As road games go, it's a short trip.
So short the Toronto Raptors travelled by bus for the first date on their exhibition schedule, tonight against the Philadelphia 76ers in London, Ont.
Toronto rookie DeMar DeRozan admitted he was confused at first about taking a bus to London. "I though we were going to London, across seas," he said.
As facsimiles go, the Toronto Raptors can only hope that DeRozan shows some signs that he bears a closer resemblance to the 76ers Andre Iguodala than London, Ont., does to London, England.
The Raptors missed on taking the gifted swing man with the No. 8 pick of the 2004 draft - they drafted Rafael Araujo instead - and have been trying to shore up their wing positions since.
DeRozan will get his chance to show he can make an impact as the No. 9 pick of the 2009 draft. With Antoine Wright staying home to nurse a sore right knee, it's likely DeRozan will get the nod to start tonight.
"I haven't really been paying attention to it; [starting]would be great," he said.
He said he's a fan of Iguodala, who has emerged as one of the best two-way players in the NBA and the focal point of a fast, physical 76ers youth movement.
"He's a great player. I get that comparison [to Iguodala]sometimes," DeRozan said. "That's a great comparison. It's going to be great to play against him. It'll be a great test for me."
It will be an interesting test for the Raptors, too. Both Philadelphia and Toronto tried to reshape their teams with an early summer trade in which Jason Kapono went to Philadelphia in exchange for Reggie Evans. Kapono provides the 76ers some much-needed three-point shooting to open the floor for Iguodala and Louis Williams, installed at point guard in place of departed Andre Miller. Evans has already been credited for increasing the intensity of the Raptors practices. Toronto needed his rebounding presence more than they needed Kapono's shooting.
No one is pretending tonight's game and the Raptors' return matchup against Philadelphia at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto tomorrow are pivotal.
Raptors head coach Jay Triano seemed to underscore that when he suggested that the most significant number in the box score will be the number of minutes played: He anticipates that they will be equally distributed among the 12 Raptors making the trip west along Highway 401.
And he emphasized that he's got no concerns about not having Chris Bosh and Hedo Turkoglu available.
"There's plenty of time," he said. "They're mentally involved in everything we do and they're starting to get the itch to get out there. I have no doubt that they will be ready and 100 per cent when the season starts."
Triano said Bosh could be available as soon as Friday when the Raptors play the Minnesota Timberwolves, but gave no word on Turkoglu.
Having not practised in any meaningful way since training camp started - Bosh is nursing a hamstring strain, while Turkoglu has a sore knee and has been described as fatigued after playing into the NBA final in June for the Orlando Magic and then the world championships in September for Turkey - it makes sense that they would skip the back-to-back games that open the Raptors' eight-game exhibition schedule.
But even their teammates are beginning to get a bit antsy about their absence.
"We need everybody," Raptors guard Jose Calderon said. "As soon as they get ready it's going to be better because we need to learn how to play with them, because it's going to be different when they're on the court."
NOTES The Toronto Raptors will be the away team Tuesday night in their game against the Philadelphia 76ers in London, Ont., because the John Labatt Centre is managed by Global Spectrum, a company owned by Philadelphia-based sports and entertainment business Comcast-Spectacor, which also owns the 76ers and Philadelphia Flyers of the NHL. The Raptors will play four of their eight exhibition games in six days beginning tonight. The second game is tomorrow at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto against the 76ers again. Then they leave Thursday to play the Minnesota Timberwolves in Minnesota on Friday and return to play the Washington Wizards on Sunday at the ACC.
NEXT Tuesday night, Raptors at Philadelphia 76ers, at John Labatt Centre in London, Ont., 7:30 p.m. EDT
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