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Game Preview: Running Raptors visit road-weary Suns

Can Devin Booker overcome the pressure if the Raptors mascot appears under the basket?

Phoenix Suns v Toronto Raptors Photo by Ron Turenne/NBAE via Getty Images

What: Toronto Raptors (35-30) at Phoenix Suns (53-13)

When: 7:00 PM AZ time / Mountain time

Where: Footprint Center

Watch: Bally Sports Arizona

Listen: 98.7 FM

DraftKings Odds: the betting line has the Suns a -5 favorite at home versus Raptors, with an over/under of 222.5


While on the road, the Phoenix Suns went 3-1 to clinch their most regular season wins (53) in more than a decade. As part of those 53 wins, have now beaten all 29 other teams and are 40 games over .500.

A win over the Raptors on Friday night would give them 54 to tie the last good SSOL team, the 2009-10 Suns, with 15 more to play.

The Raptors are still well within the Eastern Conference playoff picture, currently in the 7th slot and driver’s seat in the play-in. They are just one game ahead of the Nets, though, so every win counts this last month of the season.


Last we saw them

Remember Raptor-gate?

It’s the waning seconds of Suns-Raptors on January 11, 2022 in Toronto. Suns up one point (93-92) with six seconds left. Devin Booker at the line for two free throws and a chance to give the Suns a three-point lead. The gym is empty, like the Orlando Bubble except the cavernous arena part, due to COVID precautions. Booker rattles in the first free throw. Suns up two.

Suddenly, Book steps off the line to complain to the ref, gesticulating toward the basket, angrily insisting the ref do something. At Book’s behest, the ref asks the lone ‘fan’, the Raptor mascot, to kindly step aside and stop jumping up and down, waving his big blown-up arms, trying to distract Book from this all-important second free throw.

Book wins. Book makes the free throw. Suns win.

Other mascots had fun with the idea.

“I try to have fun with it,” Book said after one of the games.

That Raptors game spurred the Suns second double digit win streak of the season, a 10-gamer (Book averaged 30 per game during that streak). Overall, they won 19 of the next 20 games before Chris Paul went down with the thumb injury.

Can’t wait to see what the Gorilla does on Friday night. Seem like they have to fly in the Raptors mascot for some kind of skit, right? Mascots travel all the time. Maybe it will kick off another win streak.


Probable Starting Lineups

Injured/Out

Suns: Chris Paul (wrist), Cameron Johnson (thigh), Frank Kaminsky (knee), Dario Saric (knee) all OUT

Raptors: OG Anunoby (finger), Malachi Flynn (hamstring) both OUT


Raptors Update

Anunoby suffered a broken finger recently and will be re-evaluated next week to check on the healing process.

The Raptors have lost 7 of their last 11 games, but they are a dangerous team still in playoff position with a pair of All-Stars leading them in scoring with 21 points apiece, Fred VanVleet (2022) and Pascal Siakam (2019-20).

The Raps also have big time rookie Scottie Barnes, one of five players averaging 15+ points per game, along with Gary Trent Jr. and Anunoby.

The Raps get most of their production from those five (tonight four, with OG out) as their bench ranks dead last in the league, contributing only with 24.4 points per game.

Their keys to winning:

  • PLAY FAST: they rank 3rd in steals, points off turnovers and fast break points
  • CRASH THE OFFENSIVE BOARDS: they also rank 2nd in second-chance points

On everything else, they’re average to below average, so if the Suns hold onto the ball and prevent fast breaks they will be in good shape.


Suns Update

You know how Devin Booker has never had more than 6 threes in a game, then blew that away with 8 threes in game six against the Lakers on his way to 47 points to close them out in LA?

He’s also still never had a regular-season triple double, yet posted a 40/13/11 triple double in the playoffs to kick off the 2021 Western Conference Finals.

On Wednesday, Booker came close to his first regular season triple double with a 23/9/8 line. He’s come close a few times in his career, but has not had 8+ in all three categories in the regular season since before Chris Paul came close to town, and even his playoff triple-double was when Chris Paul had COVID.

Trust me, I’d rather have both Book and Paul running the show together, but it’s nice to see Book step up in Paul’s absence.

In four games without Paul, Book is averaging 27 points (50/40/91 splits), 8.3 assists, 5.3 rebounds and 3.3 steals per game — all up from his season averages.

Next to Book, Cameron Payne is filling in quite nicely for Paul. Payne had 11 and 10 next to Book on Wednesday, and is averaging a cool 14.8 points, 10.8 assists, 1.2 steals and 2.8 turnovers in 5 games since returning from injury and filling in as Paul’s replacement. Does anything about that line seem familiar to you? Yeah, it’s almost exactly All-Star Chris Paul’s line this season (14.9, 10.7, 1.9, 2.4).

Deepest team in the league, folks. Knock one guy down, another one steps up to the plate. Happened earlier this year with Ayton’s backups, and now we see Chris Paul’s backup stepping up. Even with Book out, Cameron Johnson dropped 38 last Friday before going down himself with a thigh bruise.


Prediction

Raptors are good, but not good enough to beat the Suns in Phoenix as long as the Suns hold onto the ball and prevent a lot of scrappy transition points.

DraftKings has the Suns a five-point favorite, but I’d say Suns win, 115-105, so take that as you will.

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