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Lewenberg: Brief All-Star weekend debut for Valanciunas

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Josh Lewenberg
2/15/2014 12:06:38 AM
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NEW ORLEANS - Jonas Valanciunas' stay in The Big Easy will be a brief one.

After making his All-Star debut in Friday's Rising Stars Challenge, the Raptors' sophomore centre won't be sticking around for the duration of the weekend's festivities, thinking about the big picture instead.

Valanciunas, who scored four points in 19 minutes for the victorious Team Hill in the annual rookie-sophomore showcase, will spend two days on a beach in Mexico.

How soon does he leave?

"As soon as possible," he joked after Friday's game. "I want to see that sun."

Scheduled to take off from New Orleans Saturday morning, Valanciunas' vacation will also be short-lived. He and the rest of the team will reconvene in Washington Monday for practice but a little relaxation before that could go a long way for the Raptors' young centre.

"[I can] just relax my body," he said of the excursion, "have some time off to relax my mind, relax my body and be ready for the next half of the season."

With 30 regular season games and - barring a complete Raptors collapse - at least a few playoff contests to go, Valanciunas should surpass his minute total from last season in the next week, he's 32 minutes shy of matching his rookie mark.

After a strong eight-game stretch, averaging 15.4 points and 10.8 rebounds, to close out last month and begin February, the 21-year-old was rusty going into the break. Despite grabbing 14 boards, he connected on just one of his nine attempts, logging just 24 minutes in Wednesday's win over the Hawks.

"He needs a rest," Dwane Casey said after that game. "He needs a mental rest."

The stretch run will be uncharted territory for Valanciunas and the Raptors will need him at full strength, both physically and mentally.

His time in New Orleans, however brief, was not especially taxing. Valanciunas' four points was tied with Phoenix's Miles Plumlee for lowest in the game. In general the event is not one that lends itself to prototypical big men. It's a high-scoring, up and down display of athleticism and three-point shooting.

"Everybody wants to score," he said. "Everybody wants to do some beautiful dunks, beautiful shots and my job is to bang inside."

Valanciunas may have been the only one on the court looking to set screens and box out. Offensively, he was out of place, failing to convert three alley-oops, getting a hook shot blocked by the Pelicans' Anthony Davis and even missing a rare three-pointer.

"That was my goal the whole game," he said with a smile. "To make a three."

Valanciunas' team, drafted by Grant Hill, was victorious by a score of 142-136 over Team Chris Webber. Detroit's Andre Drummond was awarded MVP, voted on by the fans, after scoring 30 points and grabbing 25 boards. Cleveland's Dion Waiters had 31 points and the Knicks' Tim Hardaway Jr. scored 36 for Team Webber.

Jonas Valanciunas (Photo: Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)

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(Photo: Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)
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