Gameday Q&A: Spurs vs. Raptors

The San Antonio Spurs (21-8) will host the Toronto Raptors (9-19) tonight in the AT&T Center as the Raptors put their current 5-game winning streak on the line.

This will be the Spurs and Raptors final meeting this season. It took double-overtime for the Spurs to beat the Raptors in Toronto last month 111-106. Tony Parker scored six of his 32 points in the second overtime and Tim Duncan had 26. DeMar DeRozan led Toronto with 29 points, while rookie Jonas Valanciunas had 22.

To discuss tonight's contest, I spoke with Sean Francois of Raptors blog Hoop Heads North. The best Raptors blog on the Internet by far. In this Q&A Sean talks on why the Raptors are on a winning streak, what is the early prognosis for rookie Valanciunas, tonight's key matchup and more.

Jeff: The Raptors are currently on a 5-game winning streak. What do you pinpoint as the reason for this winning streak considering the team's rough start to the season?
 
Sean: Defense. There wasn't the same commitment to defense that there was last season. In practices, the Raptors were working just as hard, but the results on the floor in-game certainly didn't reflect that. The barrage of untimely injuries that have plagued the Raptors this season certainly didn't help, as they were still trying to figure out what rotations would be the most effective. They are playing excellent on-ball and weak side defense right now, so as long as they continue to make defense the first priority, they can keep adding 'W's to the win column.
 
What's the early outlook for rookie Jonas Valanciunas?
 
I believe that Jonas has an excellent future ahead of him, he's working with the Raptors' coaching staff, as well as veteran big men Jamaal Magloire and Aaron Gray on a daily basis; teaching him the nuances of the position at the NBA level. He has the tutelage of Arvydas Sabonis and Zydrunas Ilgauskas to draw upon as well, as legends of the game and fellow Lithuanian countrymen. Unfortunately, Jonas is now out indefinitely with a broken right ring finger that he suffered early in the Raptors last game vs. the Orlando Magic. Amir Johnson, Ed Davis, and Aaron Gray will all share time at the center position now. 
 
Also, another countryman, Linas Kleiza, is on the Raptors roster and they were Olympic teammates and roommates this past summer as well. That relationship has certainly been a big help for him getting adjusted to the NBA lifestyle and language changes as well.
 
What in the world got into Amir Johnson going mental on the ref over the basketball?
 
Ha ha, That's a question I asked myself. I believe it was the frustrations of the season boiling over (they were in the thick of a long losing streak at that point) and not being able to hold the ball after a free throw set him off. I was surprised that the official threw him out of the game, but Amir knows he needs to control his emotions better than that. He apologized to the fans on Twitter the next day, so he recognized that he overreacted.
 
Which matchup should fans focus on during tonight's contest?
 
I think there will be a couple of interesting match ups will be Jose Calderon vs. Tony Parker, and DeMar DeRozan vs. Kawhi Leonard. In the first match up you have some saavy point guards who can both score and get their teammates involved. In the 2nd match up you have two young players who can attack you in a variety of ways. DeMar has been working in the low post A LOT this season, and Kawhi seems to be having success from behind the arc. I'll be very interested to see who comes out with the upper hand in both of these match ups. 
 
It took double-overtime for the Spurs to beat the Raptors in their first meeting but how do you see tonight's game ending and why?
 
I think you'll see the same type of intensity and fight to win from both teams again in this game. The Raptors want to extend their winning streak to 6 games, and they know they had several chances to pull out the win in their last meeting. The Spurs are just the consummate team and professionals, and always give themselves a chance to win.
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