HOUSTON - Fresh off a long break that was as needed mentally as it was physically, the Raptors reconvened for a practice in Houston on Monday evening.
The team had not played since last Wednesday — a win over Detroit — which caused head coach Dwane Casey a bit of consternation — he wasn’t sure what to expect — but Casey was pleasantly surprised.
“Guys came in focused and into it. That’s the most important thing, get back out of vacation mode and that’s what our guys did tonight,” Casey said.
Linas Kleiza went full out and Casey said he expects the Lithuanian forward to return to the lineup, barring any overnight setbacks.
That will be important, since leading scorer Andrea Bargnani — who said his calf was feeling a bit better and that he was done with his swimming rehabilitation — will miss another game.
Little-used centre Solomon Alabi was left behind with a viral infection.
With the March 15 trade deadline fast approaching, Casey is aware that some of his players could be affected by trade rumours — particularly the young ones.
Veterans Jose Calderon and Leandro Barbosa have generated the most attention, but the coach poured cold water on any Calderon speculation.
“If your name comes up in the rumours, that’s a compliment, but there’s nothing on the horizon on us,” Casey said.
“I said last week about Jose, it’s a compliment he’s played his way, people had forgotten about him, but now he’s playing so well, people come asking for him ... But there’s nothing on the table for that.”
Casey said he hopes his Raptors won’t be bothered by any of the talk over the next two weeks.
“What I try to tell guys is the greatest in the league have been traded. Wilt ... Shaq. All down the road, guys have been traded,” he said.
The Raptors can match last season’s road win total of six with a win either in Houston on Tuesday, or a night later in New Orleans.
With the second half of the season about to officially get underway, Casey is clear in what he is expecting.
“Just continue to grow. What we need to make sure is we continue to go forward with the growth. Eddie (Davis), DeMar (DeRozan). DeMar has made some strides forward (of late), now what he can’t do is take two steps back,” Casey said.
Clearly those two young pieces of the core will have to be better, but Casey singled out a few players who particularly outperformed expectations in the first half.
“James Johnson has grown in his role. Jose has definitely grown in his role. He’s a scorer right now. Kleiza’s role has grown. Guys’ roles have grown, they’ve improved,” he said.
“They’ve done a good job of growing into their position.”
Much more of that will be needed during the final 33 games of the campaign.