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Raptors, Suns face off looking to shake off woes

Dec 28, 2022; Washington, District of Columbia, USA;  Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul (3) looks to pass during the second half H| at Capital One Arena. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The Phoenix Suns will continue to learn how to cope with the absence of All-Star Devin Booker on Friday night when they visit the struggling Toronto Raptors.

Before losing 127-102 to the host Washington Wizards on Wednesday, the Suns announced that Booker would have his groin injury re-evaluated in four weeks.

Booker, who is averaging 27.1 points and has scored more than 50 points twice this season, has missed seven of the past 10 games with hamstring and groin injuries. He played just four minutes Sunday in a 128-125 overtime loss to the Denver Nuggets that opened a six-game road trip.

The Suns came back with a 125-108 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies on Tuesday.

The Raptors will be playing the second half of back-to-back games. They lost their fifth straight home game Thursday, 119-106 to the Grizzlies. Toronto has lost eight of its past 10 games overall.

“It’s pretty unacceptable with the effort we gave,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “I thought the loose-ball count was all in their favor. I’m not talking about 50-50 balls either. I’m talking about ones where we had huge advantages to get and we just (did not). … That’s our identity, who we are. Right? When we’re tipping balls away, we’re the first ones to the floor to get them, and we weren’t close to that tonight.”

As for the Suns, Deandre Ayton scored 31 points against the Wizards, while Chris Paul added 20 points and Mikal Bridges scored 17.

“They attacked us,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “Close-outs weren’t great. And in that third quarter and beginning of the fourth, it was just one close-out after another and they were getting to the rim.”

Williams said he does not want Bridges, Ayton and Paul to feel as if they have to “try save the world” during Booker’s absence.

“We just need to do what we did (at Memphis),” Williams said. “Everything was by committee. We played unbelievably hard, with force. We shared the ball. It’s a chance for us to grow that part of our program. I felt like we had drifted away from it over the last month or so.”

“Just keep playing,” Paul added. “Hold the fort down.”

“It’s good for guys to get on the court and learn and play through some stuff so when (Booker) gets back, we’re going to be an even more polished team,” Suns guard Josh Okogie said. “I’m thinking in the future in the playoffs when Booker sits on the bench for however many minutes it is to get his breather, we’re going to be so polished knowing how to play without him we’re going to know what to do.”

The Suns also have been dealing with injuries to Cameron Payne (foot), Landry Shamet (Achilles) and Cam Johnson (knee).

In their loss to the Grizzlies, the Raptors got 25 points and 10 rebounds from Pascal Siakam.

“Certainly, lately we’ve been lacking in playing to our identity,” Nurse said. “I don’t know. We’re just a little bit disjointed right now and we’ve got us, we’ve got to hang in there and get to work and keep showing them what we’re talking about and hopefully they’ll go out there and execute. They should get tired of this pretty soon and start playing.”

The Raptors were without Fred VanVleet (back) Thursday, though he is day-to-day. Precious Achiuwa (ankle) could return Friday.

–Field Level Media