Too bad Raptors can't play Suns all the time

FRANK ZICARELLI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:13 AM ET

TORONTO - The closer the regular season draws nearer, the closer Jay Triano is in figuring out his rotation pattern and identifying his starting unit.

If only the Raptors could play the Phoenix Suns a lot more often, life would be made a lot easier for Triano and his staff in managing minutes and finalizing a pattern that sees players entering games at certain junctures and ironing out role definitions.

These are not the Suns of old and perhaps these new-look Phoenix team has a lot more to offer than theyve shown in two pre-season losses to Toronto when the NBAs meaningful games tip off next week.

With Hedo Turkoglu playing at power forward, the Raptors were able to go with a small lineup that meant extended minutes for Linas Kleiza.

Kleiza is a versatile forward who has a variety of ways of scoring, capable of extending a big away from the basket or moving into the post when an opponent throws a smaller body at the first-year Raptor.

The Raptors were forcing turnovers, getting out in transition and pounding the Suns on the boards en route to a 121-100 win.

For those keeping score, the Raptors have now beaten the Suns by a combined 250-178 in two exhibition meetings.

Of course, none of this matters, but glimpses of how the Raptors must play to compete this upcoming season have been provided, the latest evidence produced on Sunday.

The one concern to emerge, an area that perplexes Triano, is the way the Raptors began the game, trailing 33-22 after the opening period.

Whether Triano sticks with the starting five of Kleiza, Reggie Evans, Andrea Bargnani, DeMar DeRozan and Jose Calderon isnt certain.

But he knows the Raptors dont have the luxury of playing from behind, especially so early in games.

But on this afternoon, there were more positives, beginning with a renewed sense of energy that all but disappeared on Friday when Boston came to town.

Bargnani discovered his jumper, the tandem of Evans and Amir Johnson destroyed Phoenix on the glass and Torontos bench was productive.

Im getting there, Triano said when asked about his rotation. I havent liked the way weve started the last couple of games and I dont know if its personnel based or psychologically, but weve got to figure it out.

Matchup-wise, the Raptors matched up well against the Suns, who were simply overmatched when trying to keep Evans and Johnson, who posted 23 of Torontos 57 rebounds, off the boards.

Throw in injuries to David Andersen (back) and Joey Dorsey (hamstring) and the Raptors got to showcase their version of small ball.

The offence kind of came to me, said Johnson, who made eight of nine field goals, mainly on put-backs. I really stressed getting to the offensive and defensive boards.

Our team played hard and we have to have that sense of urgency at the beginning of the season.

Effort is one area the Raptors can control, a mindset that cannot waver given the teams shortcomings.

And even then, it still may not be sufficient to win on most nights.

Ball pressure, which is the byproduct of effort, forced 18 Suns turnovers.

When the pace is quick and the Raptors are running the floor, their athleticism is able to excel in that environment.

What they dont have is an abundance of players capable of creating late in the shot clock.

As well as Kleiza played, pouring in a game-high 23 points and contributing eight boards and four assists, it remains to be seen how hell be able to defend when matched up against a power forward not named Turkoglu, who is best suited at small forward.

Its just one of questions that cannot be answered until next week.

To be a good team in this league, you cant be a chameleon, so to speak, added Jarrett Jack, who again was one of the catalyts off the bench on a unit that included Johnson, Sonny Weems and Leandro Barbosa.

You cant be an aggressive defensive team one night and somebody else another night. You constantly have to identify yourself with who you arein this league and that allows us to establish a style that we want to play.


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