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Porter to become fixture in Raptors rotation

TORONTO – Otto Porter Jr. smiled when he heard that Toronto Raptors head coach Darko Rajakovic had called him a calming influence.

“That’s my job,” said Porter.

Porter played 14 minutes in Toronto’s disappointing 112-103 loss to the Miami Heat on Wednesday, earning a team-best plus-14 defensive rating with two rebounds and an assist off the bench. Rajakovic said Porter will be a regular in the Raptors rotation after the solid performance.

“Whether we’re down or up, I try to be even-keeled, making sure we’re calm, trying to do the right things out on the court,” said Porter after practice at the OVO Athletic Centre. “Make sure we play together, make sure we lock in to what we’ve got to do.

“That’s the big thing that I try to provide is the sense that if a team gets going, we can lock in defensively and get a stop when we need it, get a bucket when we need it.”

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Porter is averaging 2.8 points, 2.4 rebounds and 0.2 assists over 10 games this season. Toronto has had to ease him back into regular playing time after he had surgery on his left foot last season, playing only eight games in 2022-23.

“It’s an ongoing process coming off that injury,” said the 30-year-old Porter, who is in his 10th season in the NBA. “It’s going to take time and I haven’t played in almost a year.

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“I probably won’t do back-to-backs, but every day I’m working on my body, working with the coaches, trying to get back in some type of game rhythm, game flow, so I can contribute and get out there and help the guys.”

Toronto could use the help after back-to-back losses, including the disappointing effort against Miami that saw the Heat open the third quarter on a 16-0 run.

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“We had a really good film session today, a really good conversation with the team,” said Rajakovic. “Bottom line is we’ve got to be a lot better.

“I think we have a lot of tools and a lot of opportunities to be better.”

Centre Jakob Poeltl said the Raptors are still trying to figure out what they need to succeed, but thinks one missing element over the past 10 games is aggressive defence.

“I think we started the season off playing very high effort defence, and we got a little bit away from that,” he said. “I think we almost got caught up in trying to figure out solutions to why we’re losing close games and stuff like that.

“We got away from what even got us there in the first place, which is being super aggressive on defence, taking advantage of our great individual defenders, and we need to get back to that.”

Porter’s veteran voice could help with Toronto rediscovering its defensive backbone. A small forward, Porter can help carry the defensive load that OG Anunoby and Scottie Barnes typically shoulder for the Raptors once his conditioning is fully returned.

“He is getting back, he is finding the rhythm, he’s trying to find explosiveness back in his legs,” said Rajakovic. “In guarding people, I think he has really good hands, especially around the rim.

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“He comes with a lot of deflections, just trying to find the best role that he can help us defensively and on offensive end, his presence on the court helps us.”

Toronto visits the Charlotte Hornets on Friday, the second of two games added to its schedule after not advancing in the NBA’s in-season tournament. The Raptors will then travel to New York to face the Knicks on Monday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 7, 2023.

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