The morning after defeating the Philadelphia 76ers, the Toronto Raptors were focusing on the Charlotte Bobcats.
After losing a game in Charlotte — one that the NBA later admitted had been decided on a missed call — the Raptors feel they owe the Bobcats.
They also want to take advantage of the final two games of their six-game homestand. After dropping a disappointing decision to the Sacramento Kings last Friday, two days after a victory, coach Dwane Casey doesn’t want a repeat in Friday’s game.
A positive for the Raptors: Terrence Ross participated in practice on Thursday and is expected to play against the Bobcats on Friday. Casey said he could have probably played during Wednesday’s victory, but the team chose to play the cautious card instead.
The other positive for the Raptors has been the play of Landry Fields since returning from a six-week layoff after recovering from elbow surgery.
In his first start since his return Fields was solid for the Raptors, getting 11 rebounds and scoring 10 points. Most importantly, he looked comfortable. When Fields started the season, his arm and elbow were already bothering him. Not knowing what was causing his fingers to involuntarily bend when he tried to catch a ball, it became impossible to focus on basketball.
Before and after the surgery, and even as he went through rehab daily, Fields didn’t know how his arm would react once he returned to the floor.
Now that he’s back and able to play basketball without thinking about anything but the game in front of him, Fields looks like a different player. He also is a different guy in the locker room than the quiet player who started the season. Looking more like the easy-going and charismatic character he was billed as, Fields says his confidence is returning.
“When I get out there [now], I don’t think about my elbow,” Fields said. “I just play free and comfortable. In turn, that kind of builds my confidence. You need that confidence when you’re out there playing.”
While Casey is quick to point out how Fields helps his team when he’s on the floor — and the energy he brings while in the starting lineup — teammate John Lucas III explained that the guys in the locker room made it their priority to make sure Fields knew he was supported through his trying start.
“It just seems like he’s happy to be out there on the court,” Lucas said. “It was probably playing with his mind a little bit, playing with his head a little bit, like it would with anybody. We just told him to relax and play his game. He contributes in so many ways even when he’s not scoring a bunch of points. Rebounding, hustle plays, he’s a team player. Everybody can score the ball, everybody wants to score the ball, but sometimes you don’t need everybody to score or want to score the ball. You have to have players who have roles. When your shot’s there, take it, if a layup is there, take it. Just be aggressive. Just play the game of basketball. Play it the right way.”
Coming to Toronto after signing a three-year, $19-million contract and then being unable to show people what he could do on the court would be tough for anyone. Despite this, Lucas was adamant that Fields need only worry about himself and his team.
“You can’t get caught up with the outside,” Lucas said. “That really messes your mind up. He (Fields) earned his contract. He obviously did something for (Bryan Colangelo) and our organization to see something to invest in him. That’s how he’s got to think. Who cares what other people say about your contract, why you’re not playing, this or that.”
Asked if it can be difficult to shut out the — often uninformed — opinions of those on the outside, Lucas shook his head.
“It shouldn’t be,” he said. “If it’s my mindset at the end of the day, I know what I’m capable of doing just like he knows what he’s capable of doing and everybody else knows what they’re capable of doing. The people on the outside, they’re going to say what they’re going to say regardless. He could come in and score 30 or 40 points and they’re still going to have something to say.
“It’s about your teammates having your back, your teammates being behind you 100 per cent. No need to be caught up in what the outside says, the media, the fans, what they’re saying on Twitter or Instagram or whatever the networks are. All that matters is the 15 guys around you and the coaching staff.”
Now that Fields is back in the Raptors’ starting lineup, he is doing all of those little intangibles that would be mentioned whenever his name came up. While his offensive game is still rounding into form, Fields has been attacking the boards and playing solid defence while flipping between the three and four spot for Casey.
“He brings a different thing,” Lucas explained. “He can play the two, three, or four. He’ll be a tough match-up for the four because he moves so much and a lot of fours like to stay under the basket. Three, he’s got good size to play the three. He’s a slasher. He’s always crashing the boards offensive and defensively. He brings a lot to the table and I’m just happy to see him back out there.”