The transition from Amir Johnson to Patrick Patterson in the starting lineup was a smooth one on Monday. With Tyler Hansbrough back in action, the Raptors should continue to sit Johnson out until he is feeling 100%. That means holding him out against Atlanta on Wednesday and maybe even against Washington and beyond following the all-star break.
Toronto’s best shot at hanging onto third place in the East and maybe even winning a playoff round is with a healthy Johnson. He’s been the team’s best overall player and certainly its best defender over each of the past three seasons. This year, December aside, he’s regressed significantly and his ankle woes are the main reason why.
Jonas Valanciunas has been playing like a maniac at times lately. Full of energy, swinging his elbows, attacking the glass. The result has been a bunch of double-doubles and, it appears, a few peeved opponents. Valanciunas said a few Pelicans told him to watch his elbows – some more forcefully than others. Greg Stiemsma actually jumped on his head and elbowed him at one point. Valanciunas got a technical for a retaliatory shove and said he also made sure to tell Stiemsma he wasn’t impressed with the tough guy act. Valanciunas is evolving into a confident pro and with the increased confidence has come an uptick in his performance.
After competing in the rookie sophomore challenge on Friday night in New Orleans (where he says he’ll teach Charles Barkley how to properly say his name), Valanciunas will take a brief trip to Mexico to relax on a beach.
With his tongue firmly in cheek, Steve Novak let out a good quip after being informed he had more blocks than Pelicans all-star Anthony Davis in the game. “Another night at the office. That’s just what I do,” said a smiling Novak.
The Chuck Hayes/Novak combination was a bit of a disaster. The two times they were on the court for a while, New Orleans completely outplayed the Raptors.
Tyreke Evans sure loves facing the Raptors. He approached a triple double and only scores more, over the course of his career, against Utah.
Kyle Lowry, brilliant again, said Wednesday’s game against fourth-place Atlanta will be a huge one and a good way to head into the break.
“It’s the team we’re jockeying with right now. It’s an important game. They have an all-star in Millsap, they have a great point guard in Teague, so we have to game-plan around that and go hard,” he said.
Lowry on the continual pursuit of developing Toronto’s identity:
“That’s his thing. Defence is his thing,” Lowry said of Dwane Casey. “That’s what he wants us to build on. We know that’s the kind of team we are defensive, hard-nosed guy type of team.
“It’s easier said than done (to play defence). It’s tough, but that’s what we practice, that’s what he preaches and that’s what we’ve got to do.”
Lowry was wearing Nike’s, instead of his customary Peak shoes. Asked if his contract was done with Peak, DeMar DeRozan interjected with a laugh, teasing his friend: “Peak’s done with him.”
This got scrapped from the paper at the last minute due to space limitations:
Greivis Vasquez doesn’t appear to have any hard feelings.
Though New Orleans traded him away last summer to Sacramento after Vasquez finished second in the NBA in assists, Vasquez, acquired by Toronto in the Rudy Gay swap with Sacramento, still had a big hug for Pelicans head coach Monty Williams before Monday’s game.
Ironically, Williams had just been talking about Vasquez in his pre-game scrum.
“Greivis probably doesn’t want to see me. I was so tough on him. He probably will start itching or sweating as soon as he sees me, thinking I’m going to yell at him or something,” Williams had said.
“He was a bright spot for me. He was a big-time flagship for our (player development) program. He came in, worked his tail off, and had our best year for us. I was fortunate to be able to coach Greivis.”
Williams said he could be hard on his players – “I’m probably the furthest thing from (a player’s coach)” – but it benefitted them in the end.
“I always tell guys we can be friends later. You need to get better now. You have to figure out which one you want. We can be friends now and you suffer. (Vasquez) was a guy that took hard coaching.”
“I’m hard on everybody except my wife. It’s just the nature of coaching. Great players want you to coach them. It just depends who you are. Some people look at it as me being hard on them. Some people look at it as coaching. My job is to make guys better.”