Raptors host short-handed Bulls after ugly incident in Chicago practice
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TORONTO — Dwane Casey has seen his fair share of fights between teammates. DeMar DeRozan hinted that he might have been in one or two, back in high school.
But the Toronto Raptors have to beware of the visiting Chicago Bulls turning an ugly incident in their favour. The Raptors host a short-handed Bulls team in their season opener Thursday after a brawl at a Chicago practice left power forward Nikola Mirotic with a concussion and broken bones in his face. Bobby Portis was suspended for eight games by the team for his role in Tuesday's incident.
"We had some doozies in Seattle. . . We had some fisticuffs," said Casey, who was an assistant with the SuperSonics from 1994 to 2005. "One that started on the court and went in the weight room and went outside, come back in. It was a long one.
"Sometimes when you have that, as long as guys aren't getting hurt, you can turn it around on the other team. That's what we've got to be ready for with Chicago, thinking OK, they had a fisticuff, but still it could be a bonding experience for that team. So we've got to be ready for a feisty, hard-playing Chicago team.
"Something like this could be a galvanizing situation for them."
The Bulls, who lost 125-104 to Toronto in their pre-season finale, said Mirotic might require surgery for his injuries.
Fighting between teammates was a major topic of conversation Wednesday after the Raptors held their final pre-season practice at Biosteel Centre. From a coach's perspective, Casey said he doesn't necessarily mind when practice gets heated and teammates play each other hard.
"You want guys to compete, to go at each other. But not to the point where you injure a teammate," Casey said. "You always preach: have an edge. I like edgy practices, but when it becomes physical and there's an opportunity to hurt a teammate, that's where you draw the line."
DeRozan said it's rare to hear about fights nowadays, but understands how strained emotions can spill over into scraps in practice.
"High school we fought a lot," DeRozan said. "We used to have to go in the middle of the circle and the first one out of the circle loses. Compton High. If you're talking smack, that was one way to settle it. I hope school's not like that any more."
For a long time, the Bulls were one of the Raptors' biggest rivals. Chicago had beaten them in 11 straight games before the Raptors finally ended the streak last March in overtime. But the Bulls have undergone a rebuild, and stars Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade are both gone.
The Raptors, meanwhile, will put their new offence to the test. Falling behind in a league that was trending toward free-flowing ball movement and long-range shooting, the Raptors turned their focus toward those two things in the pre-season.
"It's fun to learn something new, especially the style of basketball we want to play, it gives you a lot of freedom on offence," guard Norm Powell said. "If you have an open three, shoot it. Don't turn down looks on our shot spectrum. We have a lot of guys who are capable of playing this style of basketball. I think the guys are excited to see how this turns out during the season."
As Casey pointed out, sometimes the best-laid plans don't translate into continuous success on the court.
"That's so true. The thing that we have to do is 50 wins, top-10 offence, top-10 defence, that all starts all over again," the coach said. "I've been on teams where we thought we were going to be a great three-point shooting team or a good defensive team and lo and behold, you look like you've never spelled the word 'defence.'
"Every year, you start out from scratch. And that's where we started this season in training camp with the fundamentals, simple fundamentals of passing the basketball. People probably saw that and said 'Ah that's a high school team.' That's how you have to approach this league. if you don't, it'll jump up and kick you in the butt."
The Raptors host Philadelphia on Saturday and then head west for a six-game road trip that will see them face San Antonio, Golden State, the Los Angeles Lakers, Portland, Denver and Utah.