Let’s just put it out there: The Toronto Raptors need a win.
Returning home to host the Phoenix Suns following a 1-2 road trip that included a forgivable but disappointing loss and then an inexcusably embarrassing one, the Raptors could really benefit from getting back in the win column. In the big picture, they’re fine – they’re 28-15, they’ve had some pretty rough injury luck over the last while, and the ‘easy’ stretch of schedule was submarined in part by some misfortune. But the defense still hasn’t come around, the offense had sputtered, and the effort level has appeared, from outside, to be inconsistent. The Raptors are good, but they’re not so good that they have a substantial margin for error on a night-to-night basis.
This is a lesson the Suns already taught them once. Toronto’s recent dip kind of started in Phoenix around the holidays, when Patrick Patterson’s second-quarter injury threw a larger wrench into things than even his most ardent supporters likely would have guessed. The loss in Phoenix was the team’s second (it was a back-to-back preceded in Golden State), and the Raptors have gone 6-7 over the 13-game stretch that includes that blunder.
On the one hand, then, the 14-29 Suns are a bit of a threat, having already toppled the Raptors when they weren’t at their best. On the other, the Suns also present a nice opportunity to get back on the right foot – they’re 14-29, they’re below-average at both ends of the floor, and while they like to push the pace, there isn’t really an element of the matchup that swings strongly in Phoenix’s favorite. DeMar DeRozan wisely said the other night that “You got to go through it to get through it,” which is terrific life advice and the right attitude for the Raptors to take into this one. They’re in a funk, but the only way out is to push through.
The game tips off at 6 p.m. on TSN 1/3/4 and TSN 1050. You can check out the full game preview here.
It may seem unlikely, but there was actually a chance the Raptors would be fully healthy for the first time all season here. With Jared Sullinger back in the rotation, Delon Wright available, and DeMarre Carroll playing through his sore neck, that left just Patrick Patterson and Lucas Nogueira on the mend. It was tough to put a time-frame on Nogueira since he needs to prove symptom-free through an escalating level of activity, but he practiced on Saturday, which was at least encouraging. Patterson, meanwhile, had originally been hoping to return Friday and got a full practice in on Saturday.
In a bit of a twist from the context clues, Nogueira will play and Patterson will sit. Nogueira cleared the league’s concussion protocol, and while Patterson is now soreness-free, the team wants to play it cautious just a little while longer. Even in a mini-slump, it makes sense to take the longview.
Naturally, the starting power forward spot remains a question mark. The Raptors started small last time out, and they could certainly do that against Marquese Chriss at power forward, but they may opt to start big and shift against bench units. They could start Pascal Siakam to stay big, or they could re-insert Nogueira in the starting lineup. They could also start Sullinger, giving him early hooks to at least get a look at him alongside Jonas Valanciunas, particularly since Nogueira is around to soak up backup center minutes.
I have no idea what to list below for a starter. Check back closer to tip-off for updates.
UPDATE: Nogueira starts at power forward. Wright is inactive.
PG: Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph, Fred VanVleet, Delon Wright
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell
SF: DeMarre Carroll, Terrence Ross
PF: Lucas Nogueira, Pascal Siakam, Bruno Caboclo
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Jared Sullinger, Jakob Poeltl
OUT: Patrick Patterson
The biggest questions facing the Suns have to do with trades, not injuries. It sounds like their entire team is on the block, which must make for a bit of an uncomfortable situation. From a health standpoint, Jared Dudley is the only unknown – he’s missed a few games due to illness, but he hasn’t been playing a ton behind Chriss and Dragan Bender of late, anyway. (Update: Looks like Dudley is a go.)
That’s maybe been the biggest change Phoenix needs to make: Playing the youngsters more. Alex Len is barely playing the last few games, Bender’s role has been inconsistent, and a move of some veterans could really stabilize the direction here. That’s long been Phoenix’s problem, as they haven’t fully committed to a rebuild while only toeing the line of competitiveness. I understand that there’s value in qualtiy veterans a young core, but they should be able to cash in one or two of Dudley, Brandon Knight, Leandro Barbosa, and Tyson Chandler for some assets before the deadline, expediting the build around a core that can still very much include Eric Bledsoe at the helm.
The Suns also recalled Derrick Jones Jr., convenient timing since he was here putting on a dunking clinic at the D-League Showcase.
PG: Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight, Tyler Ulis
SG: Devin Booker, Leandro Barbosa
SF: T.J. Warren, P.J. Tucker, Derrick Jones Jr.
PF: Marquese Chriss, Dragan Bender, Jared Dudley
C: Tyson Chandler, Alex Len, Alan Williams
- The D-League Showcase wraps right around the time Raptors-Suns tips off. I took in, I think, 15 Showcase games over the course of the week – including a pair of Raptors 905 wins! – and I can’t say enough good things about the job the 905 staff, particularly Shelby Weaver and John Wiggins, did with the event. Everyone I talked to, including scouts, players, NBA alumni, and more, was enjoying the event and Mississauga. It’s a win for the Raptors organization to once again hold a marquee league event and do so successfully. The importance of such things is intangible, but it’s there.
- Two things I wrote from the Showcase that may be of interest to you: The first, on Axel Toupane waiting for his seemingly inevitable call back up to the NBA, and; The second, on Antwaine Wiggins Rudying his roster spot to get Goodluck Okonoboh a showcase.
- The 905 play at home on the morning of Jan. 25, if you’re looking for a potential next assignment date. The Raptors are on the road in Memphis that night, but if they’re fully healthy by then, it would be no big deal to send a few players down, especially since the parent club turns around and returns immediately. The guess here is that Delon Wright and Bruno Caboclo are assigned, and maybe one of Jakob Poeltl and Pascal Siakam.
The Raptors are 12-point favorites, which seems pretty substantial given their recent sputtering. That’s a nice show of faith in the team bouncing back as they round into full health and something closer to their usual form. I wouldn’t blame anyone for not wanting to give that many points with how lethargic the team has looked of late, though. The over-under is at 220.5, a bet on both the pace going beyond Toronto’s usual tempo and, well, two of the 11 worst defenses in the league probably bleeding points.
Raptors 113, Suns 105