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Dwane Casey hopes the intense work ethic of free agent signing Tyler Hansbrough, left, rubs off on his teammates. (Charles Krupa/AP)
Dwane Casey hopes the intense work ethic of free agent signing Tyler Hansbrough, left, rubs off on his teammates. (Charles Krupa/AP)

NBA

Raptors coach Casey cracking down on turnovers Add to ...

While head coach Dwane Casey saw things he liked in the Toronto Raptors’ first preseason game, he made it a top priority to focus on the thing he seriously disliked: a troubling number of turnovers.

The Raptors were back practising at the Air Canada Centre Tuesday, following Monday’s game in Boston, where they beat the Celtics 97-89, despite tallying an alarming 26 turnovers (Boston had 14).

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While the coach was pleased with his team’s defence, the hustle plays, chemistry among his starting five and the contributions off the bench from Tyler Hansbrough and Terrence Ross, his message was clear.

“We are a little rusty offensively; defensively, we were pretty good; but we have to get those turnovers down, probably in half would be my goal,” said Casey, noting he liked the cohesion his starters showed together on the floor, yet they had at least three turnovers each. “The 26 turnovers take away from the encouraging momentum.”

“It was the first game, it’s not going to be perfect, but we’ll definitely be more conscious of it the next game,” said Ross, entering his second NBA season. “It’s just going in and realizing we have to be more secure with the basketball. I don’t think we’ll see turnovers anywhere near that again.”

The contributions from Ross (the eighth-overall pick in the 2012 draft by Toronto) and Hansbrough (13th overall in 2009 by the Indiana Pacers) showed positive signs for the team’s depth. More importantly, Casey is impressed with the intense work ethic Hansbrough brought with him after signing as a free agent in the off-season. The coach hopes it rubs off on others.

“He’s a relentless competitor. If you don’t compete against him in practice, you’re going to get embarrassed,” Casey said. “He raises the level of intensity in practice when he keeps coming at you.

“Sometimes, life is too hard and guys don’t want to fight that relentless when it’s coming at you, and they give in. He plays at a playoff level every possession and that’s what you have to do.”

Casey says he doesn’t mind the kind of fouls that are born out of hard-working play, but wants to limit “cheap fouls” – like a few committed by second-year big man Jonas Valanciunas on Monday.

Valanciunas had 10 points and 10 rebounds – continuing his strong play from the Las Vegas summer league – yet he fouled out of the game. Casey wants to see the seven-foot, 240-pound Lithuanian avoid controllable fouls (such as those committed when he lands after a jump near the basket).

Casey also wants to see his players brush up on the ability to recognize three-point opportunities, something they didn’t do well Monday.

The coach was asked if the Raptors used to have a reputation around the NBA for being a “soft” opponent over the years, and if so, whether that notion has shifted.

“That’s what we’re working on: a winning mentality, a kick-your-butt mentality, because that’s what wins in the playoffs,” Casey said. “If that is the reputation we have, we want to get rid of it damn quickly.”

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