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Lewenberg: Game Day Report - Raptors at Suns

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Josh Lewenberg
3/6/2013 11:01:58 AM
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Hoping to avoid matching their longest losing streak of the season, the Toronto Raptors (23-38) visit US Airways Center, the third stop on a four-game road trip, to face the Phoenix Suns (21-39) at 9pm et on Wednesday.

The Raptors dropped their fifth straight game on Monday, a 125-118 loss to the Warriors, and will be going up against a Suns team playing some of their best basketball of the season under interim head coach and former Raptor Lindsey Hunter.

It's been a tumultuous year for Phoenix after getting off to a 13-28 start and parting ways with coach Alvin Gentry on Jan. 20. However, the Suns - victors in their last three contests - can match their longest win streak of the season at home where they have won 4-of-7 games since the coaching change.

Trends and Tidbits

The last time the Raptors were in Phoenix they snapped a 14-game losing streak to the Suns with a 99-96 victory last January. Toronto also took the most recent meeting between these teams, a 101-97 win at the Air Canada Centre earlier this season. It's the first time the Raptors have won consecutive match-ups with Phoenix since 2004. They have never defeated the Suns in three straight.

Toronto has lost six games in a row twice this season. The first of those two streaks came in November and was coincidently snapped by the Raptors end of the month victory over Phoenix.

What to Watch For

- Back to the basics on D

After experiencing a defensive rebirth following their trade for Rudy Gay, Dwane Casey's crew has seemingly lost their way once again. The Raptors have allowed 100 or more points in three of their last four games - giving up an average of 110.8 - after surrendering the century mark just twice in the previous 12 contests, allowing 92.7 over that stretch. Although Golden State, their last opponent, is a top-ten scoring team, the Cavaliers and Bucks both hover around the league average in points per game despite lighting Toronto up during its losing streak.

The Raptors have developed a number of bad habits on defence, including, but not limited to, their wavering discipline. Their new affinity for risk taking - a product of changes in personnel over the past eight months - can be both a blessing and a curse. While Toronto has been forcing more turnovers, the team is also being exploited for the gambles they're taking.

On the flip side, Hunter has the Suns playing improved defence, something that is largely responsible for their turn of fortune including impressive victories over the Hawks and Spurs. During its recent winning streak, Phoenix is allowing just 90.3 points on 40 per cent shooting compared to 106.0 on 50 per cent over the previous three games.

Who to Watch For

- Andrea Bargnani

Bargnani broke out of a recent shooting slump in Oakland, dropping 26 points on the Warriors, the most he's scored since Dec. 7. The Raptors forward entered that contest two for his last 19 from long range before matching a career-high with five threes on seven attempts. A performance like that is exactly what Casey had hoped for when re-inserting the seven-foot Italian back into the starting lineup, but what will he do for an encore?

Consistency has never been Bargnani's strong suit but history is on his side against Phoenix. In his last visit to the Valley of the Sun, Bargnani scored a season-high 36 (Jan 24, 2012) and in six career games there he has averaged 22.0 points.

- Goran Dragic

The Suns point guard and former Houston teammate of Kyle Lowry is currently entrenched in one of his best stretches as a pro. Dragic has registered a double-double in five of his last seven games, averaging 15.3 points and 10.7 dimes over that span. He's fourth in the league dishing out 8.4 assists since Feb. 1.

Although he was forced out of the Suns' previous game with a lower back bruise, he is expected to suit up against Toronto, facing a team he has not had much success against in the past. Dragic is averaging just 6.2 points and 2.3 helpers on 36 per cent shooting in six career games against the Raptors.

Injury Report

Toronto

Rudy Gay (back) - likely
Linas Kleiza (knee) - out

Phoenix

Goran Dragic (back) - likely
Markieff Morris (knee) - likely
Marcus Morris (toe) - likely
Jermaine O'Neal (personal) - out

Rudy Gay (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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