Shifting the mindset
The Raptors aren’t paying a lot of lip service to Friday’s matchup versus the top-ranked Cleveland Cavaliers, and it’s likely because they’re still in the process of calibrating their own mentality for the remainder of the season. This team is acutely aware they’ve had regular season success the past two seasons, and while this is an entirely different team, their success won’t be measured by the final standings.
“We can’t worry about measuring sticks or this or that, because we still haven’t gotten out of the first round of the playoffs,” Lowry said at Thursday’s practice.
Luis Scola spoke to the team following last week’s loss to Chicago in an attempt to begin shifting the team into playoff mode. It might seem a little early for that with six weeks of schedule left and the Raptors well-insulated in the standings, but Scola has been around the block and feels this is the time the Raptors need to take things to an even higher gear.
“We all talked and agreed we know we’re a good team, but it all starts now,” Scola said before Wednesday’s game. “We haven’t done anything yet. We’ve won a lot of games and that’s a great thing. We have the talent [but]… We need to create this championship mentality. This edge that those teams have.
And it starts here, it starts in the mindset. We’ve gotta start building it right now.”
For as much as they’re downplaying Friday’s game, it certainly seems a good time to show said edge.
Speaking of an edge…
Terrence Ross showed an unexpected and unfamiliar fire in Wednesday’s victory, earning a double-technical and an ejection for arguing a debatable offensive foul call. The stoic shooting guard isn’t often one to show emotion, so his outburst came as a major surprise to his teammates.
“I was shocked just as much as everybody else was,” Patrick Patterson said. “I’m like, is this the same guy I sit in the locker room with?”
Nice as it may have seemed for a desultory player to display ardor, that’s not the type of edge Scola’s talking about, nor is it the type of aggression Casey wants to see from his roster.
“That’s not passion, that’s not the way you want to show passion,” Casey said. “And T-Ross had a good night going. He was active on the weakside, good hands, and you waste it with a play like that. I talked to him about it, hopefully he learns from it. He’s too valuable for us to lose him like that.”
Ross standing as “too valuable” shows just how far he’s come since the start of the season. He’s shooting nearly 41 percent on threes since Dec. 7, when DeMarre Carroll hit the shelf for a second time, averaging 10.7 points, and playing vastly improved defense.
He’s also been a major part of the “Lowry and four reserves” unit that’s dominating opponents – no five-man group with at least 150 minutes played together boasts a higher net rating this season, per Basketball Reference.
“I don’t think we’ll see it anymore from him or any of our other players,” Casey added Thursday. “Let me do the crazy stuff and do the complaining and talking to the officials.”
The Raptors rank fifth in the NBA with 49 technical fouls, but they’re far more disciplined than that stat would suggest. Casey’s been T’d up just twice and Raptors’ players have 20 technicals, with the Raptors’ team technical (things like defensive three seconds or delay of game) total of 26 trailing only Milwaukee.
Settling in to their new home
The Toronto Raptors held their first official workout at the BioSteel Centre, their brand new practice facility on the Exhibition Grounds, on Thursday. The team has used the facility already but they’re still getting acclimated to their new 68,000-square foot surroundings.
“We don’t know what to do with all this space,” head coach Dwane Casey said. “It’s a great investment for the organization.”
That space stands out immediately upon entering the building. It looked enormous at the official unveiling the week of the All-Star Game, but its vastness is even more striking with actual work going on. Four courts really stretches out the small-group portions of practice, and as the session wrapped players slowly scattered to hit the weight room, make use of the recovery room, or get a bite to eat.
Even the difficult-to-please are pleased.
“It’s perfect. It’s unbelievable. I couldn’t complain,” Kyle Lowry said in a self-deprecating tone. “I mean, of course I could figure out something to complain about, but it’s pretty good. It’s a great building, it’s a great place to get better.”
The Raptors still haven’t ironed out all of the specifics of how the rest of the season, or even future years, will play out. Casey and Lowry both want the practice facility at the Air Canada Centre to remain for its game-day benefits, and Casey confirmed that shootarounds will continue at the ACC for the foreseeable future.
From a larger organizational standpoint, the impressive BioSteel Centre will soon be a full-time home.