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These teams have a lot more in common than meets the eye. This season the Phoenix Suns (21-39) and the Toronto Raptors (23-38) seem to be in denial about rebuilding, battling themselves and their own lottery odds in the process.

One positive is that over the years, the Suns have dominated the Raptors to a tune of 23-9 lifetime.

Someone is going to lose lottery balls tonight, which is what happens when two lottery teams dance this late in the season. The past few years have been different for the Raptors as they went into a full rebuild after losing Chris Bosh: bringing in Kyle Lowry and Rudy Gay, drafted Jonas Valanciunas, and shifted to a younger more athletic core. They have not improved dramatically in terms of wins and loses, but are moving in the right direction.

On the side of the coin the Suns have been seemingly fighting the reality that is the rebuild. This game gives the fans a first hand look at what a team with two Top 10 picks and a handful of other young assets can look like. Right now the Raptors are playing a good brand of basketball since the the Gay trade, going 7-7 and showing signs of being a quality team going forward.

The Suns are improving as well, winning their last three games and having a realistic chance at tying their season high (four games) for wins in a row as they host another team in a very similar situation to themselves. These wins have dramatically changed their lottery odds, as will a win tonight.

(Recent) History Lesson

Remember the seven game losing streak earlier in the season? It wasn't all blowouts. In fact, there were a few very close games, including the controversial loss to the Raptors on the road. It was a tough loss to swallow as Luis Scola looked to have been fouled in the paint with a chance to tie the game at the free-throw line. Instead, Kyle Lowry rebounded the ball and iced the game at the line.

Head-to-Head (past four seasons including Playoffs)

Suns: 105.1 PPG (4 wins)

Raptors: 98.6 PPG (2 wins)

Before last season, the Suns had won 14 straight games against the Raptors dating back to 2003. They were the whipping boys for the Suns to an extent. As of late, it has been a closer series with the talent gap closing considerably over the years.

Head-to-Head (career)

Andrea Bargnani vs. Suns: 19.8 PPG 4.6 RPG 1.1 APG 0.45 BPG 47.6 FG% (11 games)

Luis Scola vs. Raptors: 12.0 PPG 8.8 RPG 1.7 APG 0.54 BPG 45.1 FG% (11 games)

A tale of two power forwards. On one hand, Bargnani has dominated the Suns for his second most points per game and shooting the ball at a great clip. Most of his points come inside and he only ventures out to three-point line when necessary instead of living out there like he can do for whole games. Then you have Scola who has had the most modest games of his career against the Raptors. They hold him to the second fewest points per game in the league.

Starting Line-Ups

PG - Goran Dragic v. Kyle Lowry

SG - Jared Dudley v. DeMar DeRozan

SF - P.J. Tucker v. Rudy Gay

PF - Luis Scola v. Andrea Bargnani

C - Marcin Gortat v. Jonas Valanciunas

Potential Suns Inactives: Diante Garrett (Coaches Decision), Hamed Haddadi (Ankle), and Jermaine O'Neal (Personal)

Potential Raptors Inactives: Linas Kleiza (Knee) and Mickael Pietrus (Knee)

Key Match-Up

Wesley Johnson vs. Alan Anderson

This season Anderson has put together a great year off of the bench as a scorer, giving them a surprising punch that they were sorely lacking. He is scoring from three, getting to the line, and shooting the ball well all-around on the perimeter. The Suns' counter-punch is Johnson, who has been playing very well as of late. He has developed as the season has progressed, giving the Suns their very own surprise off of the bench. These two will battle it out on the reserve unit to try and give their team an edge.

Interesting Stat: 1.6 more minutes per game

That is all that Toronto is giving Rudy Gay in terms of minutes per game since the trade, not much more than in Memphis, but he is putting up bigger numbers with that extra minute plus. In that extra time, he is scoring 3.7 more points, 0.7 more rebounds, and getting to the free-throw line 1.4 more times per game. He is not shooting the ball any better, actually much worse statistically, but has been playing very good basketball for the improved Raptors. They are 7-7 since acquiring the borderline All-Star.

Meaningless Stat: -3.7

Since the Gay Trade, which at one point was going to be for Suns forward Jared Dudley, he has declined in productivity. Before the trade, Dudley was one of the teams' more consistent performers on both ends of the floor. Well, take a look for yourself to see what he has done since then:

MIN PTS REBS ASTS STLS FG% 3PT% FT%
Nov-Jan (pre-trade)
30.5 12.0 3.6 2.7 1.0 47.9 38.5 82.7
Feb (since trade)
24.7 8.3 2.6 2.4 0.4 41.6 38.2 60.0
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KTAR620 Arizona Sports writer Craig Grialou had a chance to talk to Sebastian Telfair in a conversation that was quite revealing as to how Telfair felt his situation was handled.

