Raptors ready for a Real challenge
By RYAN WOLSTAT, QMI Agency
|Alan Anderson goes for the basket while DeMar DeRozan tries to get the block during the Raptors' intrasquad game in Halifax. The Raptors are back in Toronto and will play Real Madrid tonight. (Mark Goudge/QMI Agency)
The Raptors know that taking international competition like Real Madrid for granted would be a mistake.
In seven meetings with non-NBA clubs, Toronto has lost twice, including back in 2007 when the teams previously met in Spain.
While still better, NBA teams are no long miles ahead of the world’s other top clubs.
“Those days are long gone,” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said on Sunday of simply needing to walk into a gym to beat outsiders.
“Just look at the Olympics. Look how good those teams are just because the NBA has done such a good job of filtering in European players, those guys have taken the game back to their country, the coaching has got much better ... The overall style of play is close to what we’re trying to play now too,” he said.
“People that say that NBA teams should (always) beat these teams are full of it just because they have guys who are trying to prove something, have gone back for more money, they have NBA talent on their team ... That myth is long gone now and that’s good for basketball around the world.”
Madrid has former NBAers like Rudy Fernandez and Sergio Rodriguez and future players like Nikola Mirotic, a Bulls prospect considered one of the best big men not currently playing in the NBA and Sergio Llull, a promising point guard who should complement Jeremy Lin in Houston one day.
The visitors also have the advantage of already being in game shape, unlike the Raptors, who just finished training camp. Real Madrid already won the Spanish SuperCup two weeks ago.
“It’s going to be a really good first test,” said Jose Calderon, expected to see considerable action with Kyle Lowry doubtful.
“It’s always tough because, we’ve been working for 5-6 days in a row and we’re just going to (jump right into) a game, but they’ve had the training camp done, the season already started so everything, the flow is going to be a little bit easier for them.”
Casey recognizes the challenge, but doesn’t expect the Raptors to back down by any means.
“They’re (Madrid) going to be on level 10 and we’re probably at five or six or something like that. They’re at a different level ... and our guys are still kind of in training camp mode,” Casey said.
“(But) we want to come out and compete. Every time you walk on the court you’re trying to kick somebody’s butt and take it from that standpoint.”
Toronto previously has hosted teams from Greece, Italy Israel, Lithuania and Russia, so fittingly, in what might be Calderon’s final year with the team, a Spanish club will be in the building.
“It’s nice after eight years to have a Spanish team here,” Calderon said.
With a handful of Spanish national team buddies on the roster, Calderon said he has been providing some scouting report updates.
Though looking forward to the matchup, the competitor in Calderon yearns for a clearer test.
“I’d love to have a game maybe in April when every team is in the same situation. To see what is the level of every league, but it is what it is,” he said.
“Everybody has their own agenda, different objectives ... we’re getting ready for the 28th (season-opener against Indiana).”
Toronto’s objectives during the pre-season, according to Casey will be to move the ball well and push the pace on offence, without taking a step back defensively.
“We can’t lose that defensive identity,” he said.
“Being physical, having a tough disposition. That’s what we’re looking for.”
Big V, Lowry won’t play
Don’t expect either Jonas Valanciunas or Kyle Lowry to make their Raptors debut on Monday against Real Madrid at the ACC.
Valanciunas has not yet been cleared for contact, while Lowry remains day-to-day with a leg injury.
Head coach Dwane Casey said Valanciunas is “coming along,” but won’t play in a game until he is ready.
“He didn’t go through contact, but he went through all the other drills and everything,” Casey said.
“We want him, when we throw him out there he’s full speed when he does play in a game.”
Lowry is itching to play, but has sat the past two practices.
“I’d much rather he be 100% than be sore, then pull something or whatever,” Casey said of being cautious with the point guard.”