Bayno is a former head coach at UNLV and a long-time assistant in Minnesota. Nurse ran a very successful program in the D-League and Mermuys came to Toronto after stints in both Houston and Denver. Nurse has brought his unique offensive flair to the Raptors while both Bayno and Mermuys are tireless developers, willing to go to the gym at any hour of the day or night to get a player some extra work. “Nick Nurse has come in and done an unbelievable job figuring out sets and bringing in a different type of offence, a more up-tempo type of offence,” Lowry said. “Jesse and Bayno? Their energy has been great. Their enthusiasm and pushing everybody to keep being aggressive and shooting shots and making sure that even if they miss a few, it don’t matter, just keep going.”
“We haven’t thought about it or talked about it,” guard Kyle Lowry said, about the ramifications of Wednesday’s schedule. “We’re just going to go out there and play our game.” Raptors coach Dwane Casey has been resting his starters — all-star DeMar DeRozan got the night off Monday. Casey said he would consider resting DeRozan again Wednesday, despite what outcome that might have on the game, and their conference seeding. “I’m more worried about us moreso than who we play. It’s about us. About our health, rest, whatever we decide to do in that situation. If we play Brooklyn, we play Brooklyn, if we play Washington, we play Washington, there’s no easy teams left in the playoffs right now, all the teams are very capable,” Casey said. “Brooklyn is probably more playoff-ready, but we can’t control that and we’re not going into this game trying to control that. I’m more worried about our guys’ health — rest if we rest them — and our rhythm. And it’s a fine line between the two.”
The Raptors may not be the most athletic team in the NBA, but they could exploit a speed advantage over the somewhat senior Nets. It would be up to the likes of DeMar DeRozan and Terrence Ross, two playoff neophytes, to feel comfortable right off the bat but their familiarity with the division rivals should be a boon. A size advantage up front would also be something Toronto might be able to take advantage of, if Jonas Valanciunas plays well.
When the 27-year-old arrived here in a 2012 trade with Houston, he was not fun. He was anti-fun. He had a way of eyeballing you that made you feel like he was reading something off the back of your skull. When he returned after the first year, he was different. Physically, but that was the least of it. When I begin a question like so – “Now that you’ve become the most important athlete in Toronto …” – Lowry pulls back and interrupts. “Do you really think that’s true?” he says. He’s really asking. He wants to know. Yeah, it’s true. It’s true because Lowry from a year ago would just have nodded along in agreement. More to the point, he wouldn’t be wasting his time talking to you in the first place. A bunch of reasons have been mooted as the catalyst for this shift – a heart-to-heart with GM Masai Ujiri, getting married, having a kid. Lowry lists them all off. “Sometimes, you have to admit to yourself that maybe you’re the one who needs to change,” he says.
Campsall compares not the Bosh-led group though, but the vintage Vince Carter 47 win team with this year’s squad and at the time of its penning, statistically, you’d have to say the 2013-14 team comes out on top. I’m going to argue however that it’s too early to tell. The Carter squad not only made the NBA playoffs, but defeated a tough Knicks’ club in their second kick at said can, so let’s hold off on “Best Ever” titles until we see how this group performs.
The biggest breakout (literally and figuratively), however, has yet to come. In an Eastern Conference lacking quality big men, this postseason can be 21-year-old center Jonas Valanciunas’ time to shine. To his credit, he’s finishing the season strong. In his last five games, the big Lithuanian is averaging 17.8 points and 13.4 rebounds. That includes a 14-point/21-rebound performance on April 11 against the Knicks as well as a 26-point/12-rebound night against the 76ers on April 9. Those kind of games will only help build Valanciunas’ confidence. With more development on the defensive end, he’ll be even more of a monster on the inside. Toronto’s trio on the perimeter has been good enough to carry the team to the third seed in the East, but Valanciunas’ potential emergence makes them a very scary team going forward.
Why they’re dangerous: Everyone’s underrating them, when they’re the likely third seed. They have depth, size inside with Jonas Valanciunas and Amir Johnson. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan make up maybe the best backcourt in the East. And this team believes, which is dangerous. They have nothing to lose. Weaknesses: Defensive schemes can solve most of their players, who have almost no playoff experience. They close games by giving the ball to John Salmons. Reasonable ceiling: A thrilling first-round victory leads to a noble second-round, six-game loss to Miami. Reasonable floor: The Nets wind up facing them in the first round, and spring the upset. You can talk me into Washington knocking them off but you have to get awfully creative.
Despite losing count of his ankle sprains long ago, Johnson never complains. Like clockwork, he sits at his locker after games, the messiest in the room, with shoes — mostly his, some stolen from DeRozan — strewn around him. Feet submerged in an ice bucket, he talks to reporters pushing their own deadlines because his candor is worth it. Johnson said his motivation to play through damn near anything stems from the simple fact he wants to always be there for his team. “It’s like, if you see somebody in trouble, your mindset, first reaction is to go help them, see what you can do,” Johnson said. “That goes on and off the court. If its a family member, anybody. If I see somebody in trouble, if I see somebody down, my first reaction is I’ve got to help them, by any means possible.” That dedication has endeared him to Toronto fans who expect passion from their players and embrace blue-collar work ethic above all.
For starters, the Raptors post-season drought has driven away its fair share of fans over the years. As they flock back, those who stuck it out through the hard times are ensuring that they are in the house for the good times as well. The Toronto Maple Leafs playoff absence this season also creates a void of sorts among local sports fans, whose other options for live events are limited to early season baseball and soccer. And we all know Toronto is a world-class bandwagon sports town, meaning that the Raps are attracting more and more casual fans as the post-season nears.
Atlantic Division Champions banner | Being named NBA Executive of the Year in Denver | Bigger challenge in Toronto for him | Working in Toronto before | Changes | Rudy Gay trade | Finding chemistry after the Gay trade | Kyle Lowry | Lowry off the court | His story | Being from Northern Nigeria | His goal was to be an NBA scout | Getting an opportunity with the Orlando Magic | Meeting with Nelson Mandela
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