieces of their surprisingly good Suns teams are still around in Brandon Knight, Eric Bledsoe, PJ Tucker and the like. But that balancing act between playing them and pieces of their future has been a source of frustration for many Suns fans.
Here are some things to watch for:
The Raptors are facing a rash of injuries that have thrown their rotation into a state of flux. While Delon Wright and Jared Sullinger returning to full health is a welcome sight, a variety of ailments to Patrick Patterson, DeMarre Carroll, and co have never let the Raptors get into a rhythm with their lineup. Add in Pascal Siakam hitting the rookie wall, and you see why Dwane Casey has had to get creative with rotations. Who starts today, who comes off the bench, who is even available are all interesting questions.
Kyle Lowry vs. Eric Bledsoe
Quietly, Eric Bledsoe has had a solid season. It was only a couple of seasons back that he was the two-way force in the Suns back-court. While his three point shooting has tailed off, he still stuffs the stat sheet the same way and will make things difficult for Kyle Lowry defensively. Lowry himself has cooled off a little from his astronomical highs (“only” 37% from 3 in the past week and a half).
Jonas Valanciunas, the Big Man
JV is and always has been one of the more talented individual scorers at the big man spot. Casey’s comments to Zach Lowe about Valanciunas needing to physically dominate during his time on the floor in order to earn more minutes and touches definitely lit a fire in him, as JV absolutely dominated on the glass for much of the past two weeks. Valanciunas has two separate instances of grabbing 16 rebounds in the past 5 games alone. With the Suns splitting big-man minutes between Tyson Chandler, Alex Len, Marquese Chriss, and Alex Len, these are the types of matchups JV needs to perform well in. If the Raptors make a concerted effort to find him and he delivers, the road to victory becomes alot simpler.
Where to watch: 6pm EST, TSN 4