Tall order for Valanciunas as Raps visit Kings

December 5, 2012, 4:09 PM

The Toronto Raptors continue their western road trip on Wednesday night against another struggling team: the Sacramento Kings.

Toronto is coming off a tough loss in Denver on Monday. The Raptors were trailing by as many as 17 points before they went on a run, closing the gap to one, before eventually losing 113-110.

Meanwhile, the Kings have lost three in a row, leaving them 4-10 on the season.

Programming note: Watch the Raptors battle the Kings live on Sportsnet ONE beginning at 10 p.m. ET / 7 p.m. PT.

Here are a few things to consider before tonight’s game:

On the bright side

As tough as things have gotten for the Raptors to start the season, as Dwane Casey told the Toronto Star’s Doug Smith, they really aren’t out of the playoff picture just yet as they are only a few games off the eighth seed.

“I told our guys, we’re four games out of the East, of knocking on the playoffs door so it’s not like everything’s lost. We’re at the toughest part of our schedule, keep the hope, keep the faith, keep working and keep believing in each other and I think that’s the most important thing,” Casey said.

It has been a battle for the Raptors as they have lost several close games early in the season and Casey has had to fight to keep his team’s spirits high.

“I’m getting on them, pushing them in the right way because the worst thing you can do right now is have an amputated spirit. Right now, our spirits are good, even though we’re not getting the Ws, the end results we’re looking for. Our spirit is good and it’s up to me to keep ‘em up, keep ‘em going, teach the right way. Teaching to get better more so than putting them down, putting them down like ‘you’re not winning.’ Those things are things that I’m trying to do to keep them going and keep a group consistently performing.”

Now this team needs to find a way to close out close games.

Lowry’s balancing act

It took a few games but Kyle Lowry has finally started to look like Kyle Lowry.

He has been more aggressive on both ends of the floor and while Casey is pleased, he is hoping his point guard continues to understand that he needs to be both a set-up man and a scorer.

“The thing with Kyle is a happy medium between trying to do too much, it’s all admirable, it’s not because he’s selfish — he’s trying to win — and so if you over-do it, the defence starts loading up on you, but he’ll find it,” Casey told the Toronto Sun’s Mike Ganter. “Being off 2 1/2 weeks, I think he’s kind of getting his sea legs a little bit more, his rhythm and he found it (Monday) night in the second half.”

Speaking of…

While Lowry continues to work his way back to full speed, Raptors rookie centre Jonas Valanciunas is also trying to get used to the demands of being an NBA player as he makes his first trip around the league.

One interesting adjustment he had to make was playing his first game at high altitude in Denver but much like every other challenge he has encountered, Valanciunas seems to maintain a pretty positive attitude.

“It’s pretty hard to play there,” Valanciunas told the Toronto Sun. “They told me I would get tired after the first couple of minutes, but then I need to break that wall. The second time I went in I broke it and after that it was good.”

“The game is the game. This was just a little different.”

Valanciunas faces a tough task on Wednesday night as he will have to battle the Kings enigmatic young centre DeMarcus Cousins.

In the Kings last outing on Saturday, a blowout loss to the Clippers, Kings coach Keith Smart was forced to yank Cousins after just 18 minutes.

“I just didn’t like what was going on out on the floor, so I decided to go in a different direction,” Smart told NBA.com . “By the time I was ready to put him back in, the game was already out of control and that was about it.”

Cousins finished with just eight points in that loss, a far cry from the 19 points and 16 rebounds he posted on Friday against Indiana.

If the Raptors are to be successful, Valanciunas will have to find a way to keep Cousins in check.

All the Kings’ men

Kings guard/forward Tyreke Evans should be back in the lineup to face the Raptors on Wednesday night according to coach Keith Smart.

“He came in and did some treadmill work, did some sprint work on the floor and then got up his shots,” Smart told the Sacarmento Bee. “I just wanted to get him to where he did some change of direction on the floor and ran into someone, but I think he’ll be ready to go.”


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