Lewenberg: Raptors aim to tighten screws offensively

Josh Lewenberg,
10/8/2013 9:08:33 PM
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TORONTO - Forgive Dwane Casey if he's not jumping up and down as a result of his team's first win of the exhibition season.

Although the Raptors' coach acknowledges the positives - and there were several of them - to be taken out of Monday's 97-89 preseason victory over the Celtics, there was one thing that was on his mind the following afternoon.

"Turnovers," he emphasized after practice on Tuesday. "26 turnovers is way too many. We've got to make sure we cut those down."

Preseason rust is a phenomenon that has been known to affect even the best of teams and Casey understands that. It's also not hugely surprising for a Raptors' team that has spent the bulk of training camp working strictly on their defence. Casey accepts this premise, but he won't excuse it.

"We['ve] got to get those down," Casey said of the offensive miscues. "Probably in half, is my goal once we get going. A lot of it is rust, we spent a lot more time defensively than we have offensively."

Protecting the ball was one of Toronto's strengths a year ago when they averaged just 13.7 turnovers per game, third best in the NBA. By halftime on Monday the Raptors had turned the ball over 16 times and each of their starters finished the game with three or more giveaways.

"It was the first game," said Terrence Ross, who had just one turnover in a standout 12-point performance. "It's not going to be perfect [but] we're working on it."

The young Celtics scored 26 points off Toronto's 26 turnovers but the Raptors were able to overcome their mistakes thanks in large part to efficient shooting (52 per cent), an inspired performance on the boards and a defensive effort that met their coach's high expectations.

"We did a lot of good things defensively," Casey said after preaching a re-commitment on that end of the floor throughout the first week of camp. "We've got to continue that, build on that [and] cut down on some of the mistakes we made defensively but most of all we made up for the mistakes with effort."

Casey will continue to emphasize defence first and foremost but making the most of each possession will undoubtedly be a focus for his team when they host the Timberwolves at the Air Canada Centre on Wednesday.

"It's something that we're going to be more conscious of in the next game," Ross admitted. "I don't think we'll get 26 turnovers [or] anywhere near that again."

Eliminating "cheap" fouls

Another focus for Casey's club has been increasing their defensive intensity while also decreasing the unnecessary fouls they're being called for, a tricky act to balance and one the Raptors have had a tough time with in the past.

Toronto has committed more fouls than any other NBA team in each of the two seasons since Casey took over as head coach. Last year they were whistled for a shade over 22 violations per game, down from 23 the season before.

On par with their 2012-13 average the Raptors committed 22 fouls on Monday, six of them called on Jonas Valanciunas who fouled out late in the fourth quarter.

One of the (few) pitfalls that comes with employing a group of high-energy big men is the foul trouble that's likely to ensue. That will be the challenge for Valanciunas, Amir Johnson - who led the league in fouls last season - and spark plug Tyler Hansbrough. They are far too valuable to be constrained to the bench for long stretches.

"The fouls we don't want to have are the cheap ones," Casey said. "Where you're reaching and grabbing, not in position. I'll take that hard play and try to correct it as we go."

For Valanciunas it's about playing under control on defence and when fighting for position in the low post. Casey and the coaching staff have been working with the sophomore centre on his balance as well as his vertical shot contest.

"When he goes up, what we call verticality," Casey said, "and then he comes down with the hand, he thinks he's going straight up but human nature brings the hand down and he gets a cheap foul."

Praise for Hansbrough

Hansbrough was a popular man at practice on Tuesday.

His reputation precedes him. You love him if he's on you're team, you hate him if he's not, we were told.

Turns out he makes friends quick.

"Tyler's my favourite player on the team," Ross joked, a day after Hansbrough debuted for the Raptors with 17 points and nine rebounds off the bench.

"I love playing with him," he continued. "It makes my job a lot easier knowing that he's down there battling. He's usually taking on two guys so there's more people focused on Tyler. He slows a lot of things down for us so it's great having him on the team."

Lowry banged up

Kyle Lowry banged his hand in practice Tuesday morning, according to Coach Casey. His status is not known but should be updated prior to Wednesday's preseason game. It's not believed to be serious.

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