Kyrie Irving
Toronto Raptors Phoenix Suns February 25, 2011

I could have sworn the Raptors beat the Suns already this year, but I guess it was a pre-season game since I can’t find any of my notes. It’s quite stunning how close the Suns are to a playoff berth, and how well they are playing considering all the changes that have taken place over the last year.

It’s easy to always be relevant when you have a guy like Steve Nash who will go down with the ship, but it says a lot about the organization that he could have cried his way off the team this year, and didn’t. In fact, he never let the gossips churn out anything that would be perceived to have come from him. Have to respect and admire that in today’s NBA.

I checked in with Michael Schwartz from the Valley of the Suns about the team and today’s game:

With Carmelo/Deron getting traded, and Gay out for a month, it looks like the Suns have a real legitimate shot at making the playoffs. What are the teams expectations heading into this stretch run?
Gentry is comparing the Suns’ situation to a college basketball team on the bubble. There is no conference tournament so the team needs to finish strong enough down the stretch to receive an invitation to the Big Dance. The Suns have been playing playoff-caliber basketball the past few weeks, ripping off a 13-6 run since falling six games under .500 after a 34-point thrashing in Denver. The defense has really keyed the run as the Suns have gone from the worst defensive field-goal percentage team in the league to one of the better ones in this category during this stretch. I think privately the team feels it has a great opportunity to make a run at a playoff spot when you combine how well they’ve played of late with some of the moves Denver and Utah have made.

While I thought you guys paid a steep price to get Gortat, he has definitely been a welcome addition. How high are you on him, and what kind of player can we expect him to become with the full-time starters role/minutes?
I’m very high on him. First of all Gortat has fallen into the perfect situation. He’s an athletic big man who can run the floor as well as the pick-and-roll, and he’s a beast on the glass. He’s came to a team craving exactly that kind of player and while Robin Lopez technically starts, Gortat plays the starter minutes. I don’t think he’s ever going to be a star, but I think he can be a very good center in this league, especially as he continues to work on his jump shot. Also, he’s a great team guy who truly cares (as in the opposite of Vince Carter) and overall has been just a perfect fit on this roster. So I don’t expect him to be an All-Star but I do think he can be a top-10 center.

After making the conference finals last season, then dropping to a fringe playoff team; you have to love how classy Steve Nash has been through all the drama. Not once has he voiced displeasure with how things worked out (replacing Stat with a couple guys I can’t quite remember names for), and saying that he wants to stay with the team. At some point though, the powers that be will need to move on and rebuild. The guy still has a couple quality years in him. When, and for what, can we expect him to be traded?
Well, I’m sure you remember the name of ONE of those players. Hedo something? But yeah, Nash has been pure class. Almost any other player in his situation would have cried and screamed until he was dealt, but Nash just keeps talking about building as a team as he’s forced to shoulder more and more of the burden offensively. But like you say, I agree that one day it will inevitably be time for a deal to be made and I feel that time will be around the draft. Although I don’t love him as the long-term solution at the one, I feel like the Suns might have just acquired Nash’s successor in the Aaron Brooks trade. If Phoenix is going to be a fringe playoff team at best, they need to at least see what they can get for Nash this offseason, and if it’s a halfway decent offer from a playoff team that can expedite the rebuilding process it might be wise to go for it. It’s hard to say for what exactly, but I think the Suns should try to get a young power forward with superstar potential. If this kind of deal is out there I would say a top-10 pick, a solid young player and maybe one more asset. Both sides keep saying he won’t be dealt, but it just makes too much sense for it not to at least be a major consideration this summer.

How do the Suns match-up with the Raptors, and what are you expecting to see tonight?
I’m expecting to see another shootout. Nash always seems to go for 15-20 assists when Toronto is the opponent, something he has done quite often this season. The Suns’ defense has been much better as late, so if the Raptors can’t match that firepower I could see Phoenix winning by 10-15.

Injury Report

Toronto
Reggie Evans – Out
Linas Kleiza – Out

Phoenix
N/A

Player Reports

Jose Calderon
I’m torn when Jose puts up these 6pt 17ast games: on the one hand, he’s moving the ball around and hitting the right person with the right pass; but on the other hand, he’s not a threat to score offensively which lets the guy defending him sag a bit and help more on defense. You can’t argue with the result though; a win against the Bulls. Nash will be a different challenge, and will get what he wants, but he will also give Jose a lot of room to operate. Aaron Brooks makes me a little nervous, since he’s a super speed guard, who should flourish in an up-tempo offensive system. I’m mostly worried about him because Bayless is playing so gawdawful the last few games. It’s stunning how careless he is with the ball.
Box: 11pts 15ast 4rebs

DeMar DeRozan
You’d think I would get more pleasure from watching Vince Carter fade away into obscurity, but I don’t. I can’t help but think what would have been if only he took things more seriously during his time in Toronto. As things stand now, his legacy is tainted. You can’t sleep on him though, since he seems to get up for games against the franchise that put him on the map.

DeRozan should be able to get whatever he wants from VC, whenever he wants. My preference is for him to take it hard through the paint and get to the line, but the Suns defense is so weak, there will be good opportunities from all-over the floor. He’ll have more problems with Pietrus who’s a better defender, but once the offense gets going, Pietrus will be hung out to dry often than naught; something we’re all too familiar with as Raptor fans.
Box: 23pts 5rebs 1stl

James Johnson
His surprise start against the Bulls hasn’t earned him more minutes than Weems, but the last game could have just been about throwing him out there and assessing what the Raptors have in the kid. I do think he has something to offer defensively with his side size and agility though.

The 1-2 of him and Weems should be good enough to keep Grant hill in check. For those who missed the Bulls game, Johnson got 3 blocks in 26; I like that kind of activity on defense by a wing. That said, I really have no idea what to expect from him. A quick note on Sonny: 5 field goal attempts and 4 trips to the line in limited minutes; me likey.
Box: …no idea

Amir Johnson
I have a feeling he will be defending Frye on the perimeter more than we will like him too, since that means Bargnani will be in paint battling Gortat for position and rebounds. There will be more than enough defensive cross-pollination, so the burden falls to Triano to play the right match-ups.

Even though Boozer got his all night on Wednesday, Amir performed very well from my perspective. He produced across the board, and is finally starting to look like the injuries he’s been fighting through have healed; the all-star break done him well.
Box: 14pts 13rebs 3ast 2blk

Andrea Bargnani
Black Swan was out in all his glory against the Bulls. I’m starting to understand Bargnani; he’s got that European quality of sitting down to drink his latte with a biscotti, instead of walking around carrying a massive cup like an *sshole. It’s all about quality of life for him.

He knows he can’t do certain things, so he doesn’t put his neck out on the line. Much like Arse, who know’s he can’t pick up that hot blonde, so he hits on her chubby friend since he still wants to get dirty and knows she’s DTF. Not the greatest score, but it got the job done.

Against the Bulls, he scored 26 points, but missed 12 shots from the field. Even though he dunked on Noah going baseline, his shots weren’t falling, he knew he could get to the line, converting 10-11 free throws.

Against Frye, Bargs should be able to get whatever the hell he wants from anywhere on the floor; I just don’t want to see Frye shoot uncontested three-after-three. I think that’s fair, no?
Box: 29pts 9rebs 3ast

The Line

The gamblers have the Suns as 2 point favourites, with an over/under of 213. Considering this game is in Toronto, that’s as close to even odds as you’re going to get. I actually like the Raptors in this game, and think they will pull out 3 point win; Bargnani hits the game winner.

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