Lewenberg: Raptors not showing their hand in preseason loss

Josh Lewenberg,

10/10/2013 1:57:33 AM

TORONTO - Dwane Casey was more composed than you might expect after his team surrendered 101 points in defeat on home court Wednesday night.

The reason being; this loss - 101-89 at the hands of Minnesota - came in the second game of the exhibition season, a time of trial and error for the Raptors.

"[We are in] no way a finished product," Casey said after the loss. "I don't think you can talk to a coach in the NBA now that is where they want to be. We're definitely not where we want to be defensively."

"We've got to fight through things, we've got to fight through adversity and I like it," he continued, stressing that a night like this, at this stage should be used as a learning experience. "I like that it showed us tonight what we have to work on, especially defensively."

Casey and his staff will go back to the drawing board on Thursday, as they do after each preseason game - win or lose. For them, October is a month-long chess match, a card game that's all about gathering information, utilizing it in the gym and choosing how much of it they wish to reveal before the games count. It's a month of experimentation and tactical development.

"In preseason you stick with your coverage," Casey said, pointing out that through two games the team has yet to switch into the zone defence they've been working on. "You don't try to do anything tricky, you don't try to game plan. We're still trying to learn our defensive fundamentals."

Zone coverage is expected to be a big part of what the Raptors do defensively this season -- or better yet, what they can do when the situation deems it necessary. Whether they're using a small lineup or simply masking some of their weaker second-unit defenders, it is a trick they'd like to have up their sleeve. But for now it remains in the sleeve.

"You don't want to show them too much in the preseason," said Rudy Gay, who scored 11 points in the losing effort to Minnesota.

Defensive Slippage

For Casey the message is, has been and will remain focused on defence.

After holding the Celtics to 89 points on 40 per cent shooting in Monday's preseason victory, the team's recommitment on the defensive end took a step in the wrong direction, most notably in the third quarter where they were outscored them 28-16.

"We had a lot of mental breakdowns on the defensive end that we're going to come in here tomorrow and watch and try to correct," admitted DeMar DeRozan, who was a standout on the offensive end with a team-high 17 points.

The Wolves shot 47 per cent from the field and 37 per cent from three-point range, where they burned Toronto in the second half. The Raptors' frontcourt had their hands full all night, as expected, bodying up against a slimmer but always physical Kevin Love (20 points, nine rebounds) and Nikola Pekovic (12 points, eight rebounds).

"We just have to start with the mindset that we have to do everything right," Gay put bluntly. "We're honestly not good enough to lack in any category. So we have to try to [be] as perfect as possible."

A Determined DeRozan

With Corey Brewer preoccupied on Gay, DeRozan took advantage of the smaller guards Minnesota threw at him. After the newly signed Kevin Martin left the game (he played six minutes and was pulled as a precaution with a sore Achilles) DeRozan began attacking the paint, routinely posting up or driving right by Alexey Shved and company.

DeRozan scored all but two of his 17 points in the paint or from the line, finishing six-of-seven from the floor and five-for-six from the stripe.

He and Gay combined to shoot 14 free throws, making 12, each playing around 20 minutes.

"It puts pressure on the defence," Gay said of the duo's ability to draw fouls in the lane "The more we can do that the better we're going to be."

"Now we just [have] to start hitting shots," he joked. "It'll come, it's just preseason."

Another Efficient Night for the Starters

Although they haven't been effective from beyond the arc, an area of emphasis for that unit, the Raptors' starters haven't had much trouble hitting their shots.

For the second straight game the starting unit shot above 50 per cent from the field and continued to build on the chemistry they developed towards the end of last season.

"I thought they played solid minutes, the minutes they were in there," Casey said of the starters who, with the exception of Jonas Valanciunas, sat out the fourth quarter.

Rotation Roulette

Again, Casey experimented with different combinations, specifically in the second half. More than wins and losses, the Raptors' coach has emphasized the importance of experimenting with his rotation and finding the groupings that work best going into the season.

Casey used a couple variations of his small lineup late in the first half with Gay slotted at the four and matching up with Love. "I gained the weight he lost," Gay joked after facing a slimmed-down Love.

After sitting out on Monday Steve Novak was also used as a stretch four, playing 20 minutes in place of Austin Daye, who was used in that role against Boston. Novak scored nine points off the bench, knocking down his first three triples in his Raptors' debut.

"We know what Steve is," Casey said. "We know who he is [and] what he can do. We wanted to give him a turn tonight."

Novak, a 45 per cent three-point shooter over the last two seasons in New York, is as automatic as they come in the corner but the challenge for Casey will be masking him on defence and surrounding him with players he will complement.

"From a distance you may not see exactly what's going on, but some nights some guys are playing, other [nights] guys aren't," Novak said of the preseason. "I think a lot of it is for the coaches to see what they're comfortable with, where they want to play guys [and] just see how guys react."

Fallen Comrade

Raptors fans received disheartening news prior to Wednesday's preseason home opener when it was reported that the team's beloved mascot, the Raptor, tore his Achilles' tendon during a community visit in Halifax this weekend and will be sidelined for the season.

Widely considered the best mascot in the NBA, the Raptor - and the man wearing the suit - has been with the organization, entertaining fans since the inaugural season in 1995-96.

"I was disappointed," Casey said of his reaction when he heard the news. "My daughter cried. She was upset."

"He'll bounce back. He's in good hands with the physicians. The Raptor will be back, he will be back. We need his spirit and he's in our thoughts and prayers."

Up Next

Andrea Bargnani will make his highly-anticipated return to the Air Canada Centre with his new team, the Knicks, who make the first of two preseason visits to Toronto on Friday. TSN Radio 1050 Toronto has the game live at 7pm et.