Game Preview: Raptors vs Jazz
Toronto Raptors (1-0) @ Utah Jazz (1-0)
When: Tuesday, Oct. 2, 9 P.M. ET
Where: Vivint Smart Home Arena, Salt Lake City, Utah
Leading into tonight:
One in the books: The 2018-19 Raptors came away from their first preseason contest with a 122-104 victory against the Portland Trail Blazers on Saturday. In the debut, played in a packed arena in Vancouver B.C., fans got the first look at Kawhi Leonard in a Raptors uniform, coach Nick Nurse’s offensive system, and an invigorated Jonas Valanciunas leading the way.
Leonard’s debut: Kawhi Leonard played 19 minutes in his Raptors preseason debut. This was the first in-game action for Leonard since Jan. 13 as a result of injury rehabilitation last season in San Antonio. All 19 of Leonard’s minutes came in the first half as the Raptors built a 64-57 advantage. He finished with 12 points, three assists, a rebound and a steal. The team was a +10 when he was on the floor. “It’s going to take time to get my rhythm, but I felt great just being out there, being able to compete,” Leonard said. “It helps a lot [being in preseason games as opposed to practice]. Because you’re doing in-game situations. You’re seeing what we’re really going to do on the floor. Play calls. Another NBA team that’s been scouting you. Things like this is going to keep getting us better.”
Valanciunas ready: Raptors big man Jonas Valanciunas found himself in a different role in Toronto’s first preseason game of the season. As Nick Nurse experiments with different lineups, Valanciunas came off the bench on Saturday. The different starting point didn’t have any ill effects on Valanciunas who led all scorers with a game-high 17 points in 19 minutes off the bench. He shot 4-of-8 from the floor and 9-for-9 from the free throw line, though he missed each of his two attempts from beyond the arc. Valanciunas also added seven rebounds, an assist, three steals and a blocked shot as the Raptors were a +17 with him in the lineup. “He was energized and big,” Nick Nurse said. “When he was on the floor, we dominated the defensive glass.”
Different looks: As the preseason continues, expect to see the Raptors employing different lineups and player combinations. In Saturday’s victory, the Raptors starting five was Serge Ibaka, Kawhi Leonard, C.J. Miles, Kyle Lowry and Danny Green. Don’t get too attached to this particular starting five lineup, just yet, though. “I think we’ll probably flip it around next game, maybe, and just continue to explore,” head coach Nick Nurse said. “I’d imagine we’ll have a different starting lineup in the first and second half, all the time, for three or four games here [in preseason].”
On the boards: There has been plenty of talk about the work Pascal Siakam has put in all summer. He didn’t waste any time getting to it in the first game of the preseason, hauling down a game-high 13 rebounds in 21 minutes on Saturday. Six of Siakam’s rebounds came on the offensive glass and his constant energy resulted in him playing a team-high 21 minutes in the game.
Doing it all: Though Nick Nurse has only coached a single preseason game with Kawhi Leonard on his roster, he already had plenty of praise for the offensive versatility of the 2014 Finals MVP. “He can do everything,” Nurse said. “He can come down off pin downs and score, he can bring it in transition and make plays. He can play screen and roll and he can post. There’s not any part of offence he can’t play so we’ll probably use most parts of offence to get him the ball.”