After a jam-packed couple of weeks of news and preparation for the season, the last couple of days have really settled down in Raptor land.
If you missed it yesterday, I provided some early season numbers to keep an eye on as the season progresses.
Scott will probably post a game thread ahead of tonight’s matchup against the winless defending champion Mavericks. I don’t think I’ll be able to watch the game tonight, so most likely no recap, but if anything interesting comes up between now and Sunday’s game against the Magic, you know where to come to read about it.
Let’s get to a few notes.
- Aaron Gray is still undergoing cardiac testing and monitoring to find out what’s been causing his rapid heart rate. While he can take part in (full contact) practices, Gray will be held out of game action for now after consulting with an NBA cardiologist. Again, I hope for Gray’s sake, this doesn’t turn out to be the kind of thing that requires procedures or an extended absence. While Gray wasn’t going to be much of a deciding factor to the team’s success this season, he is a decent big body off of the bench, and added depth at the big positions is always helpful. Just think, if Amir or Andrea get into early foul trouble like they did on Wednesday night, and Magloire can’t give you anything on that night, without Gray, you’re next option at centre is Solomon Alabi.
- I haven’t posted anything Jonas Valanciunas related since his epic showdown versus Santa Claus, but finally we have some real basketball to mention. In three games this week (all be it against some very weak competition), Valanciunas scored 55 points on 21-of-31 shooting (67.7 per cent) to go along with 31 rebounds and four blocks in about 59 minutes of action. In simpler terms, the big Lithuanian averaged about 18 points, 10 rebounds and a block in just under 20 minutes per game. Thanks to Toronto Raptors Community Manager Jay Satur for recapping Valanciunas’ week.
- I find myself watching Dwane Casey’s broadcasted media scrums more than I usually watch coaches’ scrums, and a big part of the reason is that I actually find Casey to be more honest and direct with the media than most coaches. Two things caught my attention in watching his scrum from Thursday. First, Casey was discussing getting the respect of officials by playing hard, playing physical and diving to the floor for loose balls. He then followed that up by saying it would make the officials think “they’re not the same Toronto team of the past.” Yup, that’s a burn to the Raptors players who were here last year and could even be interpreted as a burn to the former coaching staff as well. Do I think Casey said it thinking he was burning anyone? No, but I do think he was being honest, and what his honesty basically said was that this team didn’t play hard enough or physical enough in recent years. Raptors fans already knew that, I just found it refreshing to here Casey confirm it.
Another cool part of the scrum was hearing Casey talk about how great the ACC crowd was for the home opener and say that “coaches from other teams talked about how exciting our fans were.” Coming out of a lockout, entering a season with minimal expectations, if any, it really was an impressive crowd if you were there to witness it. Casey also talked about the playoff-like atmosphere the fans created on Wednesday night, which I mentioned in my thoughts on the game.
- Outside of the obvious “Dwane Casey returns to Dallas” story, one thing that should be interesting to watch tonight is Andrea Bargnani vs. Dirk Nowitzki. Obviously, this isn’t the fist time the two have matched up in their careers, but remember, Bargnani has been playing as a centre for much of the last five years, so they really haven’t had a full game long one-on-one battle yet. With Bargs now playing the four, this might be our first chance to finally really see that matchup.
While it’s probably far too late for Andrea to ever live up to the Dirk comparisons, he has had good games against his idol in the past. In eight career matchups against Dirk and the Mavs (Bargnani hasn’t faced the Mavs since the 2009-2010 season), Bargnani has averaged about 17 points, four rebounds and a block. But in his last three times going up against Dirk, Andrea has averaged 20.6 points, six rebounds and two blocks. Are we in store for Bargnani’s best game of the young season tonight?
Until they prove me wrong (and I know we all hope they won’t), I’m going to assume that the fight and effort will be there from the Raptors heading into all 66 games this season, or at least most of them. I expect that same fight tonight, but with the Mavs losing a heartbreaker against Kevin Durant and the undefeated Thunder just 24 hours ago, I smell a blowout brewing.
I know the Mavs are an older team playing on the back end of a back-to-back and their fourth game in six nights, so there is the possibility that the much younger, much fresher Raptors simply run past them, but I just can’t see the defending champs dropping to 0-4 with a home loss to the lowly Raptors. Regardless of the Raps’ extra effort, I wouldn’t be shocked to see this one get ugly.
Perhaps the key for Toronto will be hanging around and staying in the game early, because you would have to expect Dallas to come out firing.