“I promise you, I don’t even think about that,” Casey said. “That’s one thing that I can’t control. The only thing I can control is preparing this team each and every game.” The results are decidedly pro-Casey, of course. He came here before the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season promising a defensive-minded style — one that packed the paint without the ball, while the Raptors slowed down on offence and did not focus on offensive rebounding — that would not hamper the team’s offensive production over the course of a game. Since the trade of Rudy Gay on Dec. 8, the Raptors rank 23rd in pace of play, fifth in defensive rating and ninth in offensive rating. How good is that? For the season, only four teams rank inside the top 10 in both offensive and defensive rating. Three of them are championship contenders from the Western Conference: Houston, Oklahoma City and San Antonio. The Raptors are the other team.
Valanciunas is still a step slow to react as a help defender, problematic since the centre is the last line of defence and the quarterback of any Casey-led defensive unit. As the push to the end of the season and the playoffs continues, Valanciunas could continue to cede time to the veterans, who each are solid to spectacular help defenders. DeMar DeRozan takes his role as a team leader seriously and part of that involves making sure youngsters like Valanciunas stay up-beat, even when they’re struggling. “He’s at a point where he’s early in his career. We’ve all been through it,” DeRozan said. “Everybody’s not fortunate to be on a winning team and able to play the whole game sometimes. You’ve got to learn. It comes with experience. Right now he’s just talking to (Casey), figuring out ways he can be better and things he can help us with when he’s out there on the court.”
Kyle Lowry speaks with the media after practice on Wednesday.
Has Kyle Lowry finally figured it out, or is it a little too convenient that he’s playing the best basketball of his career in a contract year? Regardless of the timing, Lowry certainly has carried the Raptors throughout the season, stepping up as a scorer and showing the ability to run a team. The latter ability was always questioned in previous stops, but Lowry has addressed a lot of the complaints about his play this year. It’s hard to tell whether Toronto will keep Lowry around going forward, as he’ll be 28 this offseason and may not fit in with any plans to rebuild the roster. We’ve seen Raptors GM Masai Ujiri re-sign players to long-term deals just to flip them shortly thereafter, so maybe that’s the plan with Lowry if the Raptors aren’t competitive again next year with him as starting point guard.
Washington, which lost 103-93 at home to the Raptors on Feb. 18, made an under-the-radar pickup at the trade deadline, acquiring veteran guard Andre Miller from Denver. Miller’s style and pace of play is a perfect contrast to speedy starting guard John Wall. Also, for front-court depth after Nene’s injury, they signed veteran forward Drew Gooden to a 10-day contract Wednesday.
The battle at the point is always big between these two teams, but, switching it up, the shooting guard matchup should be crucial as well. Beal is one of the league’s best young players and has averaged 17.8 points over his past 10 games. Similar to DeRozan, Beal is a capable and willing passer, gets on the boards and doesn’t commit a high number of turnovers. As soon as next year, Beal will make a return trip to the all-star game more difficult for DeRozan.
It turns out giving Bryan Colangelo his walking papers in favor of Masai Ujiri, the reigning NBA Executive of the Year, was a solid move from the jump. Colangelo’s big move before leaving Toronto’s front office was the acquisition of Rudy Gay from the Memphis Grizzlies. Gay is a proven scorer, but Ujiri felt he could improve the team by sending Gay to Sacramento in December. How did that work out? Well, Gay and the Kings are second-to-last in the ultra-competitive Western Conference and one of the NBA enigmas. The Kings are the only team in the league to have three players average more than 20 points and Gay is one of them. They just haven’t figured out how to play as a team.
On Feb. 18 at Verizon Center, the score was tied at 27 entering the second quarter. Then Vasquez helped the Raptors (32-25) break away. He assisted on the first field goal of by DeRozan, made a driving bank shot, assisted Tyler Hansbrough, then made consecutive shots in the lane. He played so well, Vasquez logged all 12 minutes of the second, getting six points and four assists to spot his team a six-point cushion at halftime. The Raptors led 84-70 after three quarters, and Vasquez was essential in holding off a run by the Wizards by registering six points and three assists in the fourth. In 26 minutes, he had 14 points on 6-for-8 shooting, seven assists and just one turnover for a bench that had 43 points in the 103-93 victory.