Toronto center Jonas Valanciunas is still “a ways away” from returning
TORONTO — Toronto Raptors coach Dwane Casey said Monday that center Jonas Valanciunas is day-to-day and would likely miss the first two games of the conference finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Valanciunas sprained his right ankle in Game 3 against the Miami Heat nine days ago and has not played since.
Casey said Valanciunas will continue getting treatment and the team will see how his body responds. Casey would not rule him out for the series, but said that he doesn’t see Valanciunas playing in Game 1 on Tuesday and “it’s going to be very difficult” for him to be ready for Game 2 on Thursday.
“We’re not going to jeopardize further hurting his ankle just to get him out there for a game,” Casey said. “If he’s not 100 percent, we’re not going to damage it. I don’t forsee him in these first couple of games being able to play. Next week may be another matter, I don’t know. He hasn’t started basketball activity yet. He’s messed around and shot free throws and all that, but he hasn’t done anything on the court. So he’s a little ways away from getting out there and contributing in a playoff game.”
Before the injury, Valanciunas was Toronto’s most consistent playoff performer. In 10 games against the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat, he averaged 15 points, 12.1 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in 28.5 minutes, shooting 55 percent. His team was able to advance without him because Miami also lost its starting center, Hassan Whiteside, and Raptors backup center Bismack Biyombo stepped up. In Games 4 through 7, Biyombo averaged 11 points, 12 rebounds and 2.5 blocks in 35.8 minutes, shooting 65.2 percent and capably switching onto smaller players.
For Toronto to have a chance against Cleveland, Biyombo will have to continue playing like that. The good news: he already did that in a 103-99 Toronto win back in November when Valanciunas was out with a hand injury. The bad news: the Cavaliers were without guard Kyrie Irving in that game, and they are playing better now than at any other point since LeBron James returned. It would help the Raptors if they could give Valanciunas the ball in the post.
Unlike Biyombo, Valanciunas demands attention when he has the ball on the inside. Involving him in the offense could force Cleveland to make some adjustments — in eight straight wins against the Detroit Pistons and Atlanta Hawks, the Cavs dominated by spreading the floor and knocking down 3-pointers. Center Timofey Mozgov was essential to Cleveland’s defense-first approach this time last year, but he has only played 27 minutes in the playoffs.
If Valanciunas returns in Game 3 on Saturday or Game 4 next Monday, perhaps his presence will alter the series. Until then, Toronto will have to find ways to survive without him. It did an admirable job of that for 22 games in the regular season and four games in the playoffs, but that task is about to be much tougher.
Jonas Valanciunas is still sidelined