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Raptors look to keep ball rolling versus Suns: Preview, start time and more

Tonight, the Raptors face off against a particularly challenging foe, the Phoenix Suns.

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Toronto Raptors Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

After a promising season filled with ups and downs, the Toronto Raptors are finally on a roll. Albeit while facing mostly depleted opponents, this almost-healthy Toronto team has gone on a six-game win streak. Additionally, Fred VanVleet’s all-star campaign has been going swimmingly thus far. He’s put together a streak of impressive games, each complete with otherworldly moments and off-the-charts audacity. Fred’s propensity for hitting timely and ridiculously challenging three-pointers has risen to new heights, and fans can only hope it continues through February when the full All-Star rosters are decided by the league’s coaches. If Fred keeps up his play of late, he’s more than deserving of a reserve spot on the All-Star team.

Let’s see if he can continue this run versus one of the best teams in the league. The Phoenix Suns are in town, and will look to solidify their spot at the top of the Western Conference, where the team currently sits right alongside the dominating Golden State Warriors. After each of Deandre Ayton and Devin Booker missed some time in December, the duo is back on the court together and will undoubtedly aim to start another healthy winning streak after dropping their last game to the Miami Heat.

Aside from an ankle injury that sidelined Gary Trent Jr. last game, the near-complete Raptors have been gelling as of late, with Pascal Siakam returning to his All-NBA form. His offensive array has been a sight to behold, getting buckets in a variety of ways, from threes, to drives, to contested midrange shots. Clearly, the Raptors are at their best when Pascal plays with this level of confidence.

However, the team’s recent success has also seen Scottie Barnes take a bit of a backseat on the scoring front, operating more as a secondary distributor. It may hinder his Rookie of the Year odds, but as Fred recently put it, Scottie has been playing the Marc Gasol role for this team and it seems to be working. Unfortunately for the Raptors though, both Scottie and Gary Trent Jr. are questionable for tonight’s game. Despite their potential absences, let’s see if the Raptors can keep up their impressive win streak against a powerful Suns squad.

Here are tonight’s game details:

Where to Watch:

TSN, 7:30PM ET

Lineups:

Toronto – Fred VanVleet, Yuta Watanabe, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Khem Birch

Phoenix — Chris Paul, Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, Jae Crowder, Deandre Ayton

Injuries:

Toronto — Scottie Barnes (knee – questionable), Gary Trent Jr. (ankle – questionable) Goran Dragic (personal – out)

Phoenix — Justin Jackson (not with Team – out), Cameron Johnson (ankle – out), Frank Kaminsky (knee – out), Abdel Nader (knee – out), Dario Saric (ACL – out), Landry Shamet (reconditioning – probable), Ish Wainright (health and safety protocols – out)

*****

Prevent Ayton from eatin’

The Raptors are one of the worst defensive rebounding teams in the league, so Nick Nurse and company should be strategizing as to how the team can best neutralize Deandre Ayton, rebounder extraordinaire. Ayton grabs 2.8 offensive boards per game, good for 15th in the league, and his presence will surely pose problems for the Raptors, especially with Scottie potentially out tonight. Given that Barnes is one of the most versatile defenders on the team, OG Anunoby would have to step up in his absence to body Ayton when necessary. OG is one of the strongest players in the NBA, so he’ll have an opportunity to put that strength on display tonight by preventing Ayton from stationing himself deep in the post.

While I anticipate Khem Birch will take much of the Ayton assignment, Chris Boucher still needs to be the best version of himself tonight if the Raptors are going to be successful. Ideally, Boucher is laser-focused on stopping Ayton by means of boxing out, flying in to block shots, and applying his length in the paint. Conversely, if Boucher continuously falls asleep on defense and fails at guarding Ayton effectively, this game becomes that much more difficult to win for the Raptors.

Bully Booker

Devin Booker is a talented shot-maker, and no matter the defensive pressure, he’s going to find a way to get his buckets. If available, Gary Trent Jr. would serve as an excellent matchup. Booker is no stranger to committing turnovers, and Trent is a tenacious defender with quick hands and a talent for deflections. Gary is also approximately the same height as Booker, meaning that Devin wouldn’t be able to simply rise and shoot over him, like he’s done to VanVleet in the past. If Gary sits this game out however, I anticipate the Raptors will mostly use a combination of Fred, OG, and Scottie (if available) to guard Booker.

All-star(s)?

If VanVleet and Siakam are looking to bolster their All-Star cases, tonight would make for a great statement game. Both Fred and Pascal have looked phenomenal as of late, though the Raptors have faced mostly depleted opponents. It would do wonders for their All-Star candidacy to prove themselves against a relatively healthy, top-tier team like the Suns. There are always going to be people discrediting the Raptors and their players’ successes, but that criticism becomes far more difficult to justify when these successes are had against the best of the best.

Notably, Siakam has been labelled as a guy who shrinks in the spotlight. What better way to prove that notion wrong than to confidently score on one of the league’s best defenses? Similarly, Fred VanVleet has been consistently underrated; proving that he can outdo one of the great point guards in Chris Paul will surely turn some heads. Here’s to hoping we can see these two come up with another pair of brilliant performances, and a big win, against one of the league’s best teams tonight.