Other than Terrence Ross missing out with a sore knee, the Raptors and their fans finally got a glimpse of what this year’s roster looks like when healthy in another narrow pre-season victory.
I didn’t get a chance to post any thoughts on Friday night’s victory over the Pistons, but I’ll make up for it tonight, since I have a ton of thoughts on this game.
- First things first, my thoughts on Kyle Lowry’s debut. The Raptors’ first points of the game were scored on a Lowry drive to the basket, which should be a sign of things to come this season. Overall, Lowry definitely looked rusty and a step slow in his first go at it in the first quarter, which is understandable given it was his first game action in six months. But he seemed to get faster, more in rhythm and just plain better as the game wore on, finishing with 14 points and six assists to go along with three rebounds and three steals in 25 minutes of action. He went o-for-4 from three-point range, but I’m really not worried about it. In fact, I’m good with him continuing to fire away throughout the pre-season until he gets his legs back under him.
If there is one complaint I had about Lowry tonight (prepare yourselves, because it’s not really a complaint), it’s that he doesn’t seem to know how not to play at full throttle. I love that he’s a penetrating point guard who seeks contact and fouls, but I was also cringing and holding my breath as he took a couple of hard fouls and hit the deck in the game’s final few minutes. Kyle, I appreciate the hustle, I really do, but we need you healthy and ready on October 31st, so don’t worry about sacrificing your body right now.
- The point guard depth was on display again tonight. Lowry and Jose Calderon combined for 26 points, 14 assists and five steals, while John Lucas III added five points, three assists and three rebounds in 12 minutes. There are going to be nights when one or two of the the point guards aren’t at their best, and there will be some nights when one might be missing from the lineup, but barring a slew of bad luck, the Raptors should be getting some real solid contributions from the point each and every night with the depth at their disposal.
- Andrea Bargnani has actually put forth an honest effort on the defensive end the last couple of games (after looking uninterested in the first two games), but his shooting stroke has yet to return. With his 2-of-7 performance tonight, Bargnani is now a combined 12-of-39 (30.8%) from the floor so far this pre-season, including a nasty 3-of-11 from deep and an uncharacteristic 11-of-19 from the free throw line. I know it’s early and I know how quickly things can turn with an offensive talent like Andrea, but his flat shot almost officially has me concerned.
Oh, and if that’s not already concerning enough with regards to Bargnani, two words: “left calf.”
- Jonas Valanciunas looked solid again defensively, and finished with eight points, eight boards and three blocks in 25 minutes, highlighted by this beautiful pump-fake and finish:
Settle down, Matt, settle down.
Valanciunas did commit four turnovers, picked up four fouls (a couple of them were clearly rookie calls by the refs) and still has his rookie moments, but from what I’ve seen, he is more than ready to play 20+ minutes a night and should be this team’s starting centre. I honestly didn’t think I would be convinced of that this early on.
- To that point, I’m thinking the starting lineup we saw tonight (Lowry, DeRozan, Fields, Bargnani, Valanciuans) is the lineup that starts opening night if everyone’s healthy, right?
- After the first couple of games, I expected DeMar DeRozan to slowly backtrack into a long jump-shooter again as the pre-season wore on, but I’ve got to hand it to him, he’s been very consistent in getting to the hoop through four games. I don’t want to assume that this is the DeRozan were going to get from November ’til April, but it certainly does seem that something’s finally clicked for him in terms of the way he approaches his offence. There was one stretch in the third quarter where Lowry fed him the ball in the exact same spot, play after play after play, and DeMar just kept backing his man down and driving to the basket. It’s encouraging to watch.
- Ed Davis brought some serious hustle to this game, especially in the first half, and deserves credit for it. I think he and Amir Johnson are starting to develop some chemistry as the bench big men, and if they continue to work, they should be rewarded on the offensive end by Calderon in the second unit.
- Landry Fields continues to move really well off the ball on offence and was finally rewarded for it a bit more tonight, particularly with Lowry running the offence. Fields finished with 15 points on 10 field goal attempts. Has anyone else noticed that he’s craftier in getting to the basket than any of us probably thought?
- Lastly, moving away from the game (and basketball) for a moment, I don’t know if the Raptors game operations people have already decided on an intro song/theme for the regular season, but in the three home pre-season games so far, there’s been a montage that has me excited. About three minutes before the starters come out, a video is shown on the jumbotron of the Raptors working hard in training camp and Dwane Casey talking to his players in Halifax, but it’s what happens before that generic video that gets my juices flowing. The little compilation starts with the audio of Robert De Niro’s quick yet epic “working man” rant from the classic “A Bronx Tale.”
It’s a perfect choice for this workmanlike young team, and if the regular season starting lineup intro music/video starts with De Niro’s voice, they can play the Sesame Street theme song after that for all I care. If it starts with De Niro, I’m sold. As I’ve told friends before, you can put De Niro or Al Pacino on screen simply staring into blank space, and I’ll be motivated enough to run through a brick wall.