Toronto Raptors 101, Phoenix Suns 97 If Wednesday’s loss to Detroit was any indication, the Phoenix Suns have reached their first critical turning point this season. When in the past...

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When: Friday, November 30, 2012, 5:00 PM local time (7:00 EST)

Where: Air Canada Centre, Toronto, Canada

Watch/Listen: TV: FSAZ, Radio: 620 KTAR

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Last Meeting:

First meeting this season. The lone matchup between the teams during the lockout shortened season was a 99-96 win by Toronto in Phoenix on January 24, 2012.

Team Bios:

Toronto Raptors: 3-13

Points per game: 95.9 (17th) Points allowed: 101.5 (27th)

Offensive Efficiency: 99.3 (22nd) Defensive Efficiency: 104.1 (24th)

Toronto is a bad team. Their utter lack of ability to compete at an NBA level has only been exacerbated by a truculent schedule that has seen them play six of 16 games on the road so far. In fact, the Raptors come into the contest riding the momentum of a six game losing streak. This game is just a pit stop for the Dinos before they head back on the road for five more games on the west coast. That will put them at 15 out of 22 games on the road. That's kind of messed up...

While the Raptors probably didn't buy any powerball tickets the other night based on confronting the grisly odds that have been stacked against them, there have been a few glimmers of hope. On second thought, no, there haven't. Being a Raptors fan has been a bleak, desolate task this year. A place where basketball fans go to die.

Free agent splash Landry Fields is out indefinitely with right elbow surgery. Andrea Bargnani missed Toronto's last game and has been missing his jump shot all season. The Raptors do have players that can score the ball, with DeRozan, Bargnani and Lowry all averaging in the upper teens, but none of them has been doing so at a very efficient clip.

On paper it would appear the Raptors should be able to compete above their current record, but that's why they play the games... or as they refer to it in Toronto - lay down like dogs.

The Raptors do have some nice young pieces, headlined by Jonas Valanciunas, so they're not completely bereft of hope moving forward. They also didn't lose by 40 to the Pistons Wednesday night, so there's that, too.

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Phoenix Suns: 7-9

Points per game: 98.4 (12th) Points allowed: 102.6 (30th)

Offensive Efficiency: 100.9 (16th) Defensive Efficiency: 105.6 (27th)

The Suns have played 3,576 regular season games. Some of us were the victims of the third worst showing out of that entire compilation of games constituting the franchise's history. Funny, it seemed much worse.

Wednesday night the Suns were the little engine that couldn't. In fact, they were the little engine that was derailed resulting in the excruciating, fiery death of all its passengers. But.. the future brings new challenges, like the Suns pulling their collective head out of their collective ass tonight in Toronto.

Goran Dragic has been the most consistent and solid player on the team this year, but his constituents have only managed to provide a sporadic spark (at best). Michael Beasley's PER (9.6) continues to look like a gymnastics score. Luis Scola has been ostracized to the bench. Shannon Brown has been feast or (mostly) famine. Marcin Gortat has been hot, fetid garbage the last seven games, to the tune of 9.7 points and 5.7 rebounds, while establishing himself as a bonafide single-single threat (it would be nice if he would play up to his potential so the Suns can get something of value if when they trade him before the deadline). Even P.J. Tucker appeared to have given up during the disgraceful display in Detroit...

After tonight, the Suns close out their six game trip with a stop in New York on Sunday followed by Memphis on Tuesday. The ascending level of competition puts an even greater onus on a somewhat less putrid renascent effort tonight.

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What To Watch For:

A Pulse: If the Suns don't come out hotter than a witches tittie on fire in hell I'm going to be disappointed. That doesn't necessarily mean they will win, or even play well, but the lack of effort displayed in the last game was palpable and completely unacceptable.

Shooting: The Raptors are a pedestrian team in terms of shooting the three .344 3P FG% (19th) and just plain bad overall .422 FG% (26th). Toronto, meet the Suns defense. The Suns are yielding matador-like .423 3P FG% (30th) and .471 FG% (28th). The timeless question of what happens when a limp offense meets a flaccid defense will be answered tonight. Tune in to watch the Suns get torched see how this unfolds.

Dragic vs. Lowry: Most people would asseverate that Kyle Lowry and Goran have had very comparable years in terms of performance. Goran shoots a little better, Lowry rebounds a little better. Scoring, assists, steals... pretty much everything is very similar. This should be an interesting matchup to keep an eye on even if it doesn't pan out as the best of the night.

Somebody to Step the F$%k Up: Did you know that Dragic's 26 points against Cleveland back on November 9th is still the highest output for any Sun this season. A Suns player has only been the game high scorer in four of 16 games this season. Shannon Brown's fourth quarter explosion against Charlotte might be the only real example of a Sun willing the team to victory. We all know the Suns are absent of premiere talent, but every once in a while someone needs to go off (I'm looking at you Michael Beasley). Remember the days when a 30 point performance wasn't completely shocking?

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The Final Word(s):

The Suns need to win this game. The Suns should win this game. The Suns will win by 10 almost undoubtedly come out with more brio and vim than in the pummeling at the Palace. I think the Suns will win this game if they have even a modicum of dignity left, but we all know that home teams play better... and we all know there is no such thing as an easy W for this season's Suns.


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Per Darren Rovell, the Phoenix Suns want your business AND they want you to have a good time.

Next Thursday, the Phoenix Suns will be the first team in NBA history to guarantee its fans that they will have fun at the game against the Mavericks, or they can get their money back.

The idea of "Satisfaction Guarantee Night" came out of a staff meeting following a 112-106 overtime loss to the Chicago Bulls on Nov. 14.

"After that game, I think we were all struck by the fact that so many people were leaving our building with a smile on their face," said Suns president Jason Rowley, who took over as team president this summer. "Normally, when a team loses fans are down. But not with us. And that was an eye-opening moment."

