Mack’s Notebook: Raptors focused on rookies

The Raptors have made the development of Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross a priority, even when it might affect the final outcome of the game. (AP/Chuck Burton)

The Toronto Raptors got back to business Thursday afternoon after a disappointing loss to the Bobcats in Charlotte the night before.

It was the second time this season the team has dropped a decision to the Bobcats on their home floor.

With a home-and-away series against the New York Knicks over the weekend, the Raptors were ready to move past Wednesday’s game and shift their focus forward.

Still, the loss stung.

“I think we didn’t really bring the intensity that we should have,” Rudy Gay said. “It’s just tough when you let those ones slip up that you thought you should have had.”

Gay also spoke with the media about the prescription goggles that he has been spotted wearing in practice sessions. While he hasn’t broken them out in a game yet, the moment could be coming.

“When we were in L.A. I went to the eye doctor and saw some imbalance in my vision,” he said. “It’s something I have to take care of in the offseason.”

While Gay acknowledged it’s “a little more” than simply needing to look into getting fitted for contacts during the off-season, he downplayed the situation, saying it’s an adjustment to get used to the goggles. Still, in a season where Gay is shooting a career-low 40 per cent from the floor, one wonders if the vision issue could be having an impact on his accuracy.

While Gay didn’t make excuses or have a lot to say regarding the goggles, he did have praise for rookie Jonas Valancinunas.

Since coming to Toronto, there has been one thing in particular about Valanciunas’ game that has impressed his veteran teammate.

“His toughness,” Gay said. “He’s really tough. He doesn’t back down from anyone. That’s something you can’t teach.”

The 20-year-old big man still has plenty to learn, but Gay is confident that the future is bright.

“He’s going to be a great player and he’s pretty good right now,” he said.

Dwane Casey spoke once again about integrating rookies into the rotation as the season winds down. While every coach’s ultimate goal is to win, sometimes that takes a back seat. In the home stretch of a playoff-less season, the Raptors have made the development of Valanciunas and Terrence Ross a priority, even when it might affect the final outcome of the game.

“You’ve got to put guys out there and make sure they do the right things,” Casey said. “Winning is the bottom line, but for the future of the organization we’ve got to give JV big minutes, we’ve got to give Terrence minutes. We’ve got to look at some other people in certain situations. Sometimes it’s a detriment to losing a rhythm or losing a lead.”

Still, Casey feels these opportunities are invaluable to his young players.

“I’m putting the pressure on those guys to go into the game and to perform to win,” he said.

Against the Knicks, Casey wants to keep the focus on the challenge of playing spoiler against a team that is playing for playoff position.

“New York is playing at a very high level,” he said. “They’re looking for playoff positioning, home court or whatever it is. We want to make sure we’re playing at a high level to take them out of it from the beginning.”

While the intensity was not where it needed to be against the Bobcats, Casey will be challenging his players to pick it up against the Knicks, regardless of who is on the floor.

“At the end of the day when you step on the floor, whatever the situation is you have to be ready to compete,” he said.

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