Click here for the story and full audio.

"I've got to leave my kids home, by themselves now and I'm all the way in Toronto so (expletive) yeah, I'm bitter." -Sebastian Telfair

"I'm bitter," he said. "I'm a little bitter. I don't have nothing personal against (my former teammates), love them guys but I'm bitter. I'm a little bitter. For one, I got to pick up and leave my family, my kids. Forget the business part of it, I've got to leave my kids home, by themselves now and I'm all the way in Toronto so (expletive) yeah, I'm bitter.

Sebastian Telfair is bitter. I'm not surprised. I think I might be too.

First he got benched, but still said he wanted to remain in Phoenix (disclaimer - he also mentioned that if he were traded he would like to go to a contending team). Then the Suns traded him to a lottery team when he wanted to go to a contender. Sure he has friends there, but I think most basketball players want to compete more than hang with their buddies.

"I think last year we competed a lot better. I understand they're going in a new direction, but I wished we would've known that this summer. I really can't understand it. I'm not mad at nobody, but I don't understand it."

My first takeaway was actually about our "positive" culture. Of course it's a business but when the Suns keep professing that they are a destination and are changing the culture, it doesn't hold the line when ex-players are calling them bush league. Let's not turn this into a pity party for Telfair, though. This isn't a charity or YMCA league. The Suns need to develop youth and a draft pick helps more than letting Telfair's contract expire. Telfair wouldn't be the first malcontent to rail out against his former team but to be honest, I didn't think the Suns handled the situation well either.

Like Kris Habbas of BSotS said when he and I first discussed the culture change, "Not all change is good."

Suns GM Lance Blanks would disagree with a pernicious change sentiment, as evidenced by him speaking out about the team improving the culture and developing fertile soil for players directly after the move that sent Telfair to the Raptors. Lance and I may have slightly varying viewpoints.

I still find it hard to believe that the Suns couldn't have gotten a second rounder from a playoff team, so I found it interesting that he landed in Toronto.... but a second rounder from a lottery team could be a lot better than a contending one. Plus there's the Haddadi factor. That's huge.

The list of players and coaches that have felt alienated by the team this season continues to grow.

This just adds to a series of questionable moves and adds scrutiny to the way the Suns have handled player and personnel moves. There appears to be a problem with the way the Suns have handled the dialogue with both players and coaches that have been casualties of the attrition and changing of the guard this season. The list of players and coaches that have felt alienated by the team this season continues to grow.

In the final analysis though, this is a business and Telfair should (and I believe does) know that. Sometimes you have to suck it up and sometimes it's better to remain reticent than openly bitter. Recent departures by Gentry, Nash, Hill, and Stoudemire were definitely handled more diplomatically and professionally. I understand that Sebastian's feelings are hurt, but he could, and probably should, have acquitted himself in a more favorable light.

So is this another case of mishandling player relations or is it just the business side of the NBA? Maybe it's both and they are just inseparable because of the nature of the beast.

Time: 7 p.m. MST TV: FSAZ First glances can deceive, and tonight’s game is further proof of that. The respective records of Toronto and Phoenix indicate they’re in the same boat....

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Dirty_dozen

Kris keeps bringing it and I keep ridin' (dirty) his coattails. His lassitude is starting to become evident after months of carrying my dead weight. He should be commended. Maybe even crowned. Kind of like a King. King Kris, let's crown his ass.

Phoenix Suns Podcast Episode

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Per Paul Coro of azcentral.com and the Arizona Republic, backup center Jermaine O'Neal will miss time to be with his daughter while she has heart surgery.

Asjia will undergo surgery to repair a leaky heart valve Wednesday in Boston. O'Neal already feels guilty that he will miss her pre-operation hospital routine while he has one last Suns practice Tuesday.

He told his teammates that he will miss three games but his return will be up to his daughter, just as she and his son, Jermaine Jr., will decide whether he returns for an 18th season next year. O'Neal said Suns interim head coach Lindsey Hunter asked him about playing two more seasons.

O'Neal has been playing his best basketball in years lately, all while knowing his daughter was scheduled to go under the knife soon. He's just been trying to get it all in before taking time off to be with her.

Without O'Neal, the Suns will have to play Marcin Gortat more minutes and slide Markieff Morris and Luis Scola into the pivot more often.

The Suns may also get a chance to play deadline day acquisition Hamed Haddadi, who has not played live NBA basketball in months. He was traded to Toronto in the Rudy Gay trade in January but never joined the team due to visa issues.

Now, he might get a chance to play against Toronto, the Suns next opponent.

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