Sports Basketball

Raptors, without Jonas Valanciunas, lose to road-weary Kings

By Mike Ganter, Toronto Sun

TORONTO - 

In the end, overcoming the loss of their starting centre was just too much to contend with for a Raptors team already thin on experience in its front court.

It didn’t help matters that the opponent was the Sacramento Kings, a team struggling and mostly on fumes at the end of a five-game road trip but one that boasts experienced bigs like DeMarcus Cousins and Kosta Koufos.

Toronto gamely tried to overcome the last-second, pre-game loss of Jonas Valanciunas who was ruled out with a bruised knee that had swollen overnight, but came up short in a 96-91 loss to fall to 4-2 on the season.

In the end, it was as much the return of one-time Raptors forward Rudy Gay who was back after a one-game absence to score 23 points and help spur a fourth-quarter rally by the Kings that earned them their first victory of this early-season road trip.

Cousins spent the early portion of the game putting Jakob Poeltl in foul trouble and the latter stages taking advantage of that as the Raptors rookie tried to defend him with five fouls.

It’s a tough task for a veteran NBA player and almost impossible for a player so thin in the experience department as Poeltl.

Poeltl, who was one of two starting rookies in the Raptors front court along with Pascal Siakam, wound up playing just over 18 minutes because of the foul trouble and took his lumps as Cousins had a 22-point, 14-rebound night while playing some solid defence late in the game to ensure Sacramento’s lead didn’t get away.

Cousins lauded the play of the two young Raptors after the game.

“The two young big fellas had a lot of energy,” Cousins said. “They were tough, they were physical and they did a pretty good job.”

But it wasn’t enough as between them Cousins and Koufos outscored the two Toronto rookies by a 35-16 margin.

“We were out of it the entire night offensively,” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said. “We were off rhythm. They did a good job of sending bodies off of our young guys and on to DeMar (DeRozan) and Kyle (Lowry) and our shooters. We didn’t do a good job of making sure we got off quick enough to move the basketball.”

What it meant was plenty of attention on DeRozan and Lowry as the Kings cheated off the likes of Siakam and Poeltl to make things tougher on the Raptors two big scorers.

It was effective as DeRozan was held under 30 points for the first time all season finishing with a team-high 23. Lowry had 15.

“Whenever I used screens, they blitzed me,” DeRozan said. “They tried to get the ball out of my hands. More so (I have to) help our young guys understand what to do when they double-team me or Kyle in that position, be able to short-roll, expect the ball, be able to swing and make a play.”

DeRozan was not blaming the rookies, just pointing out that as rookies they had no real idea what to do when the guys who normally carry the offensive load got swarmed.

“When you’re a young guy, you really don’t what to expect until you get put in that situation and break down film and learn from it,” DeRozan said.

The kids though — Siakam and Poeltl — they fought gamely until the end gaining some invaluable experience along the way.

Siakam was especially poised in his sixth game as a starter, finishing with 10 points and six rebounds.

Poeltl, in foul trouble almost from the get-go, said it’s just part of the game he has to learn. He knows no matter what he does, he’s going to get some calls that simply aren’t warranted go against him simply because he’s a rookie.

“I mean, I gotta live with that,” he said. “Some of them are stupid fouls on my part, and some of them are a little cheap where I can’t really do anything about it, but the way I gotta approach it is take away the stupid fouls I’m making and all of a sudden I’m not in foul trouble anymore, because I can take the one or two fouls that maybe aren’t too much contact. I can take that and still be out there on the court.”

It’s as mature an approach as a coach could hope for from a rookie and should bode well for the young man’s development.

The game, though, was still there for the taking if the Raptors had been able to convert on a few more open shots but things just weren’t falling for them. They, once again, struggled from distance shooting just 7-for-30 from beyond the arc.

“We have to shoot the ball better,” Lowry said. “It’s not a concern but we have to find a way to make the shots. We have to shoot more and get in the gym and shoot even more, get extra shots up. But we’ll see what happens. Our confidence is there.”

The Raptors now have two days at their practice facility to sharpen things up before they head to Oklahoma City for a Wednesday date with the Thunder.

mganter@postmedia.com

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