The struggling Toronto Raptors open a four-game Western Conference swing Wednesday night at the Phoenix Suns, who are enjoying their best start since the 2009-10 season.
The Raptors, the 2019 NBA champions, are 1-5 after losing to the Boston Celtics 126-114 Monday at their temporary home in Tampa, Fla. It is the Raptors' worst start since they lost their first nine games of the 2005-06 season.
"We just need to get a little bit grittier, get a little bit tougher and a little bit nastier and have a little bit of a swagger to us," said Raptors guard Kyle Lowry, who scored 18 points Monday. "Right now we have no swagger to us. We have nothing. There's nothing to us. Teams are looking at us like, 'All right, let's go eat.'"
The Suns are 5-2 after a 112-107 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday after trailing by 31 points.
"I love the way we scrapped and battled," Suns coach Monty Williams said. "We know we can beat that team because we've done it before. We've just got to get off to a better start than we did tonight."
The Suns are enjoying their best seven-game opening to a season since they were 6-1 in 2009-10, the most recent season in which they reached the playoffs.
"We fought back against a good team," said Suns guard Devin Booker, who scored 12 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter Sunday. "That's good energy moving into the next game."
Deandre Ayton had a second straight strong performance with 24 points for the Suns. Chris Paul had 15 points, nine rebounds and six assists while Dario Saric scored 15 points off the bench, but Booker was the comeback catalyst.
"There's no one on our team that competes more than (Booker)," Williams said.
Phoenix would appear to be a tough place for the Raptors to right themselves.
They started well Monday against Boston and led by as many as 13 during the first quarter. The Celtics then smothered them with a 38-14 second quarter. In the fourth quarter, Boston led by as many as 26.
Fred VanVleet has been one of the bright spots for the Raptors. He scored 35 points Monday and has reached at least 25 in three consecutive games.
"We've got to get these guys playing to their capabilities," Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. "I think they're better players than that, so we as coaches, and our leaders of our team, need to. ... get these guys together and get them playing."
Pascal Siakam, who has struggled this season, showed flashes of what he can do Monday with 22 points. But rebounding has been a problem for Toronto. VanVleet, a guard, led the team with eight rebounds Monday.
"It's back to old-school blocking out, tagging and pursuing the ball," Nurse said. "It's trying to play bigger. So just old-school stuff. We've got to block out and we've got to get a little bit more size and strength in there to hold them off."
--Field Level Media