Suns-Raptors Preview

The Associated Press

Last-place teams a season ago, the Toronto Raptors and Phoenix Suns now have a chance to end their playoff droughts.

Toronto is in a much better position to do so despite these teams being separated by the thinnest of margins.

The winner between them Sunday will emerge with a better record, but the surging Raptors will remain atop their division while the visiting Suns will be outside the playoff picture regardless of the result.

Toronto (37-27) is an Eastern Conference-best 11-3 since Feb. 10, maintaining first place in the Atlantic despite second-place Brooklyn also being on a roll. Phoenix (37-28), meanwhile, has lost seven of 11 to drop slightly behind Memphis for the West's eighth and final playoff spot.

Still, being in this position is quite a surprise considering the Suns finished with the conference's worst record last season and haven't been to the playoffs since 2010.

"Before the season nobody expected us to do - what they said was we were going to have 15, 16 wins," Goran Dragic said. "Everybody was positive from the first day and tried to get some work done. ... We've still got some hopes to make the playoffs so you know we're going to battle a team until the last game and try to get every win."

The Raptors last made the postseason in 2008, and they ended up tied with Philadelphia in the Atlantic basement in 2012-13. They've been particularly good at home this season, winning four straight and nine of 11.

"We're preparing for every game like it's our last game. Obviously, physicality is gonna be a big factor," reserve guard Greivis Vasquez said. "We play physical. We punch teams and let them know that it's not going to be easy for any team to come to our house and beat us."

The last nine opponents to visit Toronto have been held to an average of 91.3 points in regulation.

The Suns are among the league's highest-scoring teams at 105.2 per game. They were one off a season low Friday but also allowed their lowest point total of the season and won 87-80 in Boston, snapping a three-game skid.

"I think we're re-figuring out how hard it is to get wins in the NBA, regardless of what team it is," veteran Channing Frye said.

"... We hold ourselves to a pretty high standard and you know we haven't been playing good of late, but we've got to look at the big picture and continue to know that we have to continue to believe in ourself and the work that we put in is not for nothing."

The Raptors helped Phoenix's cause Friday with a 99-86 win in Memphis as Jonas Valanciunas scored a season-high 23.

Kyle Lowry added 22 points, 12 assists and seven rebounds. He's averaged 20.5 points, 9.0 assists and 7.8 boards over the past four games while going 12 of 24 from 3-point range.

"It's fun playing with a guy who's as hot as he is right now," said Vasquez, who had 17 points and has lobbied to play alongside Lowry more often.

Lowry could be matched up against Eric Bledsoe, who has averaged 16.0 points in two games since missing 33 following knee surgery but is 1 for 9 from 3-point range.

The Suns had lost three straight to the Raptors before beating them 106-97 in Phoenix on Dec. 6 behind Markieff Morris' 25 points and 11 rebounds. He totaled 15 points in the teams' previous three meetings.

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