Game Preview: Raptors @ Jazz

Holly MacKenzie - Raptors.com

The Toronto Raptors kick off a six-game road trip in Utah to take on the Jazz on Friday night. This will be the first of two meetings between the teams in a two-week span, with Utah making the trip to Toronto for Toronto’s first home game of 2017 on Jan 5.

Tip-off: 9 P.M. ET

Broadcast Info: TSN4, TSN5 / SN590

TALKING POINTS

A defensive test

After pleading for defence for the better part of the past month, Dwane Casey watched as his team suffered a disappointing home loss to the Atlanta Hawks. In the games that followed, the defence has been much improved. With a six-game road trip on the horizon, the true defensive test begins.

“It’s going to be a definite test for our defensive motivation,” Terrence Ross said. “Try to go out there and make sure we handle our business and not take a day off. It’s going to be one of the harder stretches of the season.”

The trip starts in Utah with the Raptors traveling party returning to Toronto following Friday’s game where the team will have the 24th off before meeting in Portland on Christmas day to practice. After the game in Portland, the team will head to Golden State, Phoenix, Los Angeles and then San Antonio before returning home.

“This road trip we’re starting is going to be very daunting,” Casey said. “Just the style of play, the type of teams, the quality of teams we’re playing. We could have had an easier schedule for a Christmas break.”

Although everyone on the team would’ve preferred a more low-key holiday schedule, DeMar DeRozan is also a fan of how this team performs on the road away from the Air Canada Centre.

It’s going to be a great challenge for us and it’s always good to be on the road,” DeRozan said. “We get in the element where we feel it’s us against everybody else. We carry that over to the floor, having that sense of urgency throughout the whole game, having the crowd against us, being on the opponent’s home floor and that seems to put us more mentally engaged in every thing we need to do.”

DeRozan closing in on scoring record

DeMar DeRozan has steadily been crossing franchise records off his to-do list over the past season and a half. Heading into Friday’s game, the reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week is 58 points away from tying Chris Bosh on the franchise’s all-time scoring list. Although most regard the scoring record as the most impressive to own, DeRozan appreciates both the scoring and the games played record — which he set on Dec. 8 by passing Morris Peterson — equally.

“Just to be in the record book for something like that is incredible,” DeRozan said. “When I see it sometimes, it’s unbelievable that somebody’s going to try to beat that some day in the record books.

“I think they’re all up there because without the games, you wouldn’t have the points so I put ‘em all equal.”

Bouncing back in a big way

With a stronger effort on the defensive end of the floor recent games, the Raptors know their improvements need to continue. Especially with the next six games occurring on the road.

“I don't know if we’re going to become a defensive juggernaut over these two weeks but we’ve got to continue to take steps,” Dwane Casey said. “I think we’ve made some steps, some good steps. We can’t let it slip.”

Terrence Ross agreed with his coach’s assessment regarding recent improvements. Since the team kicked off training camp in Vancouver in September, Ross has been praised by the coaching staff for his commitment on that end of the floor.

“I feel like we’re taking a step in the right direction,” Ross said. “We kind of missed some games with the defensive intensity, but for the most part we were really improving and getting better at it.”

For DeRozan, steps are good, but it’s more about piecing together a consistent effort every time the ball goes up.

“We’re making steps,” DeRozan said. “We’re putting quarters and quarters together. Now we just have to work to have them consistent in games of 48 minutes defensively.”

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