Raps Notebook: Valanciunas working to return

January 8, 2013, 6:32 PM

After a day off from media availability on Monday, the Toronto Raptors were back at it on Tuesday.

Going through a defensive-minded practice, many guys hung around long after practice ended to get in extra work. Specifically Jonas Valanciunas, who is recovering from a fractured metacarpal on the ring finger of his right hand, sustained during a victory over the Orlando Magic on Dec. 21.

Valanciunas worked with assistant coaches and basketball development consultant Jamaal Magloire long after the practice facility had emptied. Defensive close-outs, one-handed free throws and sprints up and down the length of the court, Valanciunas got in a great workout. Bryan Colangelo was in attendance and shouting his encouragement to Valanciunas as he pushed through the last few sprints.

Dwane Casey was asked about the rehab process for both Valanciunas and Andrea Bargnani. He didn’t have any sort of timetable for either player, but did provide some information as to what Bargnani has been doing during his time rehabbing torn ligaments in his right elbow.

“All he can do now is cardio,” Casey said. “He can’t really do any physical lifting with his arm.”

Casey stressed that the team is working to keep Bargnani involved each day during practice and that they talk about the team often.

“He’s here every day at practice,” Casey continued. “[He's] watching, paying attention. I talked to him just a few minutes ago. What does he see, trying to keep him engaged with the team. He’s with us.”

Casey couldn’t speak to when Valanciunas would be back, but said that he’s been working hard every day at practice. From the look of a sweat-drenched Valanciunas as he walked off of the court to catch his breath before returning to shoot more one-handed free throws, Casey wasn’t kidding.

After leaving the Raptors’ loss against the Thunder on Sunday afternoon with an ankle sprain, rookie Terrence Ross did not practice on Tuesday. While Casey didn’t know if he would be available for Wednesday’s game against the Philadelphia 76ers, the injury was not as serious as it appeared on Sunday afternoon when Ross left the arena in a walking boot.

“He’s still a little sore so we erred on the side of precaution,” Casey said. “We’ll see how he is tomorrow. He’s much, much better than he was yesterday, so we’ll see. I don’t know, I’m not going to predict if he’s going to go. He is a lot better and he is moving a lot better.”

Aaron Gray missed Sunday’s contest because of the flu. He was back on Tuesday, winded, but working to shake off the rust and get back. Casey joked that Gray had been on “that weight-loss flu diet,” but said it was good to see him go as long as he could during practice.

The player who has benefited most from Bargnani being out of the lineup is Ed Davis. The third-year big man has finally gotten the chance to play starter’s minutes and he’s producing. With that increased role, though, comes increased responsibility.

Casey isn’t about to allow Davis to slide. After being unhappy with Davis’ aggressiveness against the Thunder, the coach met with Davis on Monday to discuss what the team needs from him when he’s in the starting lineup.

“I met with Ed yesterday,” Casey said. “I challenged him. I didn’t think he brought it against Oklahoma City. He brought it more, competed harder, banged harder, got to the boards harder, a lot of things, screens, taking some of the shots he had [in other games]. He was the difference in the Portland game. He was the reason why Portland had to take off their blitzes on Jose and Kyle because he was knocking down shots.

"Those same shots he had against Oklahoma City, he was turning them down," Casey continued. "I could understand if he had missed two or three, but he was turning them down before he had even attempted any. He’s got to be aggressive, stay focused, stay in the desperate mode, the hungry mode that he started his starting situation with and not lose that edge.”

Davis himself acknowledged that Casey said the team will need him to be aggressive, especially on the offensive end of the floor.

“I’m feeling good,” Davis said. “I put a lot of work in over the off-season to prepare my body for an opportunity like this. I’m feeling good and I’m ready for tomorrow.”

Casey would be pleased to hear Davis say that the team’s focus is squarely on the 76ers, who will be in Toronto on Wednesday. After that game — and not until — they will allow themselves to focus on the Bobcats who will be in town on Friday.

“We have to do that,” Davis explained. “I don’t think we’re good enough that we can just look past any team.”

Through this six-game homestand, Davis has been appreciative of the fan support the team has received.

“We have a great fan base,” he said. “All of our games we have great crowds, no matter who it is, whether it is Sacramento or the Thunder. That’s always encouraging for us because we don’t have the best record and our fans are still supporting us.”

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