Possibly, this has something to do with underwhelming attendance figures because the Suns don't have any bankable stars and are not favored to win most of their games. But mostly it's the lack of ticket-selling star. David Stern figured out a long time ago that people come to see players, not teams. If you don't have a star, you don't have an audience. The Suns would like to change that, if at all possible.

"That's a big part of why we're doing this," Rowley said. "Just because our players don't have huge name recognition doesn't mean we're not fun to watch and can't compete. Sure, people relate to star power, but we believe in the team aspect and we're marketing this team as a team instead of a group of individuals."

This also very likely has something to do with national TV coverage. The Suns/Mavs game on December 6 will be aired on TNT - one of only a half-dozen games on national TV this season. The last thing the Suns want is to "show off" their empty seats to a national audience.

The Suns are currently pace to average their worst attendance numbers (15,092) since the arena opened twenty years ago. The economy is not helping, for sure. But talent plays a big role as well.

So buy some tickets for that game, Suns fans!

Your satisfaction is guaranteed.

Ed note: Seth decided to write up this story at the same time I did. Apparently he's a quicker typist because he emailed me a heads up and wrote the damn thing all while I was fumbling with the story editor before heading to my real job. Apparently, Seth can't let us go. We complete him. Go read his version too, and let us know which one is better (but remember, I AM the one who slaves for this damn community while Seth just pokes his head in occasionally)


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You have to admire the pluck of new Suns president Jason Rowley. Faced with the famously fickle fans of Phoenix (aliteration win!), the team is going to offer money back to those who buy a ticket to the Mavs game on the December 6.

Apparently, all you need to do is fill out an online form after the game and send it in with your ticket and Robert Sarver will personally deliver your refund along with a gift basket containing Groupons to his bank. (Details subject to verification.)

Balls.

Here's how Rowley explains it:

Phoenix Suns to offer fans money back fun guarantee - ESPN
"That's a big part of why we're doing this," Rowley said. "Just because our players don't have huge name recognition doesn't mean we're not fun to watch and can't compete. Sure, people relate to star power, but we believe in the team aspect and we're marketing this team as a team instead of a group of individuals."

Going to a sporting event has long been about more than the "game on the field". From the music to the mascots to the scantily clad dancers and free t-shirts, teams understand that they can't always count on the quality of play to be the main attraction.

Rowley is taking a bold stand against all that "other noise" and saying that the Suns, despite their losing record, are reason enough to buy a ticket and have a good time.

Balls.

Ed Note: So, a funny thing happened this morning. Both Dave King and I decided to write about the same story at the same time. For the record, I emailed him telling him I was "getting" this story and he didn't respond NOR did he email me saying he had it. Ergo, it's his fault. Obviously. Duh. Enjoy his story and this impromptu experiment at how two different people write about the same thing.

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Looking closely at the statistics related to the Suns defense this season vs. last season, the obvious things match the eyeball test. The Suns are generally okay (19th or better) at most aspects of defense except that opponents are making a ton of their jumpers. Where they fail as a team is on defending the spot-up and defending the Roll Man on the pick and roll.

But when you unravel the data even further, something new jumps out. Last year's best defender has become one of this year's worst.

Many of you think that Grant Hill was the Suns' best defender last year but the statistics say otherwise. In terms of pure success rate, Marcin Gortat allowed the fewest points per possession of any Phoenix Sun in 2011-12: 0.766 points per possession. Incredible, considering he defended in the highest conversion area on the floor.

Yet as Suns C Marcin Gortat makes headlines complaining about touches and his general role in the team's offense this season, he has inexplicably (and I'm sure to Suns head coach Alvin Gentry, inexcusably) allowed his defense to slip to awful levels.

Last year Gortat's defense ranked, per MySynergySports, in the 83rd percentile amongst NBA players in terms of "points per possession" allowed. He was rated as "excellent" overall and smartly was the Suns' most frequent defender. Of all plays executed against the Suns, Gortat was the defender of record on 768 of them (12%) - the highest rate on the team. It was mainly thanks to Gortat that the Suns finished 19th last season in points per possession allowed.

Flash forward to this season.

Still the Suns' most frequent defender of record, MySynergySports Gortat ranks Gortat as a "poor" defender overall. He is only in the 13th percentile amongst all NBA defenders, allowing more than a point per possession (1.023). Blech. As with last year, as Gortat goes so goes the defense.

Let's take a tabular look at the numbers. On the left are Gortat and Morris, year over year. On the right are their new wing men compared to a year ago (Frye vs. Scola, Lopez vs. O'Neal).

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As you can see, Scola has actually been decent on defense. His results are comparable to Channing Frye, both being passable defenders next to Gortat. Same with swapping Lopez for O'Neal (O'Neal has not has enough defensive plays to rank in a couple of the categories yet).

Yet Markieff Morris's step backward is positively dwarfed by Gortat's giant leap into a chasm.

How do you go from excellent to poor in one season?

Has the defensive scheme changed so much that Gortat can put the blame there? I can't see how that's likely, but it's certainly possible I guess.

Now maybe you can see why Alvin Gentry brushed off Gortat's complaints about his role in the Suns' offense. He clearly stated over and over again that he wants Gortat to focus on his strengths first. Gortat needs to play strong defense before he can complain about expanding his role in other areas. He is the anchor in the Suns defense and needs to play like it.

And, you can see why Gentry benches Gortat in favor of O'Neal's excellent defense when the Suns need to get some stops to get back into a game or close out a game.

The good news is that Gortat clearly has the tools to do just that. He has been a quality defender for years. If he can revert to his normal form on defense, he will be in the game at crunch time and he will get his touches on offense.

It all has to start with defense. Just as Gentry said.


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