So here we are, folks. The Raptors will play their final game of an overly-long pre-season against the Milwaukee Bucks (Bills Simmons' favourite team) in the great state of Wisconsin. After tonight's tilt Casey's boys will have 5 days to prepare for the season opener against the Boston Celtics, which goes next Wednesday night.
The Raptors come into tonight's game with a 6-1 record -- matching their pre-season record from last season -- which means the team has won 12 of their last 14 pre-season games, which means...drum roll please...absolutely nothing! The Raptors are to pre-season what the Golden State Warriors are to Summer League.
Of course, while the results of these games mean next to nothing, the individual performances within the games are a little more meaningful. I was having an internal dialogue yesterday (because I'm cool) regarding DeMar DeRozan's stellar pre-season play, and it went something like this:
Wow, DeMar's looked great through 7 pre-season games. He's shooting over 50% from the field -- he's been really efficient.
Yeah, but it's pre-season. We've been seduced before. Lets see what happens when the games ACTUALLY count.
Okay, fine, but I'm actually seeing some tangible improvements in his game. His post game has looked awesome. His decision-making looks really sharp--he's passing well out of double-teams--, he's hit some corner 3s, and overall the game looks like it's slowing down for him.
Again, it's pre-season, the games are slowing down for everyone. They're just slower in general. And defenders are taking it easy.
I know, pre-season is pre-season, yadda yadda yadda. But it's hard not to get excited and evaluate what we've seen most recently. But sure, I may be overly naive...that said, stay away Denver, we don't need your Kenneth Faried! We already have Amir, and DeMar 'ready to make the jump' DeRozan!
Kyle Lowry will miss tonight's game, sitting out with an injury to his left ring finger -- thankfully his non-shooting hand -- sustained in the Grizzlies game. Lowry, according to reports, will spend the next 6 weeks playing with a splint to protect that finger -- tough dude. Now sure, that injury could've happened anytime during the regular season, but do we really need to roll the dice with the basketball gods 8 times before the season actually begins?
So, with Lowry sitting, get set for the 8th edition of D.J. Augustin vs. Dwight Buycks: Complete With Extended Scenes. One of those two -- likely Augustin -- will see starter-type minutes tonight, and it'll give us a glimpse into a potential world without our increasingly vital -- vital if the Raps are to make the playoffs, that is -- starting point-guard. Otherwise expect Casey to give some solid minutes to his regular starters. Casey mentioned earlier this week that he was going to run the final 2 pre-season games like regular-season tilts -- meaning heavy minutes for the key guys, and a tighter rotation.
Interestingly enough, the Raptors play their 3rd regular-season game in Milwaukee, on November 2nd, so tonight could serve as part of a feeling-out process/ in-person scouting exercise for next Saturday's game. This season the Bucks have a perfectly respectable/perfectly underwhelming roster of seasoned veterans and unfulfilled talent; and once again they should be in a position to collectively slam their heads against that 8th-seed ceiling -- which is what all Bucks fans want, right?
The Buck's most talented young player, Larry Sanders -- excuse me, I meant LARRY SANDERS! -- should provide a big test for Jonas Valanciunas (as he will 8 days from now), if the big Lithuanian is cleared to play tonight. Late last night, at the time of writing, the Toronto Sun's Ryan Wolstat tweeted that although Jonas has made the trip to Milwaukee, it's not clear as to whether he'll play. Valanciunas required 3 stitches in his chin after being 'Z-Bowed' on Wednesday night.
If Valanciunas does play tonight it would be nice to see him look for his own shot a little more. So far, through 7 pre-season games, Jonas is averaging slightly less than his 5.9 field-goal attempts per game from his rookie season. If there's ever a time to be more assertive, and to try different things on offense, it's during these games.
Plus -- smooth segue alert -- a more aggressive Jonas will make this guy happy: