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Raptors Preseason Heads to Minnesota Tonight

The Raptors only loss this preseason came at the hands of the Minnesota Timberwolves at home on Wednesday night 101-89, but the likely regular season rotation players for both teams played a relatively even game that saw a small Toronto lead evaporate when the tryout players got their minutes in the second half.

Minnesota has a strong team that should be in the playoff race all season and the tandem of Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Love will provide a great test for the Raptors Jonas Valanciunas and Amir Johnson once again tonight.

In the backcourt, Ricky Rubio and the veteran J.J. Barea will equally test the recently turnover prone Raptors point guards and hopefully Toronto will see a better defensive performance from the rookie Dwight Buycks than the last time these two teams met.

Both of these teams see themselves as being on the rise and ready to make some noise in their respective conferences. This should be a good preseason game once again.

Over the Raptors three preseason season games, one thing has stood out above everything else. The team is averaging 21 turnovers per game led by 3.67 turnovers from their starting point guard Kyle Lowry. The starting unit is playing hard, but sloppy and the fact Toronto is holding teams to just 41.9 percent shooting from the field is being lost because they are giving their opponents 12 more shots per game.

DeMar DeRozan has been an efficient beast in the paint. Driving, drawing fouls and making sweet interior passes. He leads the Raptors at 16.7 points per game, but is 0-5 from three-point range.

Rudy Gay has looked rusty, but he is still shooting 44.8 percent from the field and has gotten to the free throw line a team best 22 times. The grumbles of concern don’t really seem warranted so early in the preseason.

As Raptors President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri tried to tell the media, Tyler Hansbrough can be an offensive force. Third in scoring for the Raptors so far with 35 points, he is tied with Jonas Valanciunas for the most rebounds at 20 and is second in free throw attempts with 17.

Jonas Valanciunas is quietly looking like a starting NBA center.

Dwight Buycks has been getting more minutes than D.J. Augustin and where Augustin has done a decent job of running the second unit early in the game even though his shot isn’t falling at all yet, the rookie Buycks has been the more exciting player to watch. Head Coach Dwane Casey has put Buycks in during the third quarter to finish each of the past two games and where Buycks has started slow defensively each time, he is starting to show signs that he could be very good. The young point guard scored 10 points in a 5 minute span against the Knicks last game to help the Raptors pull out a win.

Terrence Ross raised our expectations with a strong performance in the preseason opener against Boston, but has disappointed with mental lapses and suspect effort in the last two games. He has left the battle for backup minutes at shooting guard wide open at this point.

Landry Fields can play defense and rebound, but has hit just 3-15 shots and missed 8 layups over the past two games. It is safe to assume his elbow issues are not fully resolved.

The battle for the last roster position is being won by Julyan Stone. Stone played 4 solid minutes and the Timberwolves and then 12 effective minutes against the Knicks. Carlos Morais and Chris Wright have only played 4 minutes between them so far and it is worth remembering, Stone is Ujiri’s guy. Stone seems to be growing on Casey as well and could be a dark horse candidate to backup the two spot.

The Raptors play Minnesota tonight at 8 pm. There is no TV coverage planned by either team at this point.

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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