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Game Preview: Phoenix Suns take on focused Raptors in Earl Watson's debut

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The Suns finally made some changes, so we can see if the problem was the coach or the players. Earl Watson takes over as the Suns coach for a stretch of 9 home games vs. only one roadie, starting with the Toronto Raptors.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

What: Phoenix Suns host Toronto Raptors

When: 7:00PM AZ Time

Where: Talking Stick Resort Arena, Phoenix, AZ

TV: FoxSports Arizona

Radio: 98.7 FM, ArizonaSports

The Suns game tonight marks the NBA coaching debut of Earl Watson, who is just two years removed from warming NBA benches as a reserve point guard. Watson might just be the best PG on the Suns bench tonight, but like Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight and Ronnie Price he won't be taking the floor.

The Raptors represent the last vestiges of good feeling for the Suns season. After the Suns beat the Raps on the road in Toronto earlier this year to pull back to 8-9 on the season, the home team thought they'd be able to keep playoff hopes alive. But from that point on, the Suns are 6-26 and just fired the last of their experienced coaching staff.

Now Earl Watson and Bob Hill take the reins to lead the Suns to the top of the lottery.

The Toronto Raptors

The Raptors are coming off an ugly 19-point loss to the Denver Nuggets on Monday night, a loss which snapped their 11-game winning streak that included a lot of home wins over middling East teams.

The Raps are 32-16 on the season after this latest stretch and are likely motivated to get back on the winning track after that embarrassing loss. The Suns are the perfect elixir for teams like that.

The Raps are Top-10 in the league in both offense (5th) and defense (9th), spending a lot of time at the free throw line with their attacking guards in All-Stars Kyle Lowry (2014-15) and DeMar DeRozan (2013-14 and this season). The two combine for 14 free throw attempts per game. Lowry chips in 7 three-point attempts per game, while DeRozan somehow gets his 23 points a night with nary a 3P attempts (only making one every other game).

The Raps get steals and generate easy offense that way, but otherwise are below league average in offensive pace and near last in assists.

Center Jonas Valenciunas anchors the middle with scoring and rebounding, with 12 points and 9.5 rebounds per night.

The Suns

Long time NBA coach Bob Hill joins the Suns staff to mentor Earl Watson. Hill was Watson's first NBA coach, but is more famous for having been the guy fired by the Spurs after their masterful tank job to get the #1 pick to take Tim Duncan. Let's hope some of that luck rubs off!

Hill had coached the Robinson-led Spurs to records of 60-22 and 59-23 the prior two seasons, but when The Admiral went down 6 games into the 1996-97 season, the Spurs tanked more beautifully than any team in history. They sunk to 20-62, firing Hill after a 3-15 start and replacing him with some dude named Gregg Popovich who finished 17-47 the remainder of the season. The Spurs followed that season by winning the draft lottery and pairing Tim Duncan with Robinson. The rest is history.

Anywhoo, Bob Hill will now roam the sideline as Earl Watson's lead assistant. Hill last coached in the NBA in the 2006-07 season for the Seattle Supersonics, and even then has only been an NBA head coach in two of the last 19 years. But hey, who better to mentor Watson?

Prediction

You might predict a "dead coach bounce", but let's remember the Suns are still relegated to Archie Goodwin, Jordan McRae and Devin Booker as their playmakers until after the All-Star break.

I see a 20+ point loss on the way.