SPORTS

Newcomer Lou Williams proving his worth as big spark off the bench for Raptors

11/17/2014 05:32 EST | Updated 01/17/2015 05:59 EST
TORONTO - During a fourth-quarter stretch in Toronto's victory over Utah on Saturday, Lou Williams scored on a pretty turnaround jumper, found Patrick Patterson alone in the corner for a three-pointer, and then drew a foul on a three-point attempt of his own.

Coming off the worst season of his nine-year NBA career, Williams has already been a huge spark off the bench through his 10 games as a Raptor.

"I hope they like me as a player, I haven't heard anything different," Williams said Monday, referring to the Raptors' coaching staff.

The Raptors acquired the 28-year-old and the rights to Brazilian big man Lucas (Bebe) Nogueira from Atlanta in the off-season trade that sent John Salmons to the Hawks. Williams tore his ACL in January of 2013, and then struggled mightily in his comeback last season. Still, the Raptors saw in him a wily veteran who can score under pressure and is a master at drawing fouls.

So far he's been as advertised for the Eastern Conference-leading Raptors, playing like he's found his pre-injury form.

Williams is averaging 10.3 points a night, and has been a key part of Toronto's strong fourth quarters. He had 13 points in 23 minutes on Saturday. In Toronto's previous two victories, he had 14 points in 16 minutes versus Orlando, and 16 points in 18 minutes versus Philadelphia.

His baskets bring cheers of "Louuuuuuuuu!" from the Air Canada Centre crowd — much like Vancouver Canucks fans once chanted for Roberto Luongo.

"He's cool under pressure," Casey said recently. "He can get his own shot most times without screens, without help. . . He did that in Philly. He really didn't have a chance to do that in Atlanta because of injuries. We have all of the confidence in the world that at the end of the quarter when the clock is winding down, that he's going to get a good shot."

Williams — listed generously at 6-1 and 175 pounds — learned how to make up for his slight stature from another undersized player: NBA legend Allen Iverson. Williams played with Iverson in Philadelphia where the Sixers drafted him in the second round, 45th overall, right out of high school.

Williams played seven seasons with Philly, and was the team's leading scorer — 14.9 points a game — in the 2011-12 season, despite not starting a single game. He was second in voting that season for the NBA's sixth man award.

He signed with Atlanta in the 2012 off-season.

Nearing the end of a seven-game homestand, Williams and his teammates were back practising at the Air Canada Centre on Monday after a rare day off. Some of his teammates had attended Toronto's Santa Claus Parade on Sunday. Williams stayed home to take it easy.

"We were getting a little weary, just so much non-stop action, only a day in between (games), but you're still coming in and preparing for the games, and getting ready for the next one," Williams said. "Had a few days to kind of just regroup and get ready for the next stretch."

The next stretch begins with a tough matchup against Memphis on Wednesday. Memphis and Houston were tied atop the West at 9-1 before they were scheduled to meet on Tuesday.

The Raptors will be missing James Johnson against the Grizzlies after Johnson stepped on a cameraman's foot Saturday night and suffered a severe right ankle sprain. Johnson didn't practise Monday and the team later said there is no timetable for his return.

When asked if he was excited about the upcoming East-versus-West showdown, Casey laughed and said "I'm not really excited to see them, I wish we were playing a junior high team or something, but it's what you play for, they're one of the top teams in the West.

"Right now (however), it's still too early to say who's the top team, who's not the top team, I don't think anybody really knows who they truly are yet. I think after about 15, 20 games everyone will start to even out and they become who they really are."

The Raptors have gone 4-1 in their homestand that ends Friday when they host Milwaukee.

"It's good for us," Williams said of the long stretch at home. "We had a long pre-season on the road. It's good for us to just kind of be home and it worked out for us, home games are very important to your schedule, you try to get those games, and so some time here was very helpful for us.

"It's 41-41, however they chop it up, so it's still going to be even when it's all said and done."

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