Ibaka ben­e­fits from full sea­son

AF­TER FULL SEA­SON WITH RAP­TORS, IBAKA WILL BE KEY IN PLAY­OFF RUN

Lethbridge Herald - - SPORTS - Lori Ewing

Serge Ibaka had barely played along­side Kyle Lowry when the Toronto Rap­tors opened the play­offs last sea­son.

The big man was ac­quired at the trade dead­line, and played the fi­nal 23 games of the reg­u­lar sea­son for Toronto. But Lowry was out with a hand in­jury and didn’t re­join the team un­til four games be­fore the play­offs tipped off.

The Rap­tors had en­vi­sioned Ibaka help­ing them past LeBron James and the Cava­liers, but with lit­tle time to jell, it just didn’t hap­pen.

“It was more dif­fi­cult than we thought es­pe­cially when pres­sure hit,” coach Dwane Casey said. “When you don’t know the nu­ances or know each other well, it’s more dif­fi­cult in those sit­u­a­tions. We had to sim­plify some things last year just be­cause of P.J. ( Tucker) and Serge com­ing in . . . I prob­a­bly didn’t do a good job of in­te­grat­ing them in quick enough.”

Ibaka, ac­quired for his de­fen­sive tough­ness and solid shoot­ing, av­er­aged 14.3 points and 6.5 re­bounds in Toronto’s 10 play­off games, but the Rap­tors were swept in the sec­ond round by Cleve­land.

This sea­son is a “dif­fer­ent story,” Casey said. Ibaka had the ben­e­fit of train­ing camp and a full sea­son with the Rap­tors, and on Satur­day, he had a team-high 23 points and 12 re­bounds in Toronto’s Game 1 vic­tory over Wash­ing­ton.

“Last year, I didn’t re­ally have time to work with the team, with the guys, but now we know each other,” Ibaka said. “Kyle, he knows where I like to go. De­Mar (DeRozan), he knows what I like to do. I know what Kyle and De­Mar like to do now. When I play with ( Jonas Valan­ci­u­nas) in the paint, we un­der­stand each other more now. It feels more nor­mal now.”

Ibaka’s post-game press con­fer­ence Satur­day was al­most as im­pres­sive as his game. The Con­golese player an­swered ques­tions in English, French and Span­ish with­out miss­ing a beat.

When asked Mon­day if Ibaka is a de­cent talker on de­fence, Casey replied: “In what lan­guage?”

“He sees things. He’s talk­ing. He’s out there on the court giv­ing guys ad­vice. He’s un­be­liev­able from that stand­point,” Casey added.

The coach hopes to cap­i­tal­ize on Ibaka’s play­off ex­pe­ri­ence. He’s played in 100 post­sea­son games, 89 of them with Ok­la­homa City.

“That right there. . . just the ex­pe­ri­ence of be­ing around a guy like (Rus­sell) West­brook and ( James) Harden and all those guys, (Kevin) Du­rant, spe­cial sit­u­a­tions, you can’t put a dol­lar value on that. That’s in­valu­able,” Casey said. “And you cant give it to any­body. You gotta go through that.

“He’s been through the fire.”

Cana­dian Press photo

Toronto Rap­tors for­ward Serge Ibaka (9) re­acts dur­ing NBA play­off bas­ket­ball ac­tion against the Wash­ing­ton Wizards in Toronto Satur­day.

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