After a short practice on Saturday afternoon, the Toronto Raptors departed for Denver. They will hold a practice session in Denver on Sunday and kick off a five-game west coast swing on Monday evening. While the team knows that the trip will be a handful (Eric Koreen broke down the team’s record against these five opponents in the last five games against each in this tweet), they’re happy to head into it having gotten a win under their belt against the Phoenix Suns on Friday night.
They’re also happy to have back-to-back practice sessions for Mickael Pietrus to get in some reps with his new teammates and experience with the offensive/defensive systems. While Pietrus played 32 minutes on Friday night — more than anyone on the team besides DeMar DeRozan — he acknowledged after the game that he didn’t know any of the plays and that he played the game with a headache from the jet lag he felt after flying to Toronto from France on Wednesday.
Dwane Casey said he didn’t expect to rely on Pietrus for so many minutes against the Suns, and that he was pleased with what he saw from his new swingman. “He’s a very high-IQ basketball player,” Casey said. “He’s picked it up really quick. He’ll be up to speed pretty quickly. Physically, I didn’t see any ill-effects from last night.”
Amir Johnson admitted that his sprained right ankle was sore on Saturday, but said he’d keep taping it and playing through the pain. He also spoke about the addition of Pietrus to the team, pointing out that he helps the team on both ends of the floor. “He definitely spreads the floor [with his shooting ability],” Johnson explained. “I think he’ll be great for our team. He just has to know our offence and he’ll do fine. He’s been on great teams, he’s a vet and he’ll definitely help us. Not only can he shoot, but he plays defence. He’ll help us a lot.”
One way he was able to help Toronto on Friday night was knowing the plays that the Suns were running in the final minutes of the game. A former Suns player, Pietrus was familiar with Alvin Gentry’s playbook and it paid off for the Raptors.
- With a rematch against Utah on the trip after that triple-overtime loss to the Jazz in Toronto, Casey talked about Jonas Valanciunas getting familiar with his opponents: “When he sees guys for the second time, it helps. I go back to Hibbert, and how much better he played against him the second time around. But you’ve got Zach one night and the next night you’ve got Omer Asik and the next night you’ve got Scola and all of these guys. Different people, different nights, and totally different types of players. He’s processing a lot of stuff right now.”
- Casey explained that with young players, coaches have to be especially mindful not to overload them with too much information. Especially with Valanciunas, who is learning so many things on and off the floor. On living in North America for the first time, Casey says he works to simplify everything as much as possible: “Not only information, just English – slang words, he’s trying to figure it out on the go. One game we said we were going to go to a double-team. I forget who it was. And he said, ‘Who is so and so?’ We went to numbers. Knowing the NBA and knowing who is who is important for him. There’s a lot for him to learn. He’s doing a heck of a job with processing a lot of stuff on the fly. It’s hard just coming out of college when you live here. Now you come home from another country, the language barrier, the whole nine yards, and then you’re trying to pick things up at a high speed? The game is so fast. I commend him for how quick he’s picked it up.”
- Andrea Bargnani didn’t mince words when he was asked how he would assess his performance so far this season: “Well, the same way the team is going. I’m a main player of the team. Our record is bad. I can’t lie, it’s out there. I’m not satisfied. I’m thinking about the team, not myself.”