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For the Raptors, here come the Suns: Preview, Start Time, and more

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Toronto’s team gets back into action tonight against the struggling Suns. Can the Raps make it three in a row or will they play down to their competition?

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Toronto Raptors Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Thanks to whoever planned out this delightful NBA schedule, the Raptors got the entirety of last weekend off. In fact, they’ve only played two games in the past ten days (both of which were wins). Folks, this is also the number of basketball games I have played in the last ten days (we don’t need to get into whether or not I won them). It won’t always be like this, so we should take a moment to appreciate.

The Raptors return to action tonight against the Phoenix Suns and, well, this contest should prove to be only slightly more difficult to get through than a night spent staring into the existential void. Unlike their namesake, the Suns are not a particularly bright team. They’re 9-16, they rank right near the bottom by most metrics, and their best player used Twitter to force his way off the team. I swear, I’m not trying to be mean about it.

Anyway, the Raptors are 14-7 and the much better team. To provide more context for the night, let’s get to some of the game’s details and other sundry issues of the day.

Where to Watch

Sportsnet One, 7:30pm EST

Lineups

Raptors - Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, OG Anunoby, Serge Ibaka, Jonas Valanciunas

Suns - Devin Booker, T.J. Warren, Tyler Ulis, Tyson Chandler, Marquese Chriss

Injuries

Raptors Lucas Noguiera, Delon Wright, my belief in karma

Suns - Alex Len, Brandon Knight, Alan Williams, Davon Reed

********

Play Up Not Down

This isn’t the case all the time, but the Raptors sometimes get themselves into a situation whereby they play to the level of their opposition. Sometimes, this is a good thing — a fantastic thing even, like almost being the Warriors in Oakland — other times... it is not so good.

Recently the Raptors fell apart against the merely okay Knicks and Pacers. There were other letdown games (vs. the Wizards, for example), and some tense wins against the Pelicans and Bulls. Look, it’s the NBA, these things happen. Head coach Dwane Casey is always the first to admit that on any given night any team in the league can beat another. You have to be ready to play.

So then, that’s the message for this evening in Toronto: the Raptors just have to play their game. I realize I should have more advice than that, but really, on paper, there is no way the Suns should be able to hang with the Raptors. Devin Booker can shoot the lights out, T.J. Warren has shown us something, and Tyson Chandler has veteran presence (presents?) — but that should be as far as it goes. Their head coach is Jay Triano for goodness sakes!

The rest of this young Suns team is figuring it out. All the Raptors have to do is, uh, not let them do that.

What Rhymes with VanVleet?

How much more can Fred VanVleet show us in 2017? The undrafted and undersized point guard is in the throes of his best run of play in Toronto. He currently leads the league in plus/minus, and while he’s maybe not getting the respect of the referees, the league is taking notice.

Over the past two weeks (five games), VanVleet is averaging 9.4 points, 5.2 assists, and 1.4 steals, while shooting 49 percent from the field, and a wild 47 percent from three. There’s been very little to dislike about FVV’s time on the court for the Raptors as of late. (I mean, minus the fact that it’s come because poor Delon Wright is still working his way back from injury.)

This is a far cry from where the season started for VanVleet. In the early going he was having trouble finishing at the rim, the Raps’ offense was having difficulty organizing itself in his presence, and there just weren’t a lot of positives to discuss. It felt like we’d hit the ceiling on FVV, and yet: now, he’s flying high. Against an undersized Suns team — seriously, Tyler Ulis gets paired with Booker on this team now — one without a ton of two-way basketball discipline as of yet, FVV should be able to take advantage. Let’s watch.

There is No Third Thing

Just don’t lose this one, Raptors. The Suns are bad and all you have to do is execute your game plan and you will win.

I’m just saying, I certainly wouldn’t bet against an angry Kyle Lowry.