Ibaka Getting Acclimated Ahead of Celtics Matchup
Following the NBA's All-Star Weekend in New Orleans, the Raptors — with the exception of their two All-stars — were back in Toronto and back to work at the BioSteel Centre on Wednesday night. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan were excused from reporting to Wednesday evening's practice following their appearances in New Orleans for All-Star festivities. With four days of their break spent in New Orleans representing the organization, the duo were given an extra day off to rest before making their return. Lowry and DeRozan will be with the team soon enough as they prepare for Friday's contest against the Boston Celtics.
"It was a good break," Dwane Casey said. "We're ready to go for the final 25 [games of the regular season]."
In addition to Friday's game marking the unofficial start of the race toward the end of the regular season, Serge Ibaka is also expected to make his debut in a Raptors uniform. The newest Raptors player arrived in Toronto last Wednesday following the trade that brought him to Toronto from the Orlando Magic in exchange for Terrence Ross and a future first-round pick, but didn't get to play in the team's final game before the break. Although Ibaka has not yet hit the court as a Raptor, his move to Toronto was a topic of conversation in New Orleans at All-Star weekend.
"Ibaka is a tremendous player," LeBron James told reporters during All-Star availability. "I've had the opportunity to compete against him when he's been in the league and in the Finals before. He definitely adds some experience to them, some playoff experience, some toughness, some rebounding, some shot-blocking and he can also make a shot. He helps their team out a lot."
Despite it being a day of learning for Ibaka, the veteran caught on to Toronto's system quickly, especially on the defensive end of the floor.
"Excellent," Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said of Wednesday's practice. "Good work today. I know it's always difficult the first day. You're throwing a lot at the young man but he's comprehending a lot. Defensively he added a buzz to the team just his communication, speed, quickness, reaction, understanding where to be. It was a good first night."
Ibaka said learning the offence was the most challenging part of coming to a new system. The team gave him film to study during the break, but the newest Raptor was most pleased with having two practice sessions before Friday's game to get familiar with the system and his new teammates.
[Casey] says it's a lot but I'm going to pick it up quick," Ibaka said. "Just have to learn how to play with the players. Especially on defence, most of the things already know how to do, there's little changes but no big change. Today was my first practice. We're going figure it out. We're going to learn each other."
Adding a new player to the mix in the middle of the season can be challenging for both player and coaching staff. Ibaka's maturity is expected to aid in the process.
"[Ibaka being a] seven-year vet is huge," Casey said. "That's the most important thing. Him being in the league seven years, there's nothing he hasn't seen. That's the most important thing. He's not going to get tricked too many times."
In his first practice with the Raptors, for all of those little things he might not yet be familiar with, he had a teammate playing the role of teacher on the fly.
"Patrick [Patterson] was helping him and talking to him and coaching him as he was playing against him," Casey said.
As for away from the floor, because of the break Ibaka hasn't yet gotten a chance to explore his new city. Getting back in Toronto on Wednesday, he's looking forward to getting familiar.
"I'm going to have time [to explore]," he said. "I'm here now. There's no rush."