TORONTO (AP) The Toronto Raptors act like a team that doesn’t get any respect.
Toronto likes it that way, thank you very much, thriving in the underdog environment fostered by coach Dwane Casey.
The Raptors host the Brooklyn Nets in Game 5 of their first round series on Wednesday night, having regained home-court advantage with an 87-79 victory on Sunday.
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Charles Barkley, the former NBA All-Star turned TV analyst, has said the Raptors were ”underrated all year” and picked them to eliminate the Nets. And even though he’s still struggling to properly pronounce the name of Lithuanian center Jonas Valanciunas, Barkley reiterated his belief on a recent broadcast.
Casey surely appreciates Barkley’s support. But conscious of avoiding complacency and overconfidence among his players, the coach was preaching a familiar message of toughness and desperation after the Raptors practiced Tuesday.
”It’s not going to be all smiles and bubble gum and fruitcakes tomorrow night, it’s going to be a street fight,” Casey said. ”And that’s the way we’ve got to come out, with that mentality.”
Such statements are almost commonplace with Casey. Before a late-season game against New York, with the Knicks still pursuing a playoff berth, Casey urged his team to be wary of an opponent that was ”going to come and hit you in the head with a hammer.”
All-Star guard DeMar DeRozan, who has averaged 28 points since a disappointing playoff debut, said Casey’s scrappy imagery has become part of Toronto’s mindset.
”We’re like a fighter who worked his butt off in training camp,” DeRozan said. ”He can fight, but he’s going into every fight as the underdog and everybody is going against him. That’s how we feel, that’s our mentality.”
Forward Amir Johnson agreed, calling Casey’s approach a ”huge” motivation.
”When people doubt us, that’s what we want,” Johnson said. ”That’s what we feed off. People doubt us and think we can’t do it, that’s what gets us energized and that’s when we prove them wrong.”
Here are five things to watch in Game 5 on Wednesday night at Air Canada Centre:
BAD AFTER THE BREAK: The Raptors may lack the playoff experience of the veteran Nets, but they’ve outplayed their opponents in every fourth quarter since Game 1. More troublesome to Toronto has been its poor play in the third, where the Raptors have been outscored by a combined 27 points, coming up short in every game. Maybe Casey should save one of his stir `em up speeches until halftime. ”The third quarter has been our nemesis,” Casey said. ”That’s what we’ve got to remedy, is coming out of the locker room at halftime with that type of desperate disposition.”
WILL DERON DELIVER?: In the Nets’ two wins, Deron Williams has scored 22 and 25 points, respectively. In the two losses, he’s scored 15 and, on Sunday, a series-low 10. The better the game it gets from Williams, the better Brooklyn’s chances are. ”He’s in the driver’s seat, he’s our point guard,” Nets forward Paul Pierce said Tuesday. ”We feed off of him a lot. When he’s been aggressive, taking the ball to the basket and getting shots up, that seems to bode well for all of us.”
TURNOVER BATTLE: The Nets ranked fourth in the NBA this season with 8.6 steals per game, and are second among playoff teams so far with an average of nine per game. Turnovers have been a problem for the Raptors, who had 59 through the first three games. But Toronto controlled the ball better in Game 4, finishing with 12 turnovers, while Brooklyn’s six steals and 16 turnovers were both series-worsts. ”It was kind of flipped the last game,” Williams said. ”We were the ones turning the ball over and didn’t cause enough.”
INJURY UPDATE: Brooklyn reserve Alan Anderson (groin) did not practice Tuesday, and his status for Wednesday’s game is unclear. Toronto reserve Landry Fields, who sat out Sunday’s game with a sore back, returned to practice. Casey said the Raptors are banged up, but everyone is available. This is the third time the teams have had two days off between games. There will only be one day off before Game 6 in Brooklyn on Friday, and one day again if Game 7 is necessary Sunday in Toronto.
PLAYER PROTEST: Brooklyn’s Kevin Garnett said the Nets had not yet spoken about whether they would make some sort of protest against Clippers owner Donald Sterling, who was banned for life Tuesday for making racist comments. DeRozan, however, said the Raptors intended to find some way to show their displeasure, as other teams have done by turning their warm-up shirts inside out. ”We’re going to do something,” DeRozan said. ”We’re all united. They’re all our peers. We’re all going to stick together through any situation.”