Game Preview: Raptors vs. Grizzlies

Holly MacKenzie - Raptors.com

Toronto’s season-high six-game homestand continues with the Memphis Grizzlies in town for a Wednesday evening match up. After a solid 122-95 victory against the Philadelphia 76ers on Monday, Toronto looks to continue improving on the defensive end of the floor.

Tip-off: 7:30 P.M. ET

Broadcast info: SN1 / TSN1050

TALKING POINTS

Injury woes hit Grizz hard

The Grizzlies were already expected to be shorthanded for Wednesday’s game. Chandler Parsons is missing time with a bone bruise in his knee. Zach Randolph is out for personal reasons. James Ennis is out with a calf injury and Brandan Wright has an ankle injury.

Things got significantly worse for Memphis when they received news that point guard Mike Conley was diagnosed with transverse fractures in the vertebrae located in his lower back. The injury happened when he was kneed in the back by an opponent while taking a charge. Although he won’t need surgery, he is expected to miss 4-6 weeks of action.

Former Raptor Vince Carter is also listed as questionable for the game after suffering a right hop flexor strain in Memphis’ Monday night loss to the Charlotte Hornets.

Defence still the focus

Toronto enters Wednesday’s game having won three straight. In each of those games, the opponent point total has gone down. Still, head coach Dwane Casey wants to see more improvement defensively.

“We had a lot of defensive mistakes,” Casey said. “Our fundamentals, we’ve got to continue to work on it. I'm going to keep harping on it, keep preaching it. We were in the same situation last year where we had to do a huge turnaround defensively. Whether we get there or not is going to be up to us. Whether [we’re facing] Philadelphia, Memphis, the Lakers, whoever it is, we have to have a core belief and commitment and be connected together to get it done defensively.”

After the 122-95 victory over the Sixers, Toronto’s coaching staff had game tape ready on Tuesday morning to show the team all of the mistakes made on the defensive end of the floor.

“Our communication, our transition defence was not there [at this point] last year and it’s not there now,” Casey explained. “Our pick-and-roll defence, our guards need to get into the ball and contain the ball. There’s too many blow bys, getting from Point A to the basket too easily. The bigs have to do their job, but our perimeter players need to make sure they contain the ball one on one. There are too many blow bys. Those two areas are key areas we have to get better at.”

Lowry the leader

Plenty has been written about the growth and maturity of Kyle Lowry through his time in a Raptors uniform, but Tuesday’s practice brought an opportunity for a teammate to heap praise upon the All-Star point guard.

During Toronto’s 105-99 victory against the Milwaukee Bucks last week, Lucas Nogueira was having a rough game. He’d been playing through foul trouble and was frustrated. After Nogueira shook off his frustrations to block two shots, Lowry went over to him and the two shared a moment.

“He came to motivate me,” Nogueira said. “I was kind of down in that game during the whole game. During the game, that was my fourth or my fifth game they called me three or four fouls in a row, so I was very frustrated, and when I blocked those two [shots] in a row he grabbed me and said, You’re doing well,’ because he saw how down my head was. So he came to yell at me and he said, ‘You’re doing great.’ This is the reason when people ask me who is the leader, I say Kyle because he’s a great leader. When he saw me down, he grabbed me and said, ‘Let’s go, let’s go.’”

Aside from backcourt mate DeMar DeRozan, no one has gotten to witness the growth in Lowry’s leadership more than Casey. The point guard is an extension of the coach on the floor, and as Lowry’s leadership has grown, so too has the trust between coach and floor leader.

“[His leadership has] grown a lot,” Casey said. “I think Kyle is a leader by example. When people see him bust his butt, go down there and dig out a loose ball, take a charge, run back and block a shot in transition [it makes them want to do the same]. The other night in the Milwaukee game, Lucas was struggling a little bit and then he come up and had two big blocks and Kyle said, ‘Hey, that’s the Lucas we need,’ those words of encouragement from Kyle, and DeMar, are huge.”