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Raptors look to put up numbers vs. Phoenix: Preview, start time, and more

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After a convincing win against Philly, the Raptors look to extend the good times against the struggling Suns in Phoenix.

Toronto Raptors v Phoenix Suns Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

After a pleasantly home-heavy start to the season, with six of their first eight games at Scotiabank Arena, the Toronto Raptors are heading west. Road trip!

A four-game west coast swing begins tonight in Phoenix, a game that may allow an opportunity for the Raptors to ease into the three games after — Los Angeles (argh, LeBron), Utah (Gobert good), and Sacramento (surprised?) are all opponents that could present a challenge.

Alas, the Suns are not in that category, and have been woeful to start the year. At 1-5, the Suns are struggling on both ends of the floor, with the third-worst defence (115.5 rating) and worst net rating (-14.1). This, and their best player in Devin Booker could miss his fifth straight game with a hamstring injury suffered back on October 24.

While the bad start is expected for a young team committed to bottoming out in a hyper-competitive Western Conference, it does nothing to change the fact that this is a winnable game for the Raptors.

Toronto is coming off a 129-112 win against Philadelphia and two full days off. Tuesday’s win got a little dicey late, as the Raptors built a big lead with their starters that was promptly coughed up by a diminished bench mob missing Fred VanVleet and OG Anunoby.

We’re still waiting to see a fully healthy Raptors squad, an especially frightening fact for a league that’s reeling at the sight of their 6-1 start. Worth noting, then, that Anunoby participated in an optional practice yesterday. VanVleet is still questionable heading into tonight.

Here’s that, and the rest of the details for tonight’s game.

Where to Watch:

Sportsnet One, 10 PM ET

Lineups:

Toronto - Kyle Lowry, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Pascal Siakam, Serge Ibaka

Phoenix - Elie Okobo, Josh Jackson, Trevor Ariza, T.J. Warren, DeAndre Ayton

Injuries:

Toronto - Delon Wright (left adductor strain - TBD), Fred VanVleet (toe - questionable)

Phoenix - Devin Booker (hamstring - questionable), Isaiah Canaan (ankle - questionable)

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The Ayton Challenge

Guys, we can accept that the Suns stink, especially without the scoring finesse of Booker. With that in mind, Phoenix will look for more touches and more reps for their centre and number one overall pick Deandre Ayton. Through seven games, Ayton has looked good, averaging 16.9 points on 61.6% shooting from the field, to go with 10.0 rebounds and 3.3 assists.

It’s full green light for Ayton, though, as the Suns season might only amount to getting him acclimated quickly to the NBA game and seeing what they have. Ayton already has a 20.4% usage rate in his 31.1 minutes per game.

Expect the Raptors to start Ibaka against the powerhouse big, as his recent play has earned a starting job regardless of the matchup. Serge also showed he can be solid in minutes against Joel Embiid on Tuesday.

Jonas Valanciunas’ participation will be key too, though, especially if Ayton’s offensive rebounding presence begins to make a difference. The big Lithuanian is still Toronto’s most capable rebounder on an island, and the Raptors may be there repeatedly against the 7’1” rookie.

Offensive rebounds would be the saving grace for this Suns team, who still have shooters who can thrive on scramble plays. T.J. Warren in particular is making 48% of his 3.6 deep balls per game so far, and should be a focus point for Toronto.

Get to the Bench

If there’s one kink the Raptors need to work out, it’s how their offence will look when Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, and Kyle Lowry all sit out. A game against Phoenix presents the opportunity to blow things open early and get more minutes for those struggling — especially C.J. Miles (23.1% from three) and Delon Wright (working his way back from injury shooting 22.2% from the field).

Miles and Wright are both players that are going to have defined roles as the season goes on. Right now, it’s unclear what those are, and the more chance they have to get into a rhythm will help Nick Nurse build some consistent lineups when the starters (who are el fuego) sit down.

Seriously, Get to the Bench

Beyond just getting bench lineups ironed out, the Raptors need to be mindful that this game is the first in a three-games-in-four-nights stretch that includes travel. LeBron’s Lakers and the Jazz present a much bigger challenge, too.

The hope is that the Raptors can avoid the pitfall they experienced in the 76ers game and hold on to whatever lead they can build. Then, it’s rest, recover, and prepare for the old arch-nemesis — now in purple and gold.