TORONTO - In a matchup between a couple of Atlantic Division rivals, the Raptors will tip off their 19th NBA season at the Air Canada Centre Wednesday night against a Boston Celtics team some may not recognize.
Watch the home opener live on TSN2 at 7pm et/4pm pt.
"One thing you have to do on opening night, you've got to temper emotions," said Raptors coach Dwane Casey Wednesday morning after shoot-around. "It's hyped up, a lot of glitz and glamour as far as the game is concerned but one thing you have to do, you have to understand it's going to be a grind."
After an offseason makeover, the Celtics begin a new era with new head coach and former Butler boss Brad Stevens at the helm. The Raptors saw the new-look Celtics twice in the preseason, a 97-89 win in Boston to open the exhibition campaign and a two-point victory at home two weeks ago.
"When we played here, I thought it was a good environment," Stevens said on the morning of his first NBA game. "We've played this team twice. Obviously, we didn't play the guys that are going to play the majority of the minutes as much as they're going to play tonight."
"The task is big enough that I'm just focused on that. I'm sure I'll feel it a little bit before the game."
The Raptors are optimistic heading into the 2013-14 season coming off a strong camp. They'll enter the new season with the same starting five that closed out 2012-13 on a five-game winning streak, looking to carry over that success into the new year.
"I think we're a hell of a team," guard DeMar DeRozan boasted. "We're all together. Everybody has each others' back from the first guy to the 15th guy. Everybody respects each other and we're out here for one goal and that's to win."
Trends and Tidbits
Toronto finished the preseason with a 6-1 record for the second straight year. The Raptors were one of four teams with one loss or fewer in the exhibition season (Chicago: 7-0, New Orleans: 7-1, Houston: 5-1) after their final game in Milwaukee was cancelled due to unsafe playing conditions on the slippery court. "It all changes tonight," Casey said Wednesday after a successful preseason. "You'll see a different Boston team come in, ready to prove something, with a chip on their shoulder so all the preseason games don't mean anything."
The Raptors are 9-9 all-time in season opening games, including 6-6 at the ACC. They've split two opening night games against the Celtics, the last meeting coming on Nov. 2, 1999, the first season opener played at the ACC.
DeRozan will join Vince Carter, Chris Bosh and Antonio Davis as the fourth player in team history to start in five consecutive opening night games. The fifth-year guard, along with Amir Johnson - who will play in his 300th game as a Raptor Wednesday night - are the longest tenured players on the team.
The Raptors will unveil a replacement mascot Wednesday evening after the predecessor suffered a torn Achilles, sidelining him for the entire season. "I understand that they have some things in mind for tonight," Casey acknowledged, playing coy in regards to the team's new mascot. "I'm not at liberty to talk about it, it's kind of a company secret right now but it'll be exciting for our fans."
What to Watch For
Protect the ball
The Raptors were the NBA's third best team taking care of the ball a year ago but struggled with turnovers throughout the preseason. Toronto turned the ball over 20 or more times in four of seven exhibition games, including both meetings with these young and scrappy Celtics.
Although the miscues seemed to come from the entire roster, starters and subs, point guard Kyle Lowry had a team-high 17 in the seven games. Lowry will be playing his first game with a protective splint on his injured left ring finger. Although reports out of practice have been positive and Casey has indicated that the injury has not and will not affect Lowry's ability to lead the team at the point of attack, he and the rest of the team will have to shake off the preseason rust on Wednesday.
With a returning starting five, the Raptors have not missed a beat early in games this fall. Toronto has won or tied the first quarter in each of its seven preseason games, shooting 55 per cent and holding opponents to 38 per cent in the opening frame.
Toronto's experienced first unit should have an advantage over a young, inexperienced Celtics roster out of the gate. Surely they should be viewing this game, against a rebuilding Boston team, as one they must win, especially with a difficult early-season schedule setting in. Following Wednesday's game, 19 of their next 33 contests will be played on the road.
"Guys have bought in, we worked hard on it this summer," Casey said. "Even from last year, we worked hard on what we want to do, how we want to play [and] what we're going to do when adversity hits. We didn't handle it well at the beginning of last season. It kind of snowballed on us, but we've finally got the ship righted."
Who to Watch For
The Raptors' guard is coming off a strong preseason, leading the team in points (15.3) while shooting an efficient 54 per cent from the field and 82 per cent from the line.
"I'm just hyped," DeRozan said after shoot-around. "I'm more hyped than any other season, especially knowing the work that I put in this summer to be the player I want to be to help this team win. I just can't wait to get out on the court."
The Toronto-native and 13th pick of the 2013 draft will play his first NBA regular season game in front of his hometown crowd Wednesday. Olynyk was a standout at the Orlando Summer League and carried over his promising and versatile game into the preseason where he averaged 9.0 points and 4.5 rebounds, including a 13-point, 9-rebound performance in Toronto on Oct. 16.
"The young man knows how to play," Casey said of Olynyk, who he called a steal at the 13th pick. "[He's an] excellent passer, he struggled a little bit from the three but he's very capable. I like his game."
Steve Novak, who missed most of the preseason with an injury to his right thumb, will be available for the Raptors.
Rajon Rondo is still out for Boston, recovering from knee surgery. He hopes to return to the Celtics sometime in December.