Game Preview: Raptors vs Melbourne United

Holly MacKenzie - Raptors.com

Melbourne United @ Toronto Raptors (1-1)

When: Friday, Oct. 5th, 7 P.M. ET

Where: Scotiabank Arena

Leading into tonight: 

A different look: The Raptors will take on a non-NBA opponent for their third contest of the preseason. Playing their lone preseason game on their home floor at Scotiabank Arena, Toronto will face Melbourne United from the National Basketball League. The United were NBL Champions in 2018, defeating the Adelaide 36ers 3-2 in a five-game series. Friday’s matchup against the Raptors will be the second game against an NBA opponent for Melbourne during this NBA preseason. Big man Alex Pledger’s 19-point, 13-rebound performance led the United in a 104-84 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers last week.

Leonard in rhythm: Kawhi Leonard followed up his 12-point, 19-minute preseason debut again the Trail Blazers in Vancouver with a 17-point, 18-minute performance against the Utah Jazz. Leonard shot 6-for-12 from the floor, 1-for-2 from beyond the arc and 4-for-8 from the free throw line, scoring in a variety of ways and looking quite comfortable in his new offence. “I think the biggest thing is, we all saw he kinda had a little rust on him opening night and he removed a big chunk of it in one game,” Raptors head coach Nick Nurse said. “I think that’s really encouraging. It was really noticeable, the difference, and I think he’s going to continue to do that.”

Familiar faces: Despite the different leagues, there are some connections between the Raptors and United. Toronto swingman Deng Adel previously spent time training with Melbourne, while Raptors assistant coach Phil Handy — who played professionally in Australia in his own playing career — has helped grow the game with United’s basketball academy. 

Extra assists: 

Happy to be home: Though Kawhi Leonard made his Raptors preseason debut in Vancouver, Friday’s contest will be the first time he suits up in front of Raptors fans on their home floor. “I think it was great for us to go on the road early for us to get some team chemistry and bonding, but it’s always great to be home and sleep in your own bed,” Leonard said on Thursday. As for playing in front of the Scotiabank Arena fans for the first time, Leonard is looking forward to it.

“It’s going to be a great experience,” he said. “It’s going to be my first time being on the home team here. Everybody says it’s a great energy and vibe. I’m just ready to live in the moment and see it for myself.”

 Back to basics: After spending the previous 10 days on the road for training camp in Vancouver, then travelling to Utah to take on the Jazz earlier in the week, Thursday’s practice provided an opportunity to dig in and get to work. “It was good to get home here on our own practice floor today,” head coach Nick Nurse said. “The on-court [part of practice] was about as long as we’ve gone in any one session. We needed it. There was a lot of teaching today and a lot of drill work. And we got to play, get up and down [too].

JV coming through: After Jonas Valanciunas kicked off his preseason campaign with 17 points in 19 minutes against the Blazers, he continued rolling in Toronto’s loss against the Utah Jazz on Tuesday. Nick Nurse moved Valanciunas back into the starting five for this game, as he continues to try out different lineups. The big man played 21 minutes against the Jazz, finishing with a team-high 18 points on 6-for-11 field goals. He shot 6-for-6 from the free throw line and added nine rebounds, an assist and a steal.

 

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