MIAMI - With LeBron James playing point forward and basically having his way with the Raptors, there didn’t appear to be a whole lot to gain from Wednesday’s exercise for the Raptors.
Raptors coach Dwane Casey begged to differ.
Casey, who was encouraged by his team’s play for the first half said it was the second half that should motivate his charges over the summer to put in the work that is necessary to compete with the giants in the league like the Miami Heat.
“I liked our fight in the first half but like I told our core guys, we have to have that fight for 48 minutes,” Casey said. “When things get hard, which they are going to in the NBA, you have to be mentally tough to fight back and know how to fight back and we didn’t do that in the second half.”
The Raps were down by two after the half but scored just 23 points for the entire second, half tying an franchise low and leading to the one-sided 96-72 final.
Casey, in particular, feels this game should help players like Ed Davis and DeMar DeRozan, who will be asked to bulk up this summer. Weight-room work can get awfully monotonous but can pay huge dividends as well. Casey hopes they recall a game like Wednesday’s when the monotony reaches its peak.
“(A game like this) tells us how much guys have to work in the weight room this summer,” Casey said. “Think about how we got pushed around and bumped and knocked off our mark. You thought you were open and all of a sudden you get nudged. When you’re physically ready to take that challenge, those things don’t happen.
“That’s where it’s good for our guys to go through (something) like this,” Casey said. “It tells them how hard they have to work this summer. It is Casey’s hope that his Raptors watch the Heat in its playoff run this year and learn from it.
Last night’s lesson was crystal clear for the coach: “Just how physical, how fast and how hard the game is for not 24 minutes but 48 minutes,” he said.
TOUGH TO WATCH
It’s that point in the season where it’s no longer about putting on a show for the fans.
In truth, it’s been that way for a while already.
Now it’s a matter of picking your spots to rest your stars to have them fresh for the playoffs or in the case of a team destined to finish the year in a week, rest as many of your stars in order to improve your odds in the lottery draft.
Last night’s game was a perfect example of that.
The Heat sat down both Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, not to mention a legitimately injury Rony Turiaf, while the Raptors arrived with a Jose Calderon who could play but won’t unless Ben Uzoh or Gary Forbes get either ejected or injured in the game.
In fairness, Calderon did sustain two cuts above his right eye within a week of each other that required stitches.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, at the morning shootaround, called Bosh’s day off a maintenance day but asked later in the pre-game about any possible injuries he said Bosh was dealing with “an assortment of minor things.”
Perhaps in this season which got started late due to the lockout and still tried to jam as many games possible into the four-month time frame, it’s understandable that teams would approach things this way.
But then again, the Heat is only 21/2 games out of first in the conference and with five games left to play and Chicago’s injury problems, it’s not inconceivable to overtake them.
Spoelstra claims regardless of the players sitting they are still trying to win every game.
“We are all well aware of it,” Spoelstra said of the possibility of catching the Bulls for first in the conference and home court advantage, “but we have to manage a lot of different things. When we are playing, we are playing to win.
It’s unlikely you’ll see any of Spoelstra’s big three rest Thursday when they play Chicago in a game that could set the tone for an eventual Eastern Conference Final.
But there’s four more after that where it’s likely Spoelstra, who says he is assessing things day to day, will opt to rest one of his stars in preparation for an expected long playoff run.
That’s fine for the teams involved but for Joe Fan, this is not the time of year to come to the arena expecting any team’s best for the most part, playoff-bound or not.
HEAT TURNED DOWN
Normally a visit to South Beach for an opposing team means taking a gulp as one looks at the star-studded starters list for the hosts.
Not so much last night.
Sure there’s still one very huge intimidator among the starting five in James, but after that it was ho-hum at best.
Udonis Haslem, Dexter Pittman, James Jones and Mario Chalmers aren’t exactly the type to put a scare into anyone.
But matched up against Alan Anderson, Amir Johnson, Aaron Gray, DeMar DeRozan and Ben Uzoh, it looked downright formidable.
It turned out to be just that.