With Sunday’s victory over the Los Angeles Lakers, the Raptors officially reached the halfway mark of the season.
Holding a 15-26 record, they are certainly not where they would like to be, but they all realize it could be worse. After that horrid 4-19 start, it could be a lot worse.
Before the team flew out to Miami on Monday, ahead of a back-to-back two-game trip that will see them face the Heat on Wednesday night and the Orlando Magic on Thursday night, they talked about the first half of the season.
Raptors coach Dwane Casey said the biggest thing for his team now is finding consistency. He and shooting guard DeMar DeRozan both talked about games that the team should have won, but ended up giving away. From earlier games at the start of the season, to the blown call in Charlotte, and the more recent blunder by the officials against the Bulls, to the blown leads and the meltdown that occurred in Philadelphia last Friday night, it’s easy to see the team has played those losses over and over again in their minds.
“We got off to a rough start,” Casey said. “Our start really hurt us as far as we started off, had an opportunity to win some games, didn’t close out games, the rough patches in those games, cleaning those up, but I thought we came together as a team and grew, and the process continued and got better.
“It’s better. Even in the last couple of weeks when we lost those three or four games in a row I thought we were playing good basketball. Again, having a closer, having a closing team out on the court is what we’re still searching for and I thought we got it yesterday so we’ve got to continue to develop a closing mentality.”
DeRozan referenced games that the team has allowed to slip away, saying it’s tough to put the start of the year behind them because the team would be in a different situation had they won those games. He also acknowledged that they need to look forward and focus on putting together complete 48-minute efforts each night. The biggest positive to come from the first half of the season? The camaraderie within the locker room.
“We’re all playing together,” DeRozan said. “There’s no one bigger than the next player. Everybody is coming out, day in and day out, contributing, different players. And that’s what we need.”
What is Casey pleased with?
The growth of the team, that everyone is playing together and guys are accepting of his decision to go with the guys who are playing well, and his rookies.
It’s obvious that everyone in the organization is pleased with what they’ve seen from Jonas Valanciunas during his time on the floor. On Monday afternoon, Casey gave credit to both Terrence Ross and Quincy Acy for their growth and approach.
“I’m really happy with the growth of Terrence Ross,” Casey said. “He’s really competing. His shot, all shooters have good days and bad days but the thing that impresses me is the way he runs the floor, the way he defends, the way he rebounds from his position. That’s been very important for us… The growth of Terrence and Quincy has been huge. Jonas was on his way but unfortunately he got set back with an injury.”
Casey wasn’t the only person praising Acy. Veteran swingman Alan Anderson also had kind words for Toronto’s second-round pick.
“Q has brought a big lift, big energy, even scoring off of the bench also,” Anderson said.
With the team able to rely on Acy to fill in holes up front and help to lessen the burden of minutes being played by Johnson and Davis, he also allows Anderson to remain at the three spot, his natural position on the basketball floor.
“(It’s) big because it’s keeping everybody at their natural position,” Anderson explained. “I’ll guard anybody, but (as a three playing the four) you’re giving up a lot.”
In addition to guarding anyone, Anderson will also speak his mind on the floor, regardless of who he is checking. We’ve seen it in the past when he got tangled with Sacramento Kings centre DeMarcus Cousins and again yesterday when he and Los Angeles Lakers centre Dwight Howard were called for the double-technicals that resulted in Howard’s ejection shortly before halftime. Anderson dismissed questions on whether he wanted to embrace a tough-guy role, but acknowledged he isn’t going to back down from anyone on the court.
“I just play hard,” he said. “Whether it gets under their skin or not, I don’t control that. I control what I do and that’s playing hard. When I play hard, some guys don’t like when you play hard. Some guys can handle it. Whether they can handle it or not, is up to them. I’m going to keep playing hard regardless.”
When asked about the play involving Howard, Anderson said simply, “Just (got) tangled up. Words back and forth, whatever it is. They called a double-tech.”
On whether Howard got frustrated with him, Anderson was quick to deflect, saying, “You’ve gotta ask him.”
Casey also told us that there isn’t any further update on Andrea Bargnani, Valanciunas or Linas Kleiza.
He made it clear that he is extremely pleased with the job that Amir Johnson and Ed Davis have done inside in their absence and it doesn’t sound like either will be losing their minutes when Bargnani and Valanciunas do return to the team.
“The guys that are playing right now are playing good basketball,” Casey said. “I don’t want to change that dramatically or drastically because the guys are in a rhythm. Amir and Ed Davis are playing as good of basketball as any two guys in the league right now. I don’t want to disrupt that rhythm. We’ve got to find a way to incorporate Jonas and also Andrea into that mix. When that bridge comes around, we’ll cross it. And it’s coming.”