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Injured Raptor Jonas Valanciunas doing everything he can to return sooner than expected | The Star

Jonas Valanciunas is bored.

Like, really bored. So bored the Toronto Raptors centre said Thursday he even missed speaking with the media.

Toronto Raptors surprise patients at SickKids Hospital with a team visit.

At least when Valanciunas is speaking with reporters he is also suiting up for games. Since dislocating his left thumb in a mid-December game against the Golden State Warriors, an injury that had to be surgically repaired, Valanciunas hasn’t done either.

Hence the boredom.

“Working hard to maintain my conditioning, but it’s not the same as playing in games,” he said. “You want that competition, you want the matchups, you want that.

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“Kicