Suns Want to Stay Sharp Against Raptors

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Never mind that Toronto is the fifth-worst shooting team in the league. Forget the fact that they’ve been subpar defensively. And whatever you do, don’t pay attention to the win-loss columns.

That was the message from Suns Head Coach Jeff Hornacek to his team on Friday morning.

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“The big message today was you can’t look at Toronto’s record,” he said. “They’re 6-11. If you look at that, they’re going ‘okay, we should beat them’, but they’re a very good team. They’ve got scorers. They’ve got big guys inside. They’ve got a tough point guard. They’re similar to us. They’ve lost some close games and they’ve played well against good teams.”

There’s also the fact that Phoenix let its guard down twice against similarly struggling teams over the last week, dropping a home contest to Utah and a road game at Memphis, who didn’t have Marc Gasol or Zach Randolph on hand.

The Suns, however, appeared to have gotten the message by applying its best defensive effort of the season at Houston, where they held the league’s best scoring team to a paltry 88 points.

Now the onus is on Phoenix to keep its collective focus against a team that, while inefficient in its scoring ways, still poses plenty of threats. Rudy Gay (19.6 ppg) and DeMar DeRozan (21.8 ppg) are constant threats on offense, while point guard Kyle Lowry is a triple-double threat on any given night.

Key Matchup

DeRozan is the league’s 12th-leading scorer, and at 6-foot-7 would appear to pose a significant height advantage.

The fifth-year guard, however, is a volume shooter, hitting just 43.9 percent of a whopping 17.8 shot attempts per game. He’s much more effective slashing to the rim, but boasts a slight enough frame (216 pounds) for Goran Dragic to be able to hold his own on defense.

While Toronto may try to exploit this particular matchup, don’t expect the Suns to panic after seeing Dragic and the help defense successfully foil similar efforts earlier this season.

Opponent X-Factor

The Raptors are one of the better rebounding teams in the league, and it’s thanks to an effort-by-committee.

Jonas Valanciunas poses the biggest threat as a wide but mobile 6-11 center. Meanwhile reserve forward Tyler Hansbrough is quietly wreaking havoc on the boards, averaging 6.4 rebounds per game despite playing just 21.3 minutes per contest.

Hornacek labeled tonight’s rebounding battle the “key stat of the night.”

“Especially when Miles [Plumlee] is not in the game, you’ve got Markieff [Morris] at 6-9 and Channing at 6-11, he’s got the size, but he’s not the bulky size of a lot of guys in this league. We’re undersized and we’ve got to really fight to get those rebounds. If we do then we get run and get out in the open court, but first thing’s first, we’ve got to get those boards.”

Final thought

The Suns are 4-0 when they shoot at least 50 percent from the field, and just 1-6 when they shoot below 45 percent.

The Raptors, currently on a four-game losing streak, have given up at least 50 percent shooting in three of the four losses.