Rap­tors fo­cus on get­ting JV into mix

Pre-sea­son kicks off with win, Toronto will give Valan­ci­u­nas ev­ery chance to prove him­self

Toronto Star - - SPORTS - DOUG SMITH SPORTS RE­PORTER

VAN­COU­VER— They ran re­peated plays to get him post-up op­por­tu­ni­ties or 10-foot base­line jumpers and the de­fen­sive phi­los­o­phy has been tweaked to try and limit his li­a­bil­i­ties and al­low him to play more.

One of the more en­dur­ing sto­ry­lines of the Rap­tors’ pre-sea­son will be “what did they do for Jonas Valan­ci­u­nas now?”

Know­ing the seven-foot cen­tre likely needs to show marked im­prove­ment in all facets of the game if the Rap­tors are to have any mea­sure of sig­nif­i­cant suc­cess, Valan­ci­u­nas will be af­forded all kinds of chances to prove him­self.

Four plays called for him in the first two min­utes of Sun­day’s pre-sea­son opener against the Los An­ge­les Clip­pers and a tweak to screen-and-roll de­fence to let him play closer to the bas­ket.

There are a hand­ful of new play­ers to ac­cli­mate to Toronto’s sys­tem, and one holdover as well.

Valan­ci­u­nas was solid if un­spec­tac­u­lar with 12 re­bounds and 10 points as Toronto beat the Clip­pers 93-73 be­fore a sold­out Rogers Arena crowd an­nounced at 19,000 to kick off the ex­hi­bi­tion sea­son.

“We were try­ing to go to him to see what he had,” said Rap­tors coach Dwane Casey. “I thought he did a de­cent job but, again, we have to make sure we make the right play.

“We’re try­ing to have the men­tal­ity that just be­cause we call a play, it doesn’t mean it’s for you, it’s for the Toronto Rap­tors, not for a cer­tain player. Make sure you’re ready to at­tack but you can still be a passer in that sit­u­a­tion.”

While Valan­ci­u­nas is the work-in­progress, the new ver­sion of point guard Kyle Lowry had an ex­cep­tional night with 26 points in just 21 min­utes that in­cluded an 11-for-12 night from the free throw line.

Lowry was play­ing at less than 100 per cent, both­ered slightly by a nag- ging groin in­jury he said will keep him out of Mon­day’s game against Golden State in San Jose, Calif.

“I’m a lit­tle sore, so I’m go­ing to sit out (Mon­day) and let the young guys get some reps,” Lowry said.

Re­gard­less of the nick, he played pretty well.

“He’s been play­ing like that all camp,” DeMarre Car­roll said. “Kyle, he’s an ag­gres­sive guard. He’s been hot shoot­ing the ball all camp. You can just tell he has a con­fi­dence level about him­self.”

But as good as Lowry was — the Rap­tors can count on steady pro­duc­tion from him — they want to see if Valan­ci­u­nas can pro­vide more than he has in his first three sea­sons.

The cen­tre did look more com­fort­able on de­fence — he got more re­bounds than usual be­cause he’s typ­i­cally closer to the bas­ket — but he did have five turnovers and was 4for-10 from the field.

“I love JV a ton but when you have five turnovers as a cen­tre that’s way too many,” Casey said. “We’ve got to make sure we get those cut down and that’s on me be­cause we haven’t worked on a lot of of­fence . . . but we have to take care of the bas­ket­ball.”

As is of­ten the case, the Rap­tors played what could turn out to be a reg­u­lar ro­ta­tion for most of the night be­fore go­ing to the deep-bench play­ers in the late stages.

They were with­out An­thony Ben­nett, how­ever, as he sat out with a shoul­der in­jury picked up dur­ing train­ing camp. There is no timetable for the Cana­dian for­mer first-over­all draft pick to play in a game. James John­son (Achilles), Lu­cas Nogueira (ham­string) and Axel Toupane (an­kle) also sat out.

It will be the case for most of the ex­hi­bi­tion sea­son.

“Off the top of my head, I thought the group­ings were good,” Casey said.

“I thought we had some scor­ing droughts with the sec­ond unit. Again, we’ve got to see the matchups, the group­ings and how they play on both ends of the floor.”

DARRYL DYCK/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Clip­pers’ Blake Grif­fin is fouled by Rap­tors’ DeMarre Car­roll dur­ing first-half pre-sea­son play in Van­cou­ver Sun­day.

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