Raptors' DeRozan is fired up

Raptors forward DeMar DeRozan gets in some work at the Air Canada Centre yesterday. The 5-1 Raptors...

Raptors forward DeMar DeRozan gets in some work at the Air Canada Centre yesterday. The 5-1 Raptors finish off their pre-season schedule tonight against Memphis. (Ernest Doroszuk/QMI Agency)

RYAN WOLSTAT, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:37 AM ET

A day later, DeMar DeRozan was more polite, but remained displeased about what some pundits have been saying about his game and his team’s chances this season.

On Wednesday, after an ESPN preview pegged the Raptors as a 33-win outfit and indicated that DeRozan hadn’t proven he was more than a bench player, the swingman angrily tweeted that the author was a “clown.”

On Thursday, DeRozan admitted that such talk fires him up.

“Some people say they don’t read negative stuff and everything, I use it as motivation,” he said.

“It’s frustrating at times, it makes you want to work harder and at the end of the day prove everybody wrong. That’s why I love this job so much, love coming in here to prove people like that wrong.”

Using outside criticism as a spur to get better was the message head coach Dwane Casey was hoping his Raptors would receive. He reiterated that on Thursday, while making it clear he holds no ill will with those who doubt the squad.

“I don’t have anything against John Hollinger, who is one of the top statistical analysts in the league. He has his right to his opinion, that’s his analysis and it is what it is,” Casey said.

“It should motivate us to say: ‘Hey, we’re more than a 33-win team.’ If we’re not, we won’t be.”

Casey said he isn’t worried about Raptors popping off on Twitter, saying the NBA does a good job of handling things on the social media front and added that he likely wouldn’t be getting a Twitter account of his own anytime soon.

While Casey believes saying the Raptors will win 33 games is fair game, he takes issue with those who have been knocking his starting shooting guard’s ability.

“I disagree with that, I think DeMar is growing as a player. He’s getting better with the type of shots he’s getting, he understands that and in training camp he’s been much, much better in making sure and being efficient in his shots,” Casey said.

“DeMar’s one of the most talented wings in the league and he’s learning every day to be efficient. He understands that, he’s getting to the foul line, doing what we ask him to do, going in the low post.”

Still, Casey recognizes that DeRozan’s shot selection and awareness must improve.

“His next step is to make sure he reads the defence, takes what the defence gives him. If they’re going to send help, make sure he understands where his teammates are, where his passing lanes are.”

DeRozan and the Raptors will conclude the pre-season on Friday in Memphis. While the USC product has led the team in scoring over the exhibition schedule, he will be challenged by Tony Allen, who has always given him fits.

Allen is one of a number of Grizzlies know for rugged and effective defensive play. Casey has praised the Grizzlies in the past for their demeanour and believes the Raptors, with hard-nosed new additions like Kyle Lowry, Jonas Valanciunas and Dominic McGuire are on the way to being more comparable to Memphis.

“That’s one of the toughest-minded teams in the NBA,” he said.

“We’re closer, we’re not where they are because they’ve been in it together a little bit longer, but we want to be that way. That’s how we want to play.”

TIPOFF

Raptors at Grizzlies, 8 p.m.

Matching up with Tyson Chandler, Emeka Okafor, Greg Monroe and Samuel Dalembert gave Jonas Valanciunas some early tests, but Friday will be his biggest yet.

Valanciunas will spend time battling all-star Memphis centre Marc Gasol, one of the NBA’s true behemoths.

The Raptors rookie is looking forward to the challenge.

“I know Gasol, it’s going to be a really good battle. He’s a big guy, huge guy, strong guy. A lot of moves in the low post, it’s going to be fun,” Valanciunas said on Thursday.

“It’s going to be good test for me to see where I am and what I need to learn more.”

Valanciunas wasn’t lying when he said he knows the Spaniard. Lithuania and Spain met at the EuroBasket last year, and though Lithuania lost, Valanciunas more than held his own.

Valanciunas posted 13 points on 5-for-7 shooting, added two rebounds, three assists and a block in 16 minutes, while Gasol had eight points, eight rebounds and four assists with four turnovers to none by Valanciunas.


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