On Pro Bball Report last week: Jonas Valanciunas, Masai Ujiri’s dilemma, NBA All-Star, Rising Stars and NBA rookies, Andrew Bynum signs and Raptors pregame and post game stories and a lot more.
Head Coach Dwane Casey continues to be careful with him, often limiting his minutes when he gets in trouble against veteran NBA centers and letting Amir Johnson and more recently Chuck Hayes show him how it’s done when necessary.
“I have learned a lot and I’ve had good times and bad times, but everything – I am taking like a lesson and trying to get positive things from every situation,” Valanciunas said. “I think I have learned a lot and still have a long ways to go. A lot to learn and I don’t know a lot of things – I am still learning. I am still a young player.”
Raptors President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri has a dilemma. This team unexpectedly developed chemistry after Rudy Gay was told to stay in his hotel room in Los Angeles because he had just been traded. The Raptors have won two-thirds of their games since that move and part of the reason is Ujiri gave Head Coach Dwane Casey some proven NBA veterans to help stabilize his rotation and bail out his young roster when the going gets tough.
The NBA announced Thursday that guard DeMar DeRozan has been named as a reserve to the Eastern Conference team for the 2014 All-Star Game. DeRozan is the fourth Raptor selected to the All-Star Game, joining Vince Carter (5X), Antonio Davis and Chris Bosh (5X).
The NBA has lain out in no uncertain terms which rookies the league has been most impressed with by letting us know who has been invited to the Rising Stars Challenge during All-Star weekend.
There is plenty to argue about with some of the NBA’s selections to the Rising Stars Challenge. The phrase, ‘what were they thinking?’ comes to mind – seriously, some of these guys don’t have much of a resume, but this rookie crop doesn’t seem to be as deep as in previous seasons. It isn’t easy finding 10 rookies to put on a top 10 list.
1A. Michael Carter-Williams, Philadelphia 76ers
The Indiana Pacers announced Saturday they have signed free agent center Andrew Bynum to a contract for the remainder of the season.
“We are obviously happy to have him join our team,” said Pacers President of Basketball Operations Larry Bird. “He gives us added size, he is a skilled big man and he has championship experience. With the minutes he gets, he should be a valuable addition.”
The only way the Raptors are beating anyone these days is by playing as a team and that team will be tested without their leading scorer. DeMar DeRozan turned an ankle last game and won’t play in Brooklyn. At least the Nets are not going to get this young Raptors squad to forget the defensive principles Head Coach Dwane Casey has been preaching all season. Brooklyn has only played in 1 shootout over their past 11 games. This should be a contest emphasizing defense, controlled pace and strong fundamental play.
With the 104-103 theft by the Raptors in Brooklyn, Toronto now leads the Atlantic Division by 2.5 games and is in third place in the Eastern Conference.
Lowry was an offensive and defensive force again in Brooklyn. His 31 points, 5 rebounds, 7 assists and 5 steals was only the latest impressive performance in what has become a career-year for the 27-year-old point guard. In his previous 2 games, Lowry had a double-double and triple-double and has done everything necessary to get noticed all season.
The Orlando Magic strategy coming into this season wasn’t a secret, it really was all about the NBA draft in June and coming into Toronto to face the Raptors after being abused by the Pistons the night before in Detroit doesn’t really change anything. This is a young team playing young players big minutes with a focus on player development and some not so subtle showcasing of potential trade assets.
Orlando visited the Raptors on Wednesday night at the Air Canada Centre, but it was Kyle Lowry who had all the magic as he went 5-5 from three-point range in the first quarter on his way to consecutive plus 30 point games for the first time. Lowry had a season high 33 points to go with 11 assists and 7 rebounds, an outstanding performance in a 98-83 victory on the night before the NBA All-Star reserves are announced.
“(Lowry’s) stepped it up,” said Head Coach Dwane Casey. “He set the tone in the first half with his three’s, just his aggressive play means a lot. His veteran leadership out the on the court with (Valanciunas) and Terrence (Ross), you can’t say enough. I keep my fingers crossed that the coaches voted him in (as an All-Star) because he deserves it. I feel like both guys (Lowry and DeRozan) deserve it because right now he’s one of the best point guards in the league.”
The story in Denver is who’s hurt and who is going to play when the Raptors face off against the Nuggets at the Pepsi Center tonight. Both teams may have shortened benches, but it’s the Nuggets that have been hit the hardest.
Danilo Gallinari is done for the season, JaVale McGee (stress fracture) hasn’t started running yet, Nate Robinson has a sprained ACL (update: required surgery) and Ty Lawson is doubtful with a strained left rotator cuff.
It has been over a decade since the Raptors have won in Denver and it’s been even longer since they last won 11 games in the month of January, but Toronto went into the Mile-High City on the last day of the month and took care of business on both counts.
“I let the players know about it,” Casey said. “I was disappointed in the close. It is a four quarter game. If you are serious about being a winning team and we haven’t done anything in this league to think that just because we have a 20 point lead, they are going to walk away and teams are going to do what you want to do. We got to finish out games and be strong physically and mentally.”
Portland is 33-13 on the season and has only lost 5 times at the Moda Center, so the 25-21 Toronto Raptors will be in tough after winning last night in Denver while the Trail Blazers had the last 3 days off. Toronto has lost to Portland in their last 5 visits here.
It was a game of two very different halves and an unbelievable effort from the Raptors newest All-Star DeMar DeRozan wasn’t enough to overcome a bad start and Portland escaped with a 106-103 victory.
After a very quiet 6 points in the first half, DeRozan scored 30 points and collected 10 dimes in the second half as he set a career-high with 12 assists in the game. DeRozan was the Raptors offense in the second half. According to Elias, ‘DeRozan is the only player in the last 10 seasons with 30 points and 10 assists in a half.’
- Big Stories From The Prior Week:
“Up until the last 2 or 3 games, our young players were growing,” Casey said after the win over Dallas. “Terrence was growing. Jonas was growing. I think they kind of hit a sophomore blue wall a little bit which is expected. We expected that – they weren’t going to (continue to) play at a high level because they are still young players. The positive is the growth of DeMar DeRozan, and I still say Terrence and Jonas have grown and developed. We are growing, we are not a finished product, 2 or 3 starters who or not finished products, they are still growing – really a year and a half in the league, not even a half a year yet until Friday. So, we are ahead of schedule. We are winning some games in our building and we are happy with that.”
“Just the opportunity, getting more time to play and understanding what I can do,” Ross said. “It is hard to be consistent coming off the bench. Some guys like it and some guys don’t. It is something you have to learn. You are always going to get your opportunity and when you get it, you have to make the most of it.”
“I like winning,” Vasquez said. “I was the starting point guard for teams that were rebuilding. I was playing with young guys, now I came to this team and there is a lot of experience here, but its young experience. DeRozan has been here for 5 years, Kyle (Lowry) has been here for 8, there are a lot of guys who have been in the league for a while, so it’s different and I play a different role. It is hard to adjust. You have to go back and forth. I still believe I can do the job as a starting point guard, but as of right now, my team needs me to come off the bench and just be solid and that is what I am going to do.”
Vince Carter, “It’s a great feeling. For someone to kind of say – ‘you were my hero growing up’ and now you are playing against them – that makes me old. That’s just like I’m a Dr. J fan and I couldn’t imagine growing up idolizing Dr. J and playing against Dr. J, so – I did play against Mike Jordan and I had a very strong appreciation for him, but Dr. J was number 1 in my heart and there’s Michael Jordan and I am playing against him, so well dang – I am very appreciative for it and glad I am still around to play against some of these guys that are now NBA players and future NBA superstars.”