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Raptors look to even season series versus short-handed Suns: Preview, start time, and more

Still missing OG Anunoby, the Raptors take on a Phoenix Suns team missing Chris Paul.

Phoenix Suns v Toronto Raptors Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images

Finally, the Toronto Raptors showed signs of life during their 119-104 victory versus the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday. Denying Greg Poppivch his chance at moving to number one on the all-time coaching wins list was a morale booster, and we owe thanks to the return of Fred VanVleet and Scottie Barnes’s stellar play for that.

It was easily the best game the Raptors have played as a collective since the season has resumed from All-Star Break. Having multiple players score in double figures, with the trio of Pascal Siakam, Scottie Barnes, and Fred VanVleet, who led the way with 26 and had been sidelined with injury for the previous five games, all contributing 20 points or more.

The team now is looking to carry on that momentum against the Pheonix Suns. The Suns have been the best team in the NBA for the majority of the season with a league-leading record of 53-13. In the first matchup of the two-game series between the Raptors and Suns, it went down to the wire with some mascot Mishaps before the Suns were able to seal a win on the road with a final score of 99-95.

Now the roles are reversed. The Raptors will be looking to even up the season series with a win on the road as they continue their six-game road trip.

Where to Watch:

TSN, 9:00 p.m.

Lineups:

Toronto — Fred VanVleet, Gary Trent, Scottie Barnes, Pascal Siakam, Khem Birch

Phoenix — Cameron Payne, Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, Jae Crowder. Deandre Ayton

Injuries:

Toronto — Malachi Flynn (hamstring — out), OG Anunoby (finger — out)

Phoenix — Cameron Johnson (Quadriceps— out), Chris Paul ( Finger— out)

Short-handed Suns

When the Raptors first faced the Suns this season, they did so without the help of two key players in Scottie Barnes and Gary Trent Jr. This time around, the Suns will be the team missing two key players in Chris Paul and Cameron Johnson. The Suns have been dealing with instability in their lineup for the majority of the second half of the season, with Cameron Payne, Cameron Johnson, Devin Booker, and Chris Paul all missing time.

Since losing their All-star Floor general Chris Paul, they have a 5-3 record, which is pretty impressive when you factor in Devin Booker also missed four of those games due to COVID health and safety protocols. While the Suns are still heavily favored in tonight’s game, If the Raptors show up to play as they did in the first matchup this season, one can easily see the Raps stealing a win on the road against the Short-handed Phoenix Suns team.

Scottie Barnes’s stellar second half

Since the second half of the season began, Scottie Barnes has steadily climbed among the ROY rankings with his stellar play. Before the All-Star break, it appeared that Scottie was hitting the rookie wall, with ugly performances against the Rockets, Pelicans, and Timberwolves — which honestly shouldn’t have come as a surprise, as the team asks a lot from Barnes, who is amongst the league leaders in minutes in his rookie season.

Fatigue was definitely setting in, which was hindering his play. However, Barnes has looked rejuvenated since returning to the court post-All-Star Break. Dare I say at times looking like the best player on the court for the Raptors who desperately needed someone to step up and fill in for the missing production of OG Anunoby. In the last eight games, Barnes has increased his points per game from 15.0 to 18.8, which ranks third among rookies during that stretch. What’s even more impressive is that he is averaging only the fifth most shots attempts per game amongst the same period compared to his fellow rookies.

Not only is Barnes’ efficiency in scoring trending upwards, but he has also been crashing the offensive and defensive glass like a madman. Barnes is currently leading all rookies in offensive rebounds per game at 3.6 and has raised his total RPG during this eight-game stretch from 7.6 to 8.8 while notching four double-doubles tying Evan Mobley for the most post-All-Star Break. Scottie appears to be putting together a solid case to swoop in and steal some ROY buzz. If the 20 + points and 10+ rebound games continue to happen, his chance is as good as anyone’s to lay claim to the award.

Play-in possibilities

As we get closer towards the end of the season, it appears that the Toronto Raptors will not be escaping the NBA’s Play-in Tournament. After suffering a 104-96 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, who are in sole possession of the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference, the Raptors now find themselves three games behind them in the standings. The Brooklyn Ne’s also pose a significant threat to the Raps as they look to maintain the seventh seed, which also gives home-court advantage in the play-in tournament.

The Net’s recently got Kevin Durant back from an MCL sprain that had kept him sidelined since early January. Meanwhile, Kyrie Irving remains a threat to explode on the offensive end any given night, most recently scoring a season-high 50 against the Charlotte Hornets. Currently, the Nets pose the biggest threat to the Raptors for the seventh seed, and if they can stave them off, it will pay huge dividends.

Not only is having homecourt advantage great, but as we recently just saw when the Net’s came to visit Scotiabank Arena, Kyrie Irving remains ineligible to play in Canada. Now there are plenty of possibilities that could happen before the end of the season, but I’m sure most fans and the team would much rather face a Brookly team at home missing their star point guard than on the road where it appears he may have a chance to play.