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Raptors search for bright side vs. the Suns: Preview, Start Time, and more

After a dismal loss in Los Angeles, the Raptors wrap up a four-game road trip in Phoenix tonight, looking to start a new win streak.

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Toronto Raptors John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s all just forget about Monday, agreed? Also in agreement — that was possibly the most frustrating regular season game the Raptors have played in about a year. Let’s hope it wasn’t a sign of things to come and quickly move on from the disaster together.

With that out of the way, the Raptors should be looking forward to tonight’s game against the Suns, whom they defeated last Tuesday at the ACC, 126-113. The Raptors community may still be reeling following Monday’s loss to the injury-riddled Clippers (a near-guaranteed win in the eyes of fans), but beyond the score, there was an interesting development worth looking at down below.

The Suns, on the other hand, have been marred in a grueling portion of the schedule. They’ve just finished up six consecutive games versus playoff teams, and as expected, struggled throughout that stretch. They will once again be without the services of star guard Devin Booker, who was injured late in the fourth quarter of last week’s game in Toronto.

The Raptors hope to finish their road trip at 3-1 before returning home to host the Nets on Friday.

Here are your details for tonight’s game:

Where to watch:

TSN 9:00 pm

Lineups:

Toronto Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, OG Anunoby, Serge Ibaka, Jonas Valanciunas

Phoenix – Tyler Ulis, T.J. Warren, Josh Jackson, Marquese Chriss, Tyson Chandler

Injuries:

Toronto Delon Wright (soon) Lucas Noguiera (calf)

Phoenix Devin Booker (strained abductor), Brandon Knight, Alan Williams, Davon Reed

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Silver Lining: JV’s Defense

Coach Dwane Casey recently praised Jonas for his dedication to improving his foot speed, particularly on defense — one of the Lithuanian’s biggest flaws. If you looked closely, among the numerous trash bags littering the court, you may have noticed some of the new JV in action on Monday evening. In all, his defensive impact in the last few games hasn’t been anywhere near as bad as the last few seasons.

As a result of his efforts, he played the third most minutes of any game this season (27), and dominated DeAndre Jordan — a perennial All-NBA defender — to the tune of 23 points and 15 boards.

To be frank, he looked like one of the best centers in the league on Monday, even hitting another three-point shot to boot. All of this followed one of his better defensive efforts this season against the craftiest offensive big in the league, Zach Randolph, a night before. While he never put together anything substantial, Jonas showed flashes of potential on defense versus the Kings by simply moving his feet and gaining superior position in the post.

If JV can continue progressing to at least the mean on the defensive end, he should continue to see an increase in minutes, and thus, have a bigger impact on the game.

APB: Find Norman Powell

Norm has been struggling recently, to say the least. When he does manage to stay on the floor, he can’t go more than a few minutes without making a costly error. In Sacramento, he committed a totally unnecessary shooting foul to send Frank Mason to the line because of sloppy defense — falling into the shooter during a haphazard recovery. Just a night later, he attempted a sorry excuse for a layup which failed to make it above the rim entirely. It was a rock bottom type of moment for Norm, who’s been plagued by ineffective performances over the last four contests.

What’s surprising is that he seemed to fit in perfectly with the bench unit immediately after his return from injury. In the five games following his four-game absence, he averaged 13 points, shot 40% from three and 50% overall, and had an average net rating of +7.8 in just 22 minutes a night.

The four games since? 4.3 points, 35% overall from the field, -5.0 average net rating in just 13 minutes a night. He also hasn’t been able to hit a three, going 0-for-7 in that time. Not surprisingly, this is the same span in which the bench unit has shown signs of vulnerability.

But, before you blame his bad play on Casey for limiting his minutes and keeping him from establishing a feel for the game, consider that Powell has come onto the floor in four straight games and immediately made a mistake or missed an opportunity. Whether it’s a wild shot out of rhythm, failing to make the extra pass, or forcing an errant pass when he does decide to keep the ball moving, he hasn’t given Casey a choice here. As a result, his leash has been getting shorter with each mishap.

The fact is he looks completely disjointed on the court right now. He simply needs to get out of his own head and work through the slump, sooner rather than later, because the unit needs his scoring ability. If he can’t, we may have an idea of who Delon Wright will replace upon his return.

Inexperienced Bench Mob

The book may be out — Pascal Siakam can’t shoot, Fred VanVleet struggles to finish when you force him to the rim, Jakob Poeltl will always be called for a foul when you go at him in the post... The Raps’ young core has flaws; it was just really hard to see those flaws when the guys were shining brilliantly.

As a unit, the bench has struggled to match the early season intensity over the last two games. They were showing signs of slipping in Memphis as well. The good news is — teams are respecting the Raptors. The bad news is — we shouldn’t expect an immediate improvement in these areas. Most of the flaws are things that take a year’s worth of practice to get right. Baptism by fire, folks.

Luckily, Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas have been in a great rhythm in that same span. The team is deep enough to weather a drought from any single player on the team. When one guy struggles, another steps up. When that guy struggles, the other is back on track. It’s a great problem to have, don’t get me wrong. We have seen what the team looks like when everyone is on track, and we’ve seen them when nobody is.

The Raptors are a deep enough team to stay afloat more nights than not. Consider Monday night just one of those days where everybody sucks. Just gotta keep the faith.