The Suns are back to their winning ways after Friday night’s victory over the Celtics. They’ll be tested in keeping that up, however, when they face the surging Raptors.
Toronto has won five of their last six and has gone 23-12 since the new year. Their recent rise has vaulted them to third place in the admittedly weaker Eastern Conference, though the difference between their record and Phoenix’s is just one loss.
Can the Suns cool off Toronto the same way they stifled Boston? That and more bear watching.
Though it was against a struggling Celtics team, Phoenix will gladly take its defensive effort as a sign of improvement after its previous stretch of subpar results on that end of the floor.
The Suns held Boston to just 30 percent shooting. In the end, that was more than enough to negate their own rare struggles on offense (34-80 FG, 19.2 percent from deep).
Is the defense back to stay? Onlookers will get a good idea in the early stages of Sunday morning’s game.
The last and only team these two teams faced off this season, Toronto had not yet made its season-changing trade of Rudy Gay to Sacramento.
The deal has since opened up opportunities and defined roles for the rest of the roster, including DeMar DeRozan (22.6 ppg), Kyle Lowry (17.0 ppg, 7.8 apg, 4.7 rpg) and Terrence Ross (41.3 percent from three).
Phoenix must be prepared for a different animal than the 40-percent-shooting club they saw back in December.
Dragic vs. Lowry
The opposing point guards were once teammates vying for the starting job in Houston, and have since made the Rockets look foolish for letting both of them go. The two were the most-mentioned absentees from the All-Star game last month, though the slight appears to have only lifted them to higher levels of play.
Given all of those factors, don’t be shocked to see extra aggression when the two are matched up together, though that will likely only happen when Eric Bledsoe is resting.
Despite the presence of athletes such as DeRozan and Lowry, Toronto is one of the slowest-playing teams in the league. Their Pace of 94.46 ranks in the bottom third of the NBA, compared to the Suns sixth-best mark in that category.
Phoenix will no doubt want to enforce their tempo, especially as Eric Bledsoe continues to lend his own speed to the starting lineup. If they can do this early, the Raptors will be hard-pressed playing catch-up.
The No. 5 overall pick earned a lot of praise and confidence with his game-changing tip-in basket on Friday. The points-plus-the-foul sequence put the Suns ahead for good in the closing minutes, though that was just the highlight of his impact.
Len proved himself capable of stepping up when called upon, even in unexpected circumstances such as an injury to a teammate (Miles Plumlee). Such performances earn major credit and confidence from the coaching staff, which they usually dole out in the form of more minutes and opportunities.