Lewenberg: Raptors head out west on three-game slide

Josh Lewenberg
12/3/2013 3:06:54 PM
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SAN FRANCISCO - Following three straight losses at home, the Raptors (6-10) begin a seven-day, three-game trip Tuesday when they visit the Golden State Warriors (10-8), a team they haven't defeated on the road in nearly a decade.

The Raptors went 1-3 during a season-long homestand last week and their upcoming schedule doesn't do them any favours. Although they've had some early season success against the superior Western Conference - they're 2-3 - eight of their next 11 games are against winning teams from the West.

"Taking care of business at home was important for us and we didn't get it done," head coach Dwane Casey said after practice Monday. "We're in a semi-funk, I would call it. It's a daunting trip but that's what the NBA is about. It's a marathon, not a sprint."

Looking to avoid a season-worst four-game losing streak, the Raptors open that stretch against a Warriors team that has had their number in California. Toronto is winless in its last eight visits to Oracle Arena and hasn't defeated the Warriors there since Feb. 8, 2004.

Coming off another barnburner in Sacramento on Sunday, a game they won 115-113, the Warriors and their sharpshooting backcourt hope to take advantage of the struggling Raptors.

Toronto allowed the Nuggets to shoot 50 per cent from the field Sunday afternoon, including 65 per cent in the second half, en route to a 112-98 loss. The Warriors, who shot 51 per cent in their win over the Kings - got 64 points from backcourt duo Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson - the two hitting 13 of their 19 attempts from three-point range.

Toronto's guards DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry went 10-of-29 from the field and 4-of-12 from long distance, scoring 17 points apiece against the Nuggets. Rudy Gay had a team-high 23 points, taking 23 shots, to go along with nine boards in that contest.

For the first time this season, Casey made a change to his starting lineup, replacing the struggling Amir Johnson with Tyler Hansbrough, who played 34 minutes, scoring seven points and grabbing five rebounds in his first start with the Raptors while Johnson was held scoreless in 14 minutes off the bench.

"We'll see," said Casey, asked if he plans to stick with the lineup change moving forward. "Right now, we're probably going to but what we've got to do at the same time is make sure the second group has enough with it to make sure we can sustain a lead."

Trends and Tidbits

The Raptors are 1-7 when DeRozan scores 20 or more points this season. They're also 1-7 when Gay scores 20 or more. They're winless in four contests when both players score 20-plus in the same game.

DeRozan has scored 17 or more in a career-high 10 straight games. Lowry has tied his career high, recording six or more assists in eight straight games.

Toronto is 3-12 in its last 15 games against Golden State, allowing an average of 113.1 points in those contests.

The Warriors have won 12 of 16 home games against Eastern Conference teams since the start of the 2012-13 season.

What to Watch For

Defending the three

Paced by Curry and Thompson, the Warriors lead the NBA, shooting 44 per cent from three-point range. Most recently, Golden State connected on 15 of 25 attempts from distance Sunday with Curry (five) and Thompson (eight, a career-high) accounting for 13 of those treys.

"The key to their team is Klay Thompson," Casey said. "You look at the stats, when he scores big is when they win. Curry's going to get his, but we just can't let two guys go off and go crazy."

Bench production

The Raptors allowed the Nuggets' bench to score 72 points on the weekend, the most they've surrendered in franchise history. After the loss, Casey challenged his second unit to step up and match the intensity his starters began the game with in the first quarter.

Over the last two games, Toronto's reserves have been outscored by 69 points (101-32).

Golden State has also struggled to get consistent production from its shortened bench. With Andre Iguodala out indefinitely nursing a strained left hamstring, Warriors coach Mark Jackson has been forced to play his starters big minutes.

Who to Watch For

Jonas Valanciunas

Valanciunas is coming off a double-double performance (18 points and 11 rebounds) in Sunday's matinee, a game in which he was utilized more consistently in the team's offence.

"It felt really good, I had a lot of shots," said Valanciunas, who attempted a season-most 16 shots Sunday. "I was trying to help the team to win. Not everything can go the right way every game but I was trying, I was giving 100 per cent, so was the whole team."

Still, more than half of his points have come in the first quarter this season, an ongoing concern for a Raptors team looking to diversify its offensive attack. To his credit, Valanciunas spoke about doing the things he can control - rebounding, playing hard on defence - consistently, regardless of whether the touches are coming.

Valanciunas will have his hands full with Andrew Bogut, who appears to be fully healthy and has been anchoring a much improved Warriors defence.

"First of all, I'm going to start with good defence," the Raptors' centre said of facing Bogut. "He's a good player, he can score in the low post, he can pass the ball so I'm going to try and defend him, to take away his looks."

Stephen Curry

Even after enjoying a breakout season last year, Curry continues to elevate his game for Golden State. The Warriors point guard is ninth in scoring (22.3 points per game), third in assists (8.7) and tied for second in threes made (51) behind teammate Thompson, who leads the league in long balls with 62.

"We may do something different as far as whether we trap him before he gets in the play," Casey said of defending Curry. "We've got to mix it up, we can't come down and give him the same look."

In six career games against the Raptors, Curry is averaging 27.3 points and 8.5 assists, his best marks against any opponent.

Injury Report

The Warriors are expected to be without Iguodala for the sixth straight game as he recovers from a strained left hamstring.

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