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Pre-game news & notes: Ibaka sitting out preseason finale

It’d be nice to beat the Bulls here just to make sure there’s no concern that the Bulls still own the Raptors.

The preseason draws to a close on Friday as the Toronto Raptors visit the Chicago Bulls for their fifth and final exhibition contest. Four games in, there are enough positives to feel warmly about, enough areas for improvement to half-want a longer preseason, and enough mixed signals that, hey, one more game that doesn’t count won’t hurt, right? As for what the Raptors are looking for in this one? It’s pretty straightforward.

“Improvement,” head coach Dwane Casey said Thursday. “I thought our last game was closer to a trial run as you’re gonna get. Just improvement defensively, making sure we continue to get stops, executing our defensive pick-and-roll coverages. Again, win, lose, or draw, you just wanna see improvement. And we did, we have, we’ve shown that since the Portland game in practice, in the exhibition game. I thought we had a good day today in what we’re trying to do, moving the basketball offensively, just overall taking steps toward playing good basketball.”

Seems simple enough, right?

The game tips off at 8 p.m. on TSN 2. You can check out the full game preview here.

Raptors updates
Normally, the final preseason game is a time to get a few reps in, get an extended look at players on the bubble, and make sure you head into the regular season as fresh and healthy as possible. The shortening of the preseason by a week, and of the schedule from seven or eight games down to five, has confused that some – there’s still an obvious desire to stay healthy, but teams with significant changes to the roster or the system (or, as in the case of the Raptors, a bit of both) need time to mesh. The four certain Raptors’ starters have still played fewer than 300 minutes together, and while the ball movement is coming along, turnovers and comfort beyond the arc remain works in progress.

“We’ll play. If you’re asking whether we’re gonna play, we’re gonna play people,” Casey said. “We’re gonna play minutes. It does change it because there’s not as many games, and that’s why it’s tough. We had Kyle )Lowry) take out a game and DeMar (DeRozan), and it’s difficult, because you don’t have as many games as you had in the past. We gotta make sure we get those guys as many game minutes as we possibly can to play.”

I still wouldn’t be entirely shocked if someone (Serge Ibaka, were I forced to choose) had a very light night, but it sounds as if the first half, at least, will play out like it did in preseason games one and four. And that’s fine – the starters need to build a chemistry, whether it’s with C.J. Mles or Norman Powell, and the resultant second-unit will need to do the same. The Raptors also still haven’t used any of their Lowry-and-bench or DeRozan-and-bench units, which figure to be prominent once the season opens no matter how excited anyone gets about how the all-bench groups have functioned together against opposing benches.

UPDATE: Serge Ibaka is getting the night off to rest, shifting Pascal Siakam into the starting power forward position, per Doug Smith. Norman Powell remains with the starters, suggesting that’s how the Raptors will approach things when the regular season begins.

Assuming relative health and no rest, here’s how the rotation might look:

PG: Kyle Lowry, Delon Wright, Fred VanVleet, Lorenzo Brown, Davion Berry
SG: DeMar DeRozan, C.J. Miles, K.J. McDaniels
SF: Norman Powell, Bruno Caboclo, Alfonzo McKinnie
PF: Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Lucas Nogueira, Jakob Poeltl
INJ: Malcolm Miller
OUT: Serge Ibaka

Check back for any pre-game updates (I’m not sure if any beat writers are on the road, so we may not get a note until game-time.)

As usual, we’ll track the minutes and battles in this space, noting how the playing time is breaking down over the five games. It doesn’t necessarily mean someone is ahead because they’ve played more, it’s simply meant as a refresher.

Known commodities: Ibaka 83, Valanciunas 78, Lowry 69, DeRozan 67
Competition 1: Powell 73 (2 starts), Miles 55 (2 starts)
Competition 2: Nogueira486 (2 times as C2), Poeltl 64 (2 times as C2)
Competition 3 (maybe?): Wright 96, VanVleet 49
Competition 4: McKinnie 48, McDaniels 22
The LeBron Stoppers: Siakam 67, Caboclo 48, Anunoby 18
Two-Ways: Brown 16, Miller 0
RIP in Peace: Rautins 36, Wiltjer 20, Meeks 3

Note: There was a box score error in the opener that may have exact minutes for Lowry/DeRozan/Powell/Wright a little off.

Bulls updates
The Bulls are limping into the regular season a little bit here. Zach LaVine is only just starting to progress to more dynamic activity, with a rough December target for a return. Kris Dunn (finger) and Cameron Payne (foot) are rendering a woefully thin point guard position even dicier with injuries that will extend into the regular season. And on top of those, Paul Zipser is now out for Friday’s game with a status up in the air for the season opener on Oct. 19 because of back soreness.

Things could be bleak for the Bulls to start the year. Okay, things are definitely going to be bleak for the Bulls to start the year. But it could be extra bad out of the gate. For Friday, Qincy Pondexter is also questionable, though at least Nikola Mirotic has been deemed good to go (at the three no less!).

PG: Jerian Grant, Ryan Arcidiacono, Bronson Koenig
SG: Justin Holiday, Denzel Valentine, David Nwaba, Antonio Blakeney
SF: Nikola Mirotic, (Quincy Pondexter), Jarell Eddie
PF: Lauri Markannen Bobby Portis, Jaylen Johnson
C: Robin Lopez, Cristiano Felicio, Diamond Stone
OUT: Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn, Cameron Payne, Paul Zipser
TBD: Quincy Pondexter

Assorted

  • I was randomly looking through some of DeMar DeRozan’s stats and stumbled on an interesting tidbit as it relates to how turnover-avoidant he is. Since we have usage rate available, there have been 43 player seasons in which a player has used at least 30 percent of his team’s offensive possessions when on the floor. DeRozan’s 9.0-percent turnover rate from last year is the 17th-lowest in the group. If you filter for 34-percent usage and higher, DeRozan’s rate is the fifth-lowest of 11 player seasons. In other words, DeRozan’s in pretty elite company when it comes to protecting the ball, given his usage. Some of that is system-based and related to passing a bit less, sure, but it’s still incredibly valuable.
    • He also ranked 40th in the NBA in total touches last year and 78th in dribbles per-touch
  • The new Raptors Nike gear is now officially on sale at Real Sports and online.
  • Some random prop over-unders from Vegas:

  • Raptors 905 tickets went on sale last week so a friendly reminder that promo code “REPUBLIC905” will get you a discount at this link all season long.
  • We’ve passed this along on Twitter, but if you follow us and @GetInTheAction and RT the post below, you’ll have a chance to win two tickets to the home opener. No strings attached other than following both accounts and RTing. We’re exploring more ways to be able to give stuff away during the season, so let’s give GetInTheAction a reason to keep hooking the RR community up.

The line
The line, as with most preseason games, is off the board.

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