Reeling Raptors Aim To Heat Up In Phoenix

Desperate to end their current eight-game losing streak, the Raptors continue their five-game road trip in Phoenix for a meeting with Steve Nash and the Suns  (9 PM, TSN, FAN590).

Projected Starters
Jose Calderon (G), DeMar DeRozan (G),  James Johnson (F),  Ed Davis (F), Amir Johnson (C).
Steve Nash (G),  Jared Dudley (G), Grant Hill (F), Channing Frye (F), Marcin Gortat (C).

Key Injuries
TOR – Andrea Bargnani (strained left calf) – day-to-day

Best Chance To Stop Slide? Matt Devlin and Jack Armstrong alluded to this in yesterday’s Life On The Second Bus, but tonight may represent the Raptors’ best opportunity to avoid this slide from getting much worse.

“Best opportunity” however, is a relative term. It’s been a slow start for the Suns (6-9) this season and they’re coming off a loss to end their own five-game road trip, but they’ve dominated the Raptors in recent years with wins in 14 straight meetings — Toronto’s longest active losing streak against an opponent.

After that, it’s Utah on Wednesday, regarded as a tough place to finish a back-to-back and owners of a 12-game winning streak against the Raptors. That precedes the Nuggets (eight straight wins over the Raptors) followed by a cross country trek to visit the Nets to end the trip.

Time For Some Tough Love? Head coach Dwane Casey said after Sunday’s loss to the Clippers in Los Angeles that he’d have to evaluate the possibility of more changes to the lineup in an effort to get the Raptors off to a better start after two straight disastrous first quarters.

Doug Smith of the Toronto Star reported after Monday’s practice in Phoenix that Casey said he’s still considering a change in an effort to get a balanced 48-minute effort.

With the starters scoring a season-low 33 points on Sunday and the reserves combining for a season-high 58 points, Casey could follow through on that possibility in any number of ways. Leandro Barbosa (team-high 19 points), Linas Kleiza (16 points) and Aaron Gray (six points, eight rebounds) all gave the Raptors good minutes in Sunday’s loss and any of those players could provide the catalyst for change.

Amir Johnson was given the hook early in the third quarter against the Clippers in favour of Gray, but the incumbent starting centre certainly seemed to be more energized after Monday’s practice.

Does Bargnani return? The absence of the Raptors’ top scorer has to be a major concern and it remains to be seen if he returns to the lineup tonight. Bargnani did practice Monday with his teammates in Phoenix, but he remains officially listed as day-to-day and will likely be a game time decision.

The benefits a returning Bargnani provides the Raptors in terms of spacing the floor, the increased defensive attention he commands and according to one analysis, his outstanding man-to-man defence, his return would undoubtedly be the single-greatest shakeup the Raptors could receive.

Check @Raptors on Twitter leading up to game time for updates on Bargnani’s status.

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