With the Raptors home from a disappointing three-game road trip and practicing on a Saturday afternoon, there was a bit of good news — finally.
First, there were two extra bodies on the practice court. After watching Alan Anderson amble around on crutches for the past couple of weeks, it was a welcomed surprise to see him dribbling a basketball and shooting set shots before rebounding for John Lucas III as Lucas got shots up.
In the back corner of the gym, working with Alex McKechnie, was Landry Fields. With his elbow still wrapped, Fields was shooting and working on his form with McKechnie. There will be a check-in appointment with his doctors soon which should result in a timeline for his return.
While there wasn’t any update for either guy Saturday, just seeing them on the court was a sight for sore eyes.
The positive news doesn’t stop there, either.
After Jonas Valanciunas was kicked in the calf during the fourth quarter of the loss to the Pistons and Kyle Lowry landed awkwardly on a drive down the stretch, the status of each was in question for Sunday’s game against the San Antonio Spurs, but both say they are fine. Dwane Casey reinforced this sentiment saying he doesn’t foresee either not being available for the game.
Valanciunas acknowledged that he felt pain when he was kicked in the calf during the second half of the loss to the Pistons, but said he is good and shouldn’t be limited by the injury.
When a team goes 0-3 on a road trip and loses three very winnable games by a combined 10 points, you take the good news where you can get it. Another positive during the trip was the play of Andrea Bargnani, culminating in his best game of the season against the Pistons where he finished with 34 points, five rebounds and four assists.
Lowry called Bargnani’s play “fantastic” and said the key now is keeping him in rhythm while also getting himself and DeMar DeRozan clicking at the same time.
Trying to accomplish that against the Spurs on Sunday will be a challenge, but it sounds like the team is ready to wash off that road trip and move forward.
Worried about the mood in the locker-room after a handful of tough losses in very close games? Lowry says that’s not a concern.
“We’re good. I think we’re fine. Guys are still on board. It’s still early. There’s 69 games left. It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon. We just know we’re getting better every day. Just trying to keep getting better and working on the things that we can control.”
He was also adamant that the opponent of a loss isn’t what matters to this team.
“Every game we lose matters. No matter who it is. It could be the globetrotters, if we lose the game it’s going to matter.”
Road trip positives/negatives
The amount of games on the road to start the season has been something that Casey has been asked about a lot. Sometimes he’ll try to put the positive spin on it, saying it’ll give the team a chance to bond.
Other times, he’ll admit that it’s tough. He did a little of both on Saturday.
“I’d much rather play at home. With a young team, I’d much rather play at home. We have the schedule again, it could be a positive because you do get to grow together. You don’t have outside distractions on the road. The guys can bond together, like we went to the football player in Detroit. I thought that was a good thing for our players. You see guys talking together, hanging out together, having Thanksgiving dinner with each other. I thought that was a big-time positive.”
Closing out games
Casey was quick to follow up by pointing out the importance of figuring out how to close out close games, placing some of the blame on himself and his coaching staff.
“There are positives, but at the end of the day, you’ve got to keep building, get some of these W’s that we have a chance to get. There’s going to be some nights where you can’t throw rice into the ocean and you’re not going to be close in the end, but these opportunities that we have to win the close ones, and to have it within our grasp, we’ve got to figure out a way. Not only with players, but with myself and coaching staff included.”
A fast learner
One thing to keep in mind with Valanciunas is how quick he is to learn from his mistakes. The second time he faces a team (Indiana, Philadelphia), he performs better than the first matchup, and shows he has a better understanding and familiarity with opposing big men. Casey praised Valanciunas’ development, while also saying that the praise from other coaches serves as a reminder of how rapidly he is progressing.
“I’m getting comments from the coaches, everyone is saying how much he’s improving. I see it on a daily basis. You don’t see it as drastic as other people on the outside who don’t have a vested interest in seeing him,” Casey explaiend. “To hear that, for me to see it, confirms it. The same with Terrence. He’s growing, getting better. But the jump with Jonas is glaring and it’s a good thing. Every night is a different lesson. Last night he had two monsters on both sides of him, pushing, grabbing, bumping. Every night is a different learning experience.”