The Raptors, who have been one of the NBA’s most pleasant surprises for the second season in a row, have suddenly hit a downturn. Toronto enters Tuesday night’s game in Phoenix as losers of three consecutive games, which is tied for the team’s longest losing streak all year long. The Raptors failed to crack even 100 points in two of those games, and last time out they were throttled by the Nuggets in a game that wasn’t as close as the 133-118 final score might lead you to believe.
Toronto is still playing on without Marc Gasol, who remains sidelined with a hamstring injury. The Raptors have also been without a couple more starters in Serge Ibaka and Fred VanVleet for the past couple of games, so a mini slump isn’t all that unexpected. Nick Nurse has a fairly thin rotation to begin with, so missing so many key players has obviously had a negative effect.
The Suns, meanwhile, remain on the fringes of the Western Conference playoff chase. Phoenix is six games back of the eighth-place Grizzlies heading into Tuesday’s action, though they’d have to hurdle a number of other teams just to catch Memphis. The Suns are 13th in the conference, which means their playoff chances are pretty slim at this point.
It also doesn’t help that Kelly Oubre may miss the rest of the season with an injury. Monty Williams tends to run a tight rotation of his own, and Oubre’s absence has led to additional minutes for Dario Saric. The Raptors are 5 point favorites on Tuesday night in the desert in a game with a 225.5 over/under at MyBookie.
Fred VanVleet, Serge Ibaka questionable for Toronto, Marc Gasol remains out
Kelly Oubre sidelined for Phoenix, Cameron Johnson questionable
Raptors beat Suns 118-101 in Toronto on February 21
Raptors’ Smallball Experiment
Nick Nurse has been forced to get creative with both of his centers, Ibaka and Gasol, out injured. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson has been serving as the preferred fill-in in the starting lineup, while Chris Boucher gets a little extra run off the bench. Boucher rarely plays much more than 15 minutes, though, which means the Raps have been playing with tiny lineups for most of the time without Gasol and Ibaka.
The Rockets have shown us that you don’t need a center to win in the NBA, but the strategy didn’t pay off for the Raptors on Sunday in Denver. Toronto’s smaller lineup had no answer whatsoever for Nikola Jokic, who spent the entire afternoon absolutely toasting the Raptors. Jokic finished with 23 points, 18 rebounds and 11 assists against Toronto’s center-less lineup.
If Ibaka joins Gasol on the sidelines again tonight, the Raptors will likely test that same strategy against another talented center in Deandre Ayton. Ayton has been vastly overshadowed by a couple of other stars that have emerged from his draft class (Trae Young and Luka Doncic), but the former No. 1 overall pick has quietly put together a solid campaign. Ayton is averaging about 19 points and 12 rebounds per game through 29 games on the year. Whether Nurse tinkers with his strategy to combat the big man tonight obviously remains to be seen.
If VanVleet misses another game, we can safely expect the offense to center around Pascal Siakam, Kyle Lowry and Norm Powell. Powell led the trio with 24 points on Sunday in Denver, while OG Anunoby led the way with 32.
Booker Getting Tired?
The Suns started the season impressively, but they seem to be primed to miss out on postseason play yet again. The Suns haven’t made the playoffs since the 2009-10 season, which will put their drought at a full decade.
Phoenix has had to rely heavily on Devin Booker to carry the offense, and there’s a chance he’s wearing down under the weight of that burden. The All-Star is averaging 26 points per game on the season, but he shot just 41 percent from the field in the month of February. Booker has also played 38 or more minutes in four of the Suns’ last five games overall.
The loss of Oubre is meaningful considering his presence brought much-needed floor-spacing and someone willing to run the floor and defend multiple positions. His absence means more minutes for Saric, who doesn’t fill many of those same needs. He can give the Suns some marksmanship from long range, but he’s more of a liability defensively.
Three-point shooting was the difference in the game the last time the Suns met the Raptors a few weeks ago. Toronto held Phoenix to just 6-for-34 shooting (17.6 percent) from beyond the arc last month, while the Raps converted on 14 of their 37 looks (37.8 percent).
The Raptors also out-rebounded the Suns 48-34, though it’s worth noting that Ibaka was in the lineup that night.
Toronto has gone 33-27-0 against the spread this season, which is among the best ATS marks in the league. The Suns are just 27-33-1 ATS, which is fifth-worst. Phoenix also enters this game on a three-game losing skid of their own, a stretch that includes discouraging losses against awful teams like Golden State and Detroit.
Raptors vs Suns Pick
Needless to say, the Raptors would be more than 5 point favorites if they weren’t dealing with their aforementioned injury problems. Ibaka suiting up tonight would do a lot to stabilize Toronto’s defense, but we’ll see if that happens.
I still like the Raptors to cover here, even if we don’t have confirmation on the statuses of Ibaka or VanVleet. The Suns have been in ragged form of late, and they’re coming off a discouraging 16-point loss against a Warriors team that has to be the worst in the league so far this season.
I like the value you can get on betting the Raptors to cover here. I think tonight is the night they snap out of their funk and get back on track. The 5 point spread will look downright advantageous if Ibaka or VanVleet get their statuses upgraded later in the day, so take advantage of the number while you still can.
Taylor Smith has been a staff writer with GamblingSites.org since early 2017. Taylor is primarily a sports writer, though he will occasionally dabble in other things like politics and entertainment betting. His primary specialties are writing about the NBA, Major League Baseball, NFL and domestic and international soccer. Fringe sports like golf and horse racing aren’t exactly his cup of tea, bu ...
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