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Practice news & notes: VanVleet day-to-day, Raptors not sweating 14-15 sweep

DeRozan sounds ready. Less clear on VanVleet.

Throughout the playoffs, we’ll be giving you brief notebooks after every practice, shootaround, pre-game, and post-game, just as we have the last few postseasons. They’ll vary in terms of length and analysis based on what’s said, what happens, and what else is going on. The videos will all eventually go up on the Raptors’ YouTube page, anyway, but rest assured you can use us as your first stop for the relevant quotes and notes each day during the postseason. Feedback on the format and focus of the notes is appreciated so we can spend our time accordingly.

These are not the Toronto Raptors of prior years.

This is what the Raptors truly believe as they head into a fifth consecutive postseason. They are not the same team that was ousted by the Cleveland Cavaliers in consecutive seasons because they couldn’t vary or modernize their offense enough to keep up, and they are definitely not the same Raptors team that was swept at the hands of the Washington Wizards in 2014-15.

“How many years ago has that been?” Head coach Dwane Casey interrupted a question about the sweep that many thought could signal the premature end to this core’s run at the time. “It’s a very valid question. That’s one reason why we did change our offensive and defensive approach, to give us some other options in the playoffs when teams do try to take away DeMar and Kyle in those situations. Our passing is up. We’ve gone from 30th to sixth in assists. That’s a huge jump. We’re a different team than three years ago.”

There’s plenty of evidence that this is the case. The Raptors were the league’s lone team to finish in the top five on both ends of the court this year, and nearly every offensive indicator except for crunch-time offense pointed to dramatic stylistic growth. The crunch-time slides have led to some questions as to whether or not the Raptors will revert to their old selves when the intensity and leverage are ratcheted up, but the feeling around the team is that the success of the regular season has galvanized the stylistic shift.

“We did it 82 games. We won 59 games,” DeMar DeRozan said. “If that’s not the ultimate understanding of what got us here wasn’t a fluke, it really worked, we’re not gonna sway away from that. I think that speaks for itself. We know what works for us, what got us here, and what’s gonna take us even further.”

That doesn’t mean the memories of that Wizards series are gone entirely. DeRozan still sounds like he remembers the feeling quite vividly, and that playoff failure has been the impetus for a lot of change at the individual and personal level. What better opportunity, then,  to show and affirm that growth than with a rematch against the Wizards.

“It was so long ago, man. It was a lot. That was a rough series,” DeRozan said. “It took a while to get it out the back of my mind. I don’t know. That’s a long time ago, we’re much different. It’s day and night. We here now…It’s great. The guys that was here three years ago know what it was like to get swept. It wasn’t a great feeling at all. You learn from your mistakes, you understand how to be better. To have another opportunity to compete with these guys again, it’s definitely gonna be fun.”

Raptors confident in taking a Game 1, excited for Wizards challenge

The first media availability of the playoffs came with some of the usual cliches about respecting opponents and taking nobody lightly and so on, and they’re a little more relevant than usual here with an eight-seed as dangerous as the Wizards could prove. A couple of quick quotables from DeRozan’s session:

  • On drawing a tough Wizards team: “At the end of the day, you understand once you get to these moments, it don’t matter who you play As long as you bring you’re A-game, it don’t matter who you’re playing against, ’cause you’re gonna have to compete with somebody. It’s not like you’re gonna get a warm-up game versus some kids. You gotta be ready.”
  • On the talk about Game 1 and the Raptors’ struggles there: “I don’t know. I only think about it when y’all bring it up, honestly. We been great at home all year. It’s definitely something we took more pride in than ever and I think it showed. With that, we got that unconscious confidence this time around more than ever. Like I said, it’s one of them moments to where we feel like when we on our home floor, anything’s possible, and our swag is at an all-time high.”

VanVleet sore, day-to-day

Fred VanVleet is still feeling the effects of the bruised right shoulder he suffered late in the fourth quarter against the Miami Heat on Wednesday. X-rays on VanVleet’s shoulder came back negative, which is encouraging, and Casey said it’s just a matter of soreness from here. Casey called him ‘day-to-day,’ though the tone of his response suggested VanVleet will be available on Saturday.

“At this point, I see no reason he couldn’t play. He’s sore, but he’s day to day,” Casey said.

That’s big, because VanVleet has been instrumental to the Raptors’ success this year. Not only is he averaging 20 minutes as a key part of the league’s best bench, he’s emerged as one of the team’s best shooters and a frequent closer – he hit 41.4 percent of his threes on year, owned the league’s third-best Net Rating, and played the fourth-most “clutch” minutes on the Raptors, as defined by NBA.com.

The Wizards matchup seems like a particularly important one for VanVleet and the entire point guard rotation. John Wall, Bradley Beal, and Tomas Satoransky are all a handful in their own way, and the Raptors figure to play a fair amount of two-point guard lineups. VanVleet and Kyle Lowry can both play above their size, VanVleet is a gritty on-ball defender and a savvy one off the ball, and Delon Wright may be the bench’s best bet for navigating the forest of bodies Beal runs through on a regular basis.

It’s the playoffs, and obviously all hands on deck is preferable. Missing VanVleet for Game 1 would hurt.

Other Notes

  • Serge Ibaka’s mouth is fine after taking an elbow to the chops last night.
  • Here’s the Last Two Minute Report from Raptors-Heat:
    • Missed illegal screen on Poeltl.
    • Missed illegal screen on Adebayo (the VanVleet injury).
    • Missed shooting foul on Poeltl.
    • Missed travel on DeRozan.
    • And that’s it. Thought there’d be more, but it appears the overtime portion of the L2M is missing.
  • Both Dwane Casey and DeMar DeRozan opened their availability by offering their thoughts and support to Doug Smith as he recovers. We wish Doug all the best and a speedy recovery. He’s a fixture on the beat, has genuinely helped grow the game in Canada, and has been a huge help at a person, professional level. Get well soon, Doug.
  • How excited are we all to get going? DeRozan spoke for us: “I can’t wait ‘til Friday. I mean Saturday.”