Raptors-Suns Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated March 05, 2013
Lindsey Hunter has been stressing the importance of defense since he became interim head coach of the Phoenix Suns six weeks ago. His message appears to finally be getting through. Phoenix looks to match its longest win streak of the season Wednesday night and send the visiting Toronto Raptors to a sixth straight loss. A 13-28 record under Alvin Gentry led to his dismissal Jan. 20, and the Suns have shown improvement by winning eight of 19 since Hunter was named coach. Phoenix (21-39) has followed a 1-6 stretch with three consecutive wins, one shy of its season high set Dec. 12-19. The Suns started the run with a victory over an injury-plagued Minnesota team before a stunning 105-101 overtime win at San Antonio last Wednesday ended the Spurs' 18-game home win streak. Hunter's team maintained that momentum with a 92-87 victory over Atlanta on Friday, hitting 10 3-pointers - its most in over two months - and forcing 21 turnovers. "They played really well, played really hard," Hunter said. "I thought defensively they were good." During the three-game streak, Phoenix is holding opponents to 90.3 points per game and limiting them to 39.8 percent shooting. Those numbers are in stark contrast to the previous three contests during which foes averaged 106.0 points and shot 49.6 percent. "Our defense is better, especially in the rotations," guard Goran Dragic told the team's official website. "If you play good defense, you don't put pressure on the offense. "Even if you miss, you're confident that you can defend. Maybe because of that we finished some games like we did in the last three." Dragic scored 19 points against the Hawks before leaving with a lower back bruise in the third quarter, but he's expected to play this game. That's good news for a Suns team that has seen its point guard average 15.3 points, 10.7 assists and 2.3 steals in seven games since the All-Star break. This will be the third stop on a four-game trip for the Raptors (22-38), who have lost six of seven following a season high-tying five-game win streak. A lack of defense late was the problem in a 125-118 loss to Golden State on Monday, as the Warriors scored 42 fourth-quarter points and shot a season-best 57.3 percent overall. Andrea Bargnani had 26 points and matched a career high with five 3-pointers, but the Raptors dropped to 0-9 this season when he scores at least 20. "The offense wasn't the problem," Bargnani said. "We had what we wanted. On defense we have to do a better job, especially against these kinds of teams. We tried to do what we can, but it wasn't good enough." The Raptors have won two straight against the Suns after a 14-game losing streak in the series. Toronto's 99-96 victory in Phoenix on Jan. 24, 2012, was its first there in eight games. Bargnani had 36 points - the third-highest total of his career - in that win but scored four in 27 minutes during the most recent meeting, a 101-97 home victory Nov. 30. Suns center Jermaine O'Neal will be out for an undetermined time while his daughter undergoes surgery to repair a leaky heart valve.
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