Spurs at Raptors Give and Go Preview

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After two straight wins to start their six game road trip, the Spurs face a tough task on Sunday in an early start with the Toronto Raptors. San Antonio plays its first early afternoon game of the season against the Raptors, tipping off at noon central time. How quickly older players like Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, among others, can get into a rhythm will go a long way in determining what type of game we’re looking at against Toronto. If the Spurs struggle to play well early, they could be in for a long afternoon against a talented, but inconsistent Raptors team.

Previewing the game with us is Blake Murphy of ESPN TrueHoop Network Raptors blog Raptors Republic. Blake was kind enough to chat with us about how the Raptors looked so far this season and what we can expect on Sunday afternoon.

Andrew McNeill, 48 Minutes of Hell: First question, how healthy is Kyle Lowry? Can he handle 30 minutes or so against Tony Parker?

Blake Murphy, Raptors Republic: Well, he’s been back for three games and played 29+ minutes in each. However, at the end of Friday’s game he tweaked his ankle. Coach Casey didn’t seem concerned in his Saturday comments, but it’s certainly possible he could have a diminished role. Which would be all kinds of bad for Toronto, given a Parker-Calderon match-up.

AM: When healthy, how has Lowry fit in with the Raptors this season?

BM: Early in the year he was the team’s best player, pre-injury. He brings a demeanor the team hasn’t had in some time. With that said, he’s starting to rub some the wrong way, as he had poor late-game performances in each of the three one-possession losses this week. On the whole, though, he’s a huge addition and the biggest difference-maker the team’s had in a while.

AM: And what about DeMar DeRozan? How well is he playing this season? I saw one game of his (whenever they went to overtime and he played something like 50 minutes) and he looked pretty good.

BM: He’s been improved across the board, though he seems to have hit the wall a bit of late. He’s no longer just an out-of-control driver and long-two shooter. He seems to have more of a gameplan now and gets involved in more ways than just scoring.

On the DeRozan note, I’d be suggesting, if I were the Raptors, to explore unconventional lineups on Sunday. If you were the Raptors, would you be running two point guards with DeRozan at the 3 to match the Spurs SF-less lineup, or trying to go big (Andrea Bargnani at the 3) to force Matt Bonner into wing minutes?

AM: The more you can spread the Spurs’ defense, the better. The bigs don’t have a lot of foot speed to cover guys out on the perimeter and on the pick-and-roll, so I would think to play Bargnani at the 4 and involve him in a lot of pick-and-pops.

BM: Anything else the Raptors may be able to exploit? This seems like a pretty big mismatch, even with the Spurs’ injuries.

AM: Tough to say, I probably don’t know enough about the Raptors to comment on what they do well that the Spurs have trouble with. That said, Spurs not named Tim Duncan have trouble defending around the rim, and San Antonio has been fairly poor rebounding the ball defensively. If there’s a way Toronto can take advantage of those two things, I would suggest doing so.

BM: Unfortunately, the non-Jonas Valanciunas bigs have been rather inconsistent. It might make sense to give Ed Davis big minutes off the bench since he’s been a big advantage rebounding the ball.

AM: Let’s talk about Valanciunas. I’m really excited about his long term potential. How does he look so far in his rookie season?

BM: He looks terrific. He’s so active on both ends, makes quick adjustments, and is already a strong dive-man out of the pick-and-roll. Not to be a homer, but his upside is legitimately out of this world. That said, he is nursing a calf contusion, so he may not be 100% Sunday (though that didn’t stop him from working his tail off late Friday night, though Drummond abused him on the boards late).

AM: Is Casey sticking with him or are his minutes getting yo-yo’d around?

BM: The team has expressed only wanting to play him in “positive learning experiences,” which was driving some fans mad when he sat late in close games. The past two games, however, he’s played heavy minutes in the fourth.

AM: Does he start out on Tim Duncan? Will that be considered a positive learning experience?

BM: I’d assume they’ll have him start off on DeJuan Blair and let Bargnani try Duncan. Bargs’ man-D in the post hasn’t been too bad, and they’ll want to avoid Jonas foul trouble.

AM: Well, I’m excited about the prospects of Bargnani guarding Duncan.

BM: I would be if I were Tim Duncan.

So…any chance the Raptors spring an upset here? I’m going with Spurs by double-digits, but maybe you’re less sure?

AM: There’s definitely a chance. The Spurs haven’t really hit on all cylinders yet this season. Duncan has been a rock for the team, but Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili have been inconsistent at best. Both have improved lately, but a regression wouldn’t surprise me. Danny Green is the guy to watch out for. He’s been shooting the 3-pointer well so far, helping people to forget about his no-show in the Western Conference Finals, and he’s gotten more baskets by moving without the ball. Limiting his scoring opportunities will go a long way in mucking up the Spurs offense. Because Green really only takes the most efficient of shots. It’s either a 3-pointer or an attempt around the rim. Not much in between.

BM: 31 straight games with a 3!

AM: Though he has improved his capacity for taking one dribble and shooting from the mid-range when the defense closes out on him.

BM: Hopefully DeRozan and McGuire are ready to work then. Wing defense hasn’t been the team’s strong suit.

It’s a cut-and-dry blow-out in my mind. Raptors probably won’t have the gas for a fourth straight tight game.

AM: I’m guessing it’ll be a solid Spurs win, but the early start could play tricks with San Antonio. They might not really get going until the second half.

Alright, last thing I need from you is one random prediction from the game. Nothing to do with the final score.

BM: Jonas and Tim Duncan get in each other’s faces after a hard Jonas foul in help defense. Jonas won’t back down, Duncan won’t take kindly to a shot from a rookie, and Duncan will beat Bargs enough for the situation to come up. Similar to when Bonner (then a Raptor) knocked Garnett down hard as a young’n.