The Toronto Raptors’ matinee game against the Phoenix Suns is the last of a two game mini-test. The team was able to out-grind the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday; now they have to stop the Suns high powered offense. The Suns, like the Grizzlies, are playoff contenders in the hellish Western Conference. To win against both of these teams would give further confidence to the Raptors as a legitimate playoff threat. A win would also be the Raptor’s 12th in the last 15 games, which would help push their division lead to four and a half games over the Brooklyn Nets.
Cage’s Keys to the Game
Hand Down Man Down
When the Raptors hold opponents to under 45% shooting from the field, they have a 29-5 record. The one time they allowed a team to shoot over 45% in the past six games, they lost to the Nets, their only defeat in that span. Toronto is a top 5 defensive team this year, the fate of this team is usually dependant on that side of the floor. The Suns come into this game as a top 10 shooting team both from the field and beyond the arc. The Raptors will need to control Goran Dragic’s forays into the paint and get a hand up on the Suns three-point shooting if they’re going to come out with a win.
Free Up Your Star Player
In the past four games, DeMar DeRozan is shooting 23 of 63 from the field. Teams are starting to become more aggressive guarding the Raptor’s top scorer, and are keying off on those dribble handoffs that have been so effective. A combination of play-call adjustments designed to free DeRozan up and a more selective shot selection could be the keys to getting the teams star wing out of his funk. He’s made shots when they’ve counted the most, but the Raptor’s need DeRozan to be an effective number one scoring option if they’re going to make real noise in the playoffs, and defeat the Suns.
The Suns pose a vastly different threat than the Grizzlies. They spread the floor with smaller lineups. They’re most effective when their guards Dragic and Eric Bledsoe are leading the way, and they’re a solid three point shooting team. It’ll be interesting to watch how Dwane Casey combats these smaller lineups. Look for a lot of Terrence Ross on Bledsoe, and more of Chuck Hayes and Tyler Hansborough at center. These defensive matchup’s could be the deciding factor in the game.
X-Factor: Tyler Hansborough
Tyler Hansborough, the artist known as Psycho-T (or Chops), is the X-factor for the game. As the games down the stretch become more tightly contested and physical, Psycho-T’s maniacal energy and toughness will become more valuable. His defense when he’s on Markieff Morris will be huge, as Morris burned the Raptors for 25 points and 11 rebounds the last time these two teams met. Also, expect Hansborough to play more center against the Sun’s smaller lineups.