What: Phoenix Suns (1-6) host Toronto Raptors (7-1)
When: 7:00PM AZ time
Where: Talking Stick Resort Arena, Phoenix AZ
TV: FoxSports Arizona
Radio: 98.7 FM
The Suns continue their murderers row of opponents against the #2 team in the East.
Behind the records
On the bright side, the Suns haven’t lost to any sure-fire lottery teams yet. All of the Nuggets, Warriors, Lakers, Grizzlies, Thunder and Spurs — with a collective 30-15 record so far — have playoff aspirations or expectations this season. They won’t all make it there, but they’ll be trying hard all season.
And tonight’s game is no different. Tonight, they face the surging Raptors who are putting a scare into the West’s best teams, including the Warriors, after the addition of The Klaw.
The Raptors’ only loss was to the East-leading Bucks. Among their seven wins, the Raptors have beaten the Celtics and Sixers while other five victims have been iffy at best — a collective 12-28 this young season.
Both the Suns and the Raptors have beaten the Mavericks (2-6).
Just like the Suns, the Raps have a rookie head coach too in Nick Nurse, but they’ve also got in-their-prime stars Kyle Lowry and Kawhi Leonard leading the way with proven winner Danny Green, late of the Spurs, in the lineup with them.
The rest of the Raptors starting lineup consists of the super-athletic Serge Ibaka at center and Pascal Siakam at power forward. They also have two players scoring double figures each night off the bench in Jonas Valenciunas and Fred VanVleet.
This combination has led the Raptors to fielding the league’s 4th rated offense and 7th rated defense. A truly scary and elite team who just might be a threat to the Celtics in the East and the Warriors in the West (as long as Klay Thompson isn’t draining 14 threes a night).
Kawhi Leonard is simply dominating in his return to basketball, averaging career highs in points (27.3), three-point shooting (44.4%) and rebounds (7.8) while also posting second-bests in assists (3.2) and steals (2.0), all while playing stellar defense on the wing. He’s going to feed on the East all season.
The plight of the point guard continues. A huge difference between Nick Nurse’s maiden NBA voyage as coach vs. Igor Kokoskov’s is that Nurse has Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet running point while Igor has Isaiah Canaan and a pair of rookies. None of whom even grew up playing point guard, and none of whom would even play ahead of anyone on the Raps PG depth chart.
A look into the Suns’ defensive and offensive numbers reveals that their problems are primarily rooted in their turnover issues, a direct byproduct of non-point guards handling the ball every time.
The Suns are 28th in the league on defense, but have the 4th best three-point defense. So many of their opponents’ points are inside the arc. Part of that is that Suns defense intentionally allowing mid-range shots, like every NBA defense does, and some of it is rookie Deandre Ayton getting abused by veteran bigs, but most of the problem is a gaggle of transition points allowed at the rim. Transitions started with back court turnovers more often than not, and finished with head-hanging lazy chasing on defense.
The Suns allow the 7th fewest two-attempts allowed (while also allowing the 4th fewest three-point attempts), but are 30th in field goal % allowed on those twos and give up the 8th most free throws in the league.
They are 29th in turnovers per game while being 29th in opponents’ steals per game. So, the Suns aren’t throwing the ball out of bounds. They’re throwing it right to the opponent.
That’s the root of many of the Suns problems.
Matchup — Ayton vs. Ibaka
Is it mean to suggest that a Kawhi Leonard vs. Josh Jackson matchup would be interesting? Yes it would be mean. And no it would not be interesting.
Or how about a Kyle Lowry vs. Elie Okobo matchup? Same same.
Okay, how about the matchup of Serge Ibaka vs. Deandre Ayton. The Raptors’ only problem so far is in the rebounding department, and that’s one of Ayton’s strengths. Another strength of Ayton is his post game, scoring down low with the opposing center on his back. Ibaka will have a hard time rooting Ayton out of the post and if Ayton can get Ibaka on his heels, then he won’t be a shot-blocker. This could be a good Ayton game.
I’m getting angry these days and I shouldn’t be. I get angry watching these games where the Suns aren’t even competitive, at home, after the first quarter. In both most recent home games, the opponent has gone on a horrific run in the second to blow the game wide open, making the second half meaningless.
As hard as I try, I can’t imagine the Suns-Raptors game being any different. It’s too early in the season for a good opponent to mail in their effort against a patsy — which is the only way the Suns could win a game like this — so I just don’t see this being competitive at all.
Unless Booker is healthy. Then maybe it gets to the second half before it’s over.
Okay, okay, I’ll make a prediction.
The first disgusted timeout of the opposing coach because the Suns cut his team’s lead to under 20 will occur at... the 7-minute mark of the second quarter.
Sorry Suns fans. Tonight just isn’t the night to hope for a win. Maybe Sunday.