Raptors Second-Year Starters Step Up Against Pacers

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With two weeks remaining in the regular season, the Toronto Raptors continue to impress. Collecting a 102-94 victory against the Indiana Pacers on Friday night, the Raptors won their second straight game with Kyle Lowry and Amir Johnson sidelined due to injury.

While DeMar DeRozan did his best Lowry impersonation, scoring 20 points and dishing nine assists, Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross stepped up big time against one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference.

“I thought Jonas [Valanciunas] came in and played with all the confidence in the world against one of the best centres in the league in Roy Hibbert,” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said. “Also, T-Ross against one of the best defenders in the league in Paul George.”

Casey wasn’t exaggerating. Valanciunas was brilliant, scoring 22 points and grabbing nine rebounds while holding Hibbert to just 12 points and two boards. Ross led the Raptors with 24 points.

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“I think you’re seeing them come into their own,” Steve Novak said. “I think you’re seeing Jonas really understand he is a big piece of this team. He needs to understand we’re going to go as he goes at times.

“Terrence is just showing how good he can be, how versatile he can be. He’s a player on both ends of the floor, defensively and scoring the ball. You saw tonight, guarding Paul George and scoring 24 [points of his own.] You’re seeing a little bit of a young Ray Allen out there.”

After grabbing nine rebounds in Toronto’s victory against the Houston Rockets on Wednesday night, Ross had five boards against Indiana. All were in the second half. All seemed to come at crucial moments.

“Whatever we need [me to do],” Ross said. “It kind of just happened in the flow of the game. Our focus for everybody has been rebounding more.”

In addition to the solid performances from Ross and Valanciunas, Casey and his staff also got an extended look at Nando De Colo. Giving him 23 minutes of action off the bench, they liked what they saw from the second-year player who came to Toronto in a trade deadline deal.

“You can tell when he’s out there that he knows how to play,” DeRozan said. “He came from a great system in San Antonio and that’s a great coach to play under. He brings some of that energy out to us on both ends of the court.”

With Lowry resting a bruised left kneecap, Casey has had to rely on Greivis Vasquez and De Colo. Not entirely sure what De Colo’s ceiling is, getting to watch him create for his teammates has been a priority for the coaching staff as the team tries to finish the season strong while also beginning to prepare for the postseason.

“Nando is a very solid point guard,” Ross said. “He’s a past-first point guard. He can push it, he can get to the basket, he does a lot of things. He’s a legit, good passer. Not too many guys think to just get the ball ahead, but he has a knack for it. He kind of reminds me of like a Jose Calderon when it comes to passing. He can get it to you.”

Now that De Colo’s teammates are learning his game, the coaching staff be able to go to him with more confidence in the days and weeks to come. While Ross and Valanciunas have pieced together solid second seasons, starring in a key win against a strong team is still a big deal for the duo.

“Last year we weren’t in that position, but we’re getting a chance now,” Ross said. “It’s fun when you get that chance to go out there and you actually do well. It’s good. It helps us grow.

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