After receiving inconsistent minutes to start the year, rookie Jonas Valanciunas played 27 minutes per game in March, and that figure will rise in April. His fellow rookie Terrence Ross had his minutes nearly doubled in March, a trend that will likely continue as well. Beyond that, Quincy Acy has been called up from the D-League, and the Raptors would like to see how much the second-round draft pick has progressed since the beginning of the year. All of that is reasonable. If anything, Casey should have adopted that mindset earlier.
With their loss to the Pistons on Monday, the Raptors were assured of not making the playoffs for the fifth straight year. This is now the longest the Raptors have been out of the post-season. The franchise made the playoffs in their fifth season of existence, and then ended a four-year drought when they won the Atlantic Division in 2006-07. But the Raptors have not sniffed the post-season since being knocked out in the first round by Orlando in April 2008.
Luxury boxes are fun, but not for any viewing purposes. You end up hitting the open bar like men going into combat. Halfway through those games, I couldn’t tell you the score. By the end, I’m iffy on the sport. A $4 ticket at a reseller like StubHub isn’t really four dollars. There’s a $5 service fee (“Here are your tickets”) and a $4.95 delivery fee (“Here are your tickets: The Sequel”). Total cost for a $4 ticket: $13.95. These also weren’t the cheapest tickets in the NBA on Wednesday. Mid-afternoon, some schlub was trying to unload a pair to see Denver (good team) in Utah for 89 cents a pop. If they sold the whole ACC at this price point, they’d make $80K. That’s about two-thirds of what Andrea Bargnani was paid Wednesday for bogarting a courtside seat.
Two of the rookies more than earned their keep Wednesday night as Jonas Valanciunas had a season-high 24 points to go along with 10 rebounds and Quincy Acy contributed eight points and a bundle of energy in his 20-minute run. The most impressive part of Valanciunas’s night was his 16-for-18 performance at the free throw line (both season highs) and the fact he had just four fouls in 41 minutes against two big, strong Wizard big men in Emeka Okafor and Nene.
While Toronto jumped out to a nice lead, the team decided to stop defending and suddenly the Wizards were ahead 50 to 39 at the half. The Dinos weren’t even attempting to guard the Wiz at times and as the third quarter began, this looked to be loss number 48 on the season for TO. However Raptors’ head coach Dwane Casey must have gotten through to his troops during halftime as a different version of the Dinos emerged from the locker room, one that was focused on D and getting stops. And that made all the difference.
After a tremendous game against Detroit, Rudy Gay appeared to be battling injuries. I would suspect his back was bothering him because Gay appeared very stiff, couldn’t beat anyone off the dribble and had trouble getting down in his defensive stance. It’s admirable that he continues to play through his injuries, but I wouldn’t be opposed to him being shut down for the season. Rudy really struggled to score (2-8 FG, 2-4 FT) but he still hit the glass for 8 rebounds and picked up a couple steals. After the game, Dwane Casey said Gay was limited to 24 minutes due to a twisted ankle.
It was an offensive performance reminiscent of the November Wizards. With Wall’s jumper not falling, Martell Webster’s hot stroke fading and Bradley Beal on the sidelines, the Raptors packed the paint and dared the Wizards to beat them from the outside. Washington couldn’t drive and kick for open threes, nor could they force double teams in the post. As a result, their offense consisted mostly of mid-range jumpers from Nene and Emeka Okafor, and that won’t work. The worst part is that the Wizards looked to be in great shape in the first half. It was almost like a role reversal, actually.They had the defense that was stifling. They were grinding out hoops by working through all their half-court options and crashing the glass. They had the 15-point lead at one point. But that was before the third quarter that we will never speak of again.
“The physicality of the game doesn’t bother him anymore,” Casey said, “whereas before he would kind of disappear a little bit. Now he’s huge at the end of a game. You can go to him. He can make free throws. He can pass the basketball but most of all he can defend without fouling. That’s huge for him. That growth for him has been huge.”
“That’s just him playing hard and being aggressive,” DeRozan said of Valanciunas, who shot an impressive 16-for-18 from the free-throw line during his career outing. “As a rookie when you get 20 points that’s definitely big, especially when it’s a double-double as well so that’s going to go a long way.” The 20-year-old from Lithuania has recorded a double-double in three of his last four games, scoring in double figures in 13 of 14.
“They were being aggressive and they just took control of the game,” John Wall said. “They were more aggressive to start the second half and we needed to be that way to close out the game.” Wizards head coach Randy Wittman agreed with his point guard. “We came out the second half and shot around 20 per cent,” he said. “There was no pace to the game. We had no movement, which was disappointing. To be up 11 at the half and then go through the motions…we need that killer instinct and we have not shown it.”