TORONTO - For those who believe the NBA's preseason is too long, the Raptors' potentially costly rout of Memphis on Wednesday - exactly one week before the start of the regular season - could serve as exhibit A.
With nothing tangible at stake, the Raptors turned in their most impressive outing of the fall in their seventh and second to last exhibition tilt against their stiffest competition yet, but they lost a couple starters in the process.
Point guard Kyle Lowry was the first to exit the game after his left ring finger popped out reaching for a loose ball with 3:47 remaining in the third quarter of Toronto's 108-72 victory. Lowry sprinted to the locker room and did not return to the game.
Just two and a half minutes later, centre Jonas Valanciunas took an inadvertent elbow from Zach Randolph to the face and needed three stitches to patch up a laceration to his chin.
"It wouldn't be preseason if we didn't have any drama right now," Dwane Casey said, half-jokingly after his team's impressive defeat of the Grizzlies.
Lowry sported a protective wrap on his non-shooting hand following the game. The severity of his injury was not known at the time.
"He's going to have it examined tomorrow and see what it is," Casey said of Lowry's injured finger. "We'll find out tomorrow what it is and go from there."
Valanciunas had ice on his stitched up chin post-game. Understandably, he was very sore but Casey indicated he could have returned had this been a regular season game.
"He's got some battle scars now, and I like it," Casey said. "He didn't back down, he was battling. That's what we've got to do. People have to know that they're not going to come in and just embarrass us."
"We're going to play clean but we've got to hold our ground and that's what I tell our guys all the time. Nobody comes in, pushes you around, takes a cheap shot at you without you responding and we've got to continue to be that way and keep that reputation."
Randolph was assessed a flagrant foul on the play, his sixth personal, fouling out in the process.
"It's a contact sport, that happens," said Rudy Gay, a former teammate of Randolph's in Memphis. "Obviously (Randolph) showed remorse after he did it. He's a tough player, he's a gritty player and sometimes that happens. For us to get better, for JV to get better he has to learn how to, not retaliate but then go out there and play with that same kind of grittiness."
Although the injury to Valanciunas is not believed to have long-term repercussions, the team is holding their collective breath awaiting the prognoses on Lowry, whom they can't afford to be without.
Without a viable back up on the roster, Lowry figures to play major minutes, assuming good health, at the point this season.
Neither D.J. Augustin nor Dwight Buycks has stood out or inspired much confidence in the team's depth at the position.
Julyan Stone, who has been battling for the team's final roster spot, has been a pleasant surprise but he too left Wednesday's game after just three minutes, taking a knee to his right hip, the same hip he had surgery on last year.
Tyler Hansbrough was also wearing a wrap on his hand as a precaution after the game. The Raptors' forward banged his right thumb, though the injury is not expected to be serious.
A tough test, albeit in the preseason
Although the Raptors' 6-1 mark in the preseason - matching last year's exhibition record - hasn't satisfied Coach Casey, nor should it, he was pleased with the way his team responded to the challenge against an elite Western Conference power.
"They did an excellent job, they responded," Casey said of the Raptors, holding Memphis to 35 percent shooting and outrebounding them 54-36. "Again it's preseason but we have to set a tone. We only gave up seven offensive rebounds to one of the top offensive rebounding teams and I thought our guys met the challenge defensively."
Casey had spoken about giving his starters some playing time in the fourth quarter but given the lopsided score and the third-quarter injury scare he capped them off between 21-28 minutes. However, the first unit did play the bulk of the first three frames and faced legitimate competition as Memphis also played its starters, minus Tayshaun Prince.
"Tonight was a great test for us," said DeMar DeRozan, who led the way once again, scoring 21 points including eight (on nine attempts) from the free-throw line. "It definitely was a big game for us and we held our own. That was our main focus going into tonight, trying to hold our ground and that's what we did."
For the first time, Casey experimented with different combinations that included one or two of his starters on the floor with three or four reserves. "We didn't have a whole (second) group out there by themselves so that helped," he said, stressing that his rotation will operate this way - although it will be fluid - during the regular season.
As a result, there was little-to-no drop off when Toronto went to its bench on Wednesday. Initially with Lowry and Gay also on the floor, both Terrence Ross and Landry Fields got off to quick starts, combining for 14 points on 5-of-5 shooting in the first half. Ross did get an earful from his coach for attempting to bite off more than he could chew later in the game.
"Terrence shot the ball decent", Casey said, "but I got upset with him about the running Harlem Globetrotter hook shot. We want to play the game the right way because the basketball gods have a way of coming back and getting you if you mess with the game."
Gay chipped in with 15 points, playing 26 minutes against his former team.
"It's fun," he said, asked about facing the Grizzlies, a team he was a member of for six-plus seasons before January's three-team swap sent him to Toronto. "It's competitive. I think it's even more competitive, at least on my end it is. It's good to see familiar faces but then again you want to get a win no matter what it is, preseason or regular season."
Austin Daye was also part of that deal, going from Detroit to Memphis before signing with the Raptors during the summer. The forward had his best game in a Raptors jersey, scoring 14 points in less than 17 minutes and connecting on all three of his attempts from long range.
Ed Davis, who was sent from Toronto to Memphis, made his second return to the Air Canada Centre and finished one rebound shy of a double-double in just 16 minutes, registering 11 points and nine boards. The former Raptors' forward will begin the season playing behind two all-star big men in Randolph and Marc Gasol but is feeling more comfortable with his new team having a full training camp under his belt. "They didn't really get to see my all-around game because we didn't practice that much last year so I feel much better," he said after shoot-around Wednesday morning.
The Raptors conclude the exhibition schedule in Milwaukee against the Bucks on Friday before beginning the regular season at home to the Celtics on Wednesday.