After the big win over the Warriors on Sunday, the Toronto Raptors big Lithuanian center Jonas Valanciunas could go home for the CBA mandated 2 day break that he was about to enjoy because this year, home is a lot closer than Lithuania. This past summer, Valanciunas married his girlfriend Egle Acaite and he likes having someone to come home to here in Toronto. “It’s been good,” Valanciunas said. “It’s good to have somebody who is (there to) support you outside of the basketball court, outside of the fans. It is good to have somebody.”
alanciunas’ box-score stats (10.3 points, 8.5 rebounds, .508 from the field) don’t pop off the page, though the 21-year-old has been nothing short of solid. He’s shown flashes of skill in the low post and is picking up the nuances of NBA defense, to the point where he’ll soon be a reliable rim-protector. According to NBA.com, Valanciunas has allowed a respectable 50.9 percent of his opponents’ field-goal attempts at the cup. He may not be the primary driver behind Toronto’s 33-26 record this season, but his size, length, toughness and offensive competence can’t be ignored. Neither can the extent to which Charles Barkley mangled his name on national TV, much to the delight of basketball fans everywhere.
An eventual redesign is scheduled to be revealed for that 2015-16 season. “The next year promises to be one of the most important yet in team history as we celebrate the Raptors’ 20th Anniversary, but also prepare for the chance to welcome the world with the 2016 NBA All Star Game,” Leiweke said. Toronto rapper Drake, MLSE’s global ambassador has had a hand in the redesign process, which is being handled by Canadian advertising agency Sid Lee. Leiweke has said in the past that a gold and black colour scheme is one of the various options being looked at.
With a 3.5 game lead over the Brooklyn Nets (29-29) for the top spot in the Atlantic Division, the Raptors are well on their way to qualifying for the postseason for the first time since 2007-08. Whether they’d be able to reach that level of success with someone else at the helm remains to be seen. A basketball team is only as good as the man or woman standing on the sidelines calling the plays. There are several intangibles that make a great coach, which include the ability to motivate, work a rotation effectively and organize a game plan. For the most part, Casey thrives in all of those areas. It’s not always pretty, but it works.
Playing the best basketball of his five-year career, DeMar DeRozan has validated his all-star status but has he evolved into a true franchise player for the Raptors? In this week’s Raptors Report podcast, TSN 1050’s Josh Lewenberg and Duane Watson make DeRozan’s case, looking at his growth on and off the floor. On the contrary, second-year centre Jonas Valanciunas has experienced recent growing pains, are his confidence issues a cause for concern? What will the reception be like at the Air Canada Centre when Rudy Gay makes his much-anticipated return as a member of the Kings on Friday? To boo or not to boo?
Of all the confounding things about this Raptor season, the one that’s come to the fore lately to some of us is how shoddily the franchise is being, and has been, treated by its broadcast partner overlords since before the season began. Kind of shocking since, you know, the broadcast partners own the freaking organization, but it’s been amazing to see what’s gone on. In the last couple of weeks, they have had the start of games mysteriously moved from one network to another because – get this! – they had to show a rain delay of a car race and the end of a truly meaningless spring training game. How stupid is that?
Will the board work pick up? Part of the defensive slippage stems from poor work on the defensive boards. While Toronto excels on the offensive glass, too often lately opponents have been getting far too many second (and third chances). Toronto ranks just 15th overall in defensive rebound percentage. Whether its boxing out or putting up a better effort, the Raptors must limit the offensive rebounds being allowed. Amir Johnson’s rebounding numbers have dropped and Jonas Valanciunas leads the team at just 8.5 per game. The backcourt of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry ranks as one of the league’s best at rebounding, but the rest of the gang has to pull above its weight as well.
“I didn’t come out and say, ‘Coach, you have to lose games.’ I never said that. I wanted to establish a winning tradition and a culture and all of that, but I wanted him to do it in the framework of playing and developing the young players. With that comes losing. There’s just no way to avoid that.” What Colangelo described was not tanking, something he clarified in further interviews. In a league in which establishing a team that is capable of consistent championship contention is the goal and a punitive luxury tax is a reality, it is an open secret — if it is a secret at all — that each team does not try to maximize its win total each year. It would be poor long-term planning if they did.
Now 33-26 overall and 17-12 at the Air Canada Center, Toronto has beaten seven of its past nine opponents and hasn’t looked back since surpassing the .500 mark in early January. Even with their recent run of success however, the Raptors’ current position in the conference is becoming more precarious by the day. Currently on a rare four-day layoff, Toronto’s most pressing concern begins and ends with it’s potential position in the upcoming playoffs. With a 3.5-game lead over the charging Brooklyn Nets, however, a division title once considered to be in the bag is no longer a foregone conclusion. At the moment, the Raptors are locked in a battle with the Chicago Bulls for third in the East with the Wizards not far behind. Considering that just 3.5 games separate Toronto, Chicago, Washington and Brooklyn, the outcome of a single contest could dramatically affect the pairings in the opening round of the playoffs.
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