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Lewenberg: Raptors look for redemption in Phoenix on TSN2

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Josh Lewenberg
12/6/2013 3:25:54 PM
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PHOENIX - Three days removed from one of their worst losses in franchise history, the Raptors (6-11) hope to turn the page on Friday against the Phoenix Suns (10-9), one of the NBA's early-season surprises.

Catch the game, live from US Airways Center, on TSN2 beginning at 9pm et/6pm pt.

Toronto's 27-point collapse in Tuesday's 112-103 loss to Golden State was the largest comeback by an opponent in the Raptors' 19-year existence. After allowing the Warriors to shoot 68 per cent and being outscored by 27 during the final 12 minutes, the Raptors aim to replicate their dominance through the first three quarters rather than the nightmare that occurred in the fourth.

While the Raptors have dropped four straight - allowing opponents to shoot 50 per cent and giving up 104.0 points during that stretch - the Suns continue to defy the odds, winning five of their last eight games. Expected by many to be one of the worst teams in the league this season, Phoenix has started off strong, thanks in large part to their dynamic backcourt and improved offence.

The Suns have been the league's most improved offensive team over last season according to NBA.com/stats, scoring six points more per 100 possessions.

Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe - who was acquired in an offseason trade with the Clippers - are both averaging career highs in scoring and have combined to contribute 36.7 points, 12.6 assists and 6.5 rebounds per contest, both shooting over 48 per cent from the field.

"They're a little bit like the Phoenix teams of old as far as their running game's concerned," Dwane Casey said following shootaround Friday afternoon. "Dragic does a great impersonation of [Steve] Nash. He's playing very well right now, handling the basketball, he's the head of the snake so our work is cut out for us on the defensive end."

Toronto's guards, DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, accounted for 46 points in Tuesday's loss. DeRozan has led the team in scoring in six of the last eight games, pouring in 17 or more points in a career-high 11 straight contests. Meanwhile, Lowry has paced the club in assists in nine straight games, recording at least six dimes in each, also a career-best.

Having swept the season series with Phoenix last year, the Raptors are looking to win four consecutive games against the Suns for the first time in their history.

Trends and Tidbits

The Raptors are 4-2 in games following a 20-point comeback by an opponent.

Toronto has been outscored in the paint in each contest during its four-game skid and by 58 points overall (188-130). The team is averaging just 17.3 assists, committing 17.5 turnovers and is allowing opponents to shoot 40 per cent from three-point range over that stretch.

What to Watch For

Slowing down the Suns

With Bledsoe and Dragic running the show, the Suns have been the league's most lethal team in transition, scoring 20.0 fast-break points per game.

Phoenix has tallied 20 or more fast-break points in 11 of 19 contests this season so keeping this young and athletic Suns team in the half-court will be a key to Toronto's success. It should also be one of the Raptors' biggest challenges.

Defending the three-point line

Although the Raptors contained Golden State's sharpshooters through the first three quarters, holding the Warriors to 4-of-12 shooting from long distance, they got burned by the three-ball down the stretch. The Warriors went 8-for-11 in the fourth quarter with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson connecting on six of their seven attempts.

Like the Warriors, the Suns are not shy from beyond on the arc. Phoenix attempts the fourth-most threes in the league on a per game basis and has drained seven or more treys in 11 straight contests.

Who to Watch For

DeMar DeRozan

Even in embarrassing defeat on Tuesday, DeRozan has been the best and most consistent Raptor this year. Sitting 12th in the NBA in scoring at 21.8 points per game, DeRozan has been especially productive over the last eight contests when he's averaged 26.4 points on 50 per cent shooting from the field and 46 per cent from three-point range.

DeRozan needs 18 points to reach 5,000 for his career, becoming the sixth player in franchise history to achieve that milestone, joining Chris Bosh, Vince Carter, Andrea Bargnani, Morris Peterson and Jose Calderon.

His biggest challenge Friday will come on the defensive end where he will be assigned to one of Phoenix's point guards, Bledsoe or Dragic.

"It gives us a different look but we have to adapt, we have to adjust," said Casey, who spoke about trying to exploit the Suns' small lineup. "We want to try to make sure we make them pay on the offensive end with our size and our inside game."

Eric Bledsoe

After missing six games with a shin injury, then coming off the bench for two, Bledsoe has returned to the Suns' starting lineup.

With the increased playing time - 34 minutes per game, up from 20 with the Clippers last season - Bledsoe is averaging career highs in points (18.8), assists (5.9) rebounds (4.2) and steals (1.6). The Suns' guard has already scored 20 or more points six times this year after doing so on four occasions in his first three NBA seasons.

"They've made it work because Bledsoe is a tough little guy down in the post," Casey said of the Suns' small backcourt. "A lot of teams have tried to post him and we'll probably try to do some of the same but he does a good job even though he's small. He's strong, he's like a little fireplug. So we've got to do a good job of getting deep post position on him and try to make them pay for playing small."

Injury Report

Kyle Lowry was hit in the head late in the third quarter Tuesday but returned in the fourth. He was tested for a concussion on the bench before re-entering then again after the game, passing both. He practiced in full Thursday without experiencing any grogginess, per Casey, and will be active for Toronto in Phoenix.

Goran Dragic (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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