by Frank McLean
On Thanksgiving Monday night fans of the Toronto Raptors will finally get a chance to see this new look basketball team up close and personal and after last season’s rough ending, these are must see games.
It seems like years since their last home game. Looking back it was Tuesday night April 21st, game number 2 of their first round series against the Washington Wizards. The Wizards were winners that night and grabbed a 2 games to nothing lead in the best of 7 series.
When fans and even us in the media left the Air Canada Centre no one thought that would be the last home game of the season. At worst they would split in Washington and there would be a game 5 in Toronto. It didn’t happen. The Raptors lost both games and were swept four straight. Thus the great remake of the summer for 2015.
So how have things been working out in training camp? So far, after the club spent 10 days in British Columbia and Southern California, they are still a work in progress.
After 3 pre-season games they come home with a 2-1 record, defeating both Los Angeles teams and a loss to the defending champion Golden State Warriors. But wins and losses are not what count right now in these games. It’s getting back to Dwane Casey style basketball of strong defence, ball movement and rebounding.
On Saturday Casey was telling the media in his daily scrum that it will be up to the bigger people to do as he called it “a better job of protecting their turf”.
“That’s been kind of our bugaboo. Probably our biggest weakness is our rebounding” Casey added.
Rebounding was something that went south last season as the Raptors were 25th in a 30 team NBA in defensive rebounding.
The plan to correct this in the early pre-season games is to have Jonas Valanciunas hanging out closer to the basket. Newcomer DeMarre Carroll bringing size when he plays the small forward spot, and don’t forget another big man Bismack Biyombo as the backup center has defined his career as a master rebounder. This is the cure that Casey hopes to correct their rebounding woes.
The Patrick Patterson, Luis Scola battle for the starting spot at forward is getting interesting to watch. And don’t forget home town boy Anthony Bennett, who pulled off dunk against the Lakers this past Thursday night that raised a few eye brows. Bennett is getting a chance to show off what he can do at forward with James Johnson being slowed by injury.
So as we approach the halfway point of training camp it seems that the rebuilt Raptors are getting there but there is still a lot of work to be done.
The Minnesota Timberwolves are in Monday night and the Cleveland Cavaliers are in Toronto on October 18th. So sit back and relax. It’s going to be fun to see how all these parts are going to fit.
Remember none of this has to work until October 28th on opening night against the Indiana Pacers. So don’t panic if some matchups don’t work out. The results may not even show up right away as the regular season starts.
This team will play a better brand of basketball and it’s designed to play a better style of playoff basketball. And that’s the key, make the playoffs come April and finally win in the playoffs. On paper at least, it should happen.
Veteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.