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Raptors cruise to easy pre-season win over Houston

TORONTO – Newcomer Precious Achiuwa continues to make the most of his pre-season opportunity with the Raptors.

The 22-year-old Nigerian centre scored 17 points and grabbed a team-leading five defensive rebounds in 19 minutes of action in Toronto’s 107-92 win against the Houston Rockets on Monday.

About the same time Achiuwa arrived in Toronto to get familiar with his new surroundings a few days before the start of training camp, the Raptors’ leading man in the middle, Khem Birch, tested positive for COVID-19, and as a result, would miss a few weeks.

Birch made his return on Monday, but as expected, he was rusty. He only scored two points and tossed up two horrible free throws near the end of the first half.

Meanwhile, Achiuwa was one of the better Raptors, matching OG Anunoby for the team’s best offensive output.

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“Absolutely,” said Achiuwa when asked if his comfort level with his new team has improved. “It’s getting comfortable with what the coach wants, and I think that aligns with the way a lot of us want to play. We want to play fast, we want to start off the offence real early, and that kind of fits into the way a lot of us play. It just works out.”

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The six-foot-eight, 244-pound Achiuwa is not a traditional centre. He plays an athletic game. He can switch to cover a guard and score inside and outside, as evident by the three-point jumper he knocked down early in the third quarter.

“I believe this team is built around versatility,” he said. “Just looking at the guys on the team, there are a lot of guys that are my size, long arms, can do a lot of things, and we just play off each other. So far this pre-season, it’s been me, OG, Scottie (Barnes), Isaac (Bonga), who can do a lot of things.

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“Guys are big, tall, athletic, and it’s just a matter of learning how to play off one another.”

Achiuwa was acquired in the sign-and-trade with guard Goran Dragic from the Miami Heat in exchange for Kyle Lowry on Aug. 6th. As a rookie with the Heat last season, Achiuwa averaged only 12.1 minutes and five points a game.

But Raptors head coach Nick Nurse plans to split time at centre between Achiuwa and Birch.

“I thought (the Achiuwa-Birch combination) looked good, thought it looked improved,” Nurse said. “It should enable both of them to play six, seven minutes really hard, and the next guy can come in.

“Khem, it was really his first live-action at all, so he was a little bit out of sorts. He had a great look out to the corner and chucked in the seats, missed a couple of free throws. Legs were pretty wobbly for him, but we’ll get him in shape, get him out there again tomorrow, but obviously, it should be a decent combination.”

Toronto’s Malachi Flynn added 15 points against Houston, including three three-point jumpers, while rookie Scottie Barnes and Svi Mykhailiuk also chipped in 10 points apiece. Armoni Brooks led the way for the Rockets with 15 points.

The Raptors jumped out to a 9-0 lead against the Rockets, who finished with a league-worst 17-55 record last season, and led 28-19 after the first quarter. It was a stress-free outing as Toronto enjoyed 57-38 and 88-64 advantages at halftime and after the third quarter.

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Nurse elected to sit out newcomer Dragic. Instead, he will play in the Raptors’ fifth and final pre-season game in Washington against the Wizards on Tuesday.

Starters Fred VanVleet and Anunoby likely will get the evening off against the Wizards. The Raptors season opener is slated for Scotiabank Arena against the Wizards on Oct. 20.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 11, 2021.

© 2021 The Canadian Press

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