Holly MacKenzie - Raptors.com
Kevin Durant’s first on-court NBA action in a Golden State Warriors uniform will take place in Vancouver on Saturday against the Toronto Raptors. After a week of practice sessions, the Raptors are anxious to get out and compete against different competition and facing off against Durant, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green will provide a nice change of pace from the usual training camp scrimmages.
Tip-off: 7:30 P.M. ET
Broadcast/Radio Info: TSN1/4 | TSN 1050
Although coaches and players alike all want to win every time they step into an arena, wins are never what really matters in the preseason. Similar to summer league, what is important in the preseason is reps for younger players as well as the recognition of what is working and what needs improving. The opportunity to face different competition and run through offensive and defensive schemes against opponents who haven’t been training alongside you all week is where the importance of preseason really comes into play.
“It’s always fun,” DeMar DeRozan said. “To get all the kinks out during this whole training camp process, and use these preseason games to do the same against other guys. I’m looking forward to it. It should be fun and the crowd is going to be amazing. I think it’s going be great.”
Much will be made of facing a Warriors team that was the talk of the offseason after signing Durant in free agency, but Raptors head coach Dwane Casey’s attention will be focused firmly on his own roster.
“It doesn’t matter,” Casey said. “Golden State’s one of the 30 [teams], they’re a very good team. We’re at a place now where whoever is in front of us, we’re excited to go out and play. I don't know what their rotation is going to be, how many minutes the starters are going too play. I assume a lot, usually the first game you’re together, but it’s about us. It’s about us, exhibition season, getting ready and seeing what we need to work on.”
Powell, DeRozan working to find the right pace
Norman Powell had the kind of rookie season that NBA players dream about. From the second round, to the Raptors bench, to Raptors 905, to being a rotation player in the postseason, Powell impressed everyone in his first year as a pro. The strong play continued in his second summer league appearance as he was dominant throughout the team’s time in Las Vegas this past July. With the season around the corner, Casey has been working with his talented sophomore on how to pick his spots — and speed— to find the right pace.
“I’ve been on him a lot this month about turning the ball over,” Casey said. “He’s doing a better job of it but can be better. That’s the main thing. He’s so powerful and strong he feels like he’s invincible when he goes in amongst the trees.”
Although Powell is still learning how his strength translates to the NBA level, Casey appreciates the fearlessness in his game.
“I love the way he competes,” Casey said. “He’s one of our toughest guys offensively and defensively. Like all young players, [now it’s about] understanding when to put your foot on the pedal and when to put the foot on the brakes.”
DeRozan showed up to camp fresh off winning a gold medal with the U.S. National Team in the Rio Olympics. Along with the a new piece of hardware and the birth of his second daughter, DeRozan brought a patience and renewed commitment to defence with him that had his coach raving.
“Right now DeMar DeRozan is a beauty to watch because he’s playing at an old man’s speed,” Casey said. “But when it’s time to put his foot on the gas he just takes off. I’m really impressed with DeMar, the way he’s playing, not only on the offensive end of the floor, he’s playing the best defence I've seen him.”
That defensive intensity was born during DeRozan’s time with Team USA in Rio.
“we had a lot of fun on the Olympic team,” DeRozan said. “The second group we dubbed ourselves complete defensive stoppers. That was our whole mindset. We all knew everyone on that team could score, but five, six of us said whenever we’re in the game we’re going to play defence, crazy defence as long a we can. I’m just trying to carry that over.”
While the Raptors have been in Vancouver all week, younger players on the roster have been together for much of September, electing voluntarily to get a head start on training. After days of working out alongside and scrimmaging against one another, Casey is ready to kick off the preseason schedule and see his squad in action.
“It’s great,” he said. “This part of the week, guys are sore and we’ve gone pretty hard. Really, the young guys have been working hard, voluntarily the whole month of September. They’ve been going a long time. It’s good to have difference faces, different bodies, different situations because right now we’re trying to guess where our issues are defensively and offensively. That’s what exhibition season is about.”
Lowry said it feels as though this year’s team is a step ahead from this time a year ago with respect to work on the offensive end of the floor. He pointed to the continuity of the roster as a reason why things are clicking in place quicker than a season before.. Still, it’s one thing to make things look easy during scrimmages and practice sessions. It’s another to see how it translates against actual opposition and this is why the point guard is ready for Saturday’s contest against Golden State.
“It’ll be a good competition,” he said. “They’re trying to figure things out just as well as we are. They’re trying to implement a superstar into their team. It’s a fun game. It’s only the first preseason game, you know you’ve got the first-game jitters, but I’m sure it’ll be a fun game. The atmosphere will be great. Everybody is looking forward to having a game of basketball to play again.”