Marc Gasol will be a ‘bigs’ test for Raptors /Link
The Raptors begin a four-game road trip beginning with a Friday night tip in Memphis, a stretch that will take them back to the West Coast for the second and final time this season. Once this period is completed, there no longer will be any four-game away schedule to deal with, the load of an […]
The Raptors begin a four-game road trip beginning with a Friday night tip in Memphis, a stretch that will take them back to the West Coast for the second and final time this season.
Once this period is completed, there no longer will be any four-game away schedule to deal with, the load of an 82-game season made less onerous given the sheer timing of the schedule.
It’s been well-documented how the Raptors, who have been dominant at home, have what many believe is a favourable slate of games during the month of December, but the term favourable is relevant and meaningful only when wins are produced.
Good teams don’t play the opponent’s record and the Raptors cannot afford to take anything or anyone for granted.
Whether it’s ball movement, good starts to begin the game and at the start of the second half, a continued presence by the Raptors reserves, protecting the basketball and the boards, key areas when playing on the road, defence and making plays in big moments, there’s a lot on the plate knowing the attention to detail must be heightened in enemy territory.
Head coach Dwane Casey has been around the NBA block long enough that a consistent mindset must be maintained at all times, be it at home or on the road.
He also knows the temptations of players falling into the so-called ‘trap’ games and the perils of looking past a team that has a losing record.
He knows it’s never easy to post a win and the schedule has its quirks, a description that applies to all teams.
“The schedule is what it is,’’ said Casey following Thursday’s gathering at the team’s BioSteel facility. “You can’t control the schedule, whether it’s West Coast early, West Coast late. We got to take it as it comes.”
With the league trying to preserve its players, there aren’t as many back-to-backs as there has been in the past, the days of playing four games in six nights proving too taxing and forcing teams to rest their marquee players for nationally televised tips, which is not good for business.
For the Raptors, the business at hand begins with Marc Gasol, an elite centre and clearly the centre of attention in Memphis.
Gasol hasn’t been shooting the ball well. He got slapped with a $15,000 fine when he dropped the f-bomb during a TV interview following a win over Minnesota, the first for Memphis following 11 straight losses.
On Wednesday night in New York, his right knee locked up and he left the game against the Knicks with roughly five minutes remaining in the opening half, awkwardly landing following an attempted block.
Gasol has a high basketball IQ, can play inside and out, the offence runs through him and he’s very good in his decision making when he’s away from the basket and asked to make the proper pass.
Casey confided that part of Thursday’s practice involved more ball- handling from the team’s bigs, namely starter Jonas Valanciunas and backup Jakob Poeltl, who would later be interviewed by a visiting news outlet from his native Austria.
Even the combined skills of Valanciunas and Poeltl can’t match up with Gasol, who is a finished product, but today’s bigs, given how the game has evolved, need to be able to facilitate an offence from the top of the circle, step out and make threes and in general make good decisions with the basketball.
“You have to guard him,’’ said Casey of Gasol.
When they visited Memphis last season, the Raptors lost, 101-99, a night when Gasol scored 42 points, making 14 of 25 of his shots, including 5-of-10 shooting from beyond the arc.
He’ll space the floor, forcing Toronto’s bigs to extend their defence.
“Once we started to close out, he started driving,’’ recalled Casey of that night on Jan. 25. “Our bigs with their one on one defence, whether it’s in the post or on the perimeter versus him, they have to understand how to play him, how to approach him, because he is one of the best big men playing inside and outside.”
BROOKS ‘A SOLID PLAYER’
One of the many draft-eligible prospects the Raptors worked out last summer was Dillon Brooks, a Mississauga native who went on to play NCAA basketball at Oregon.
As the draft would play out, the Raptors caught a break when OG Anunoby fell right into their lap late in the first round, going 23rd overall.
Brooks went in the second round (45th overall) to Houston, but would get dealt to Memphis.
On Friday, Canada’s lone NBA team will get to see the Canadian rookie up close as the Grizzlies play host to the Raptors.
Brooks starts at small forward and is averaging 28.7 minutes.
In 18 minutes Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden, Brooks missed both of his shots and was held scoreless.
He doesn’t get to the line often and part of his growth involves expanding his range, especially in today’s three-point happy world that is the NBA.
Going into Friday night, Brooks has averaged 1.3 free throw attempts and is shooting 32.7% from distance.
“We have players at his position,’’ said Raptors head coach Dwane Casey of Brooks. “The need wasn’t exactly there at that position, but he’s turned out to be a pretty good player, a starter for their team.
“He’s a solid, solid player, a solid rookie.”
Published on 08 Dec 2017 at 12:07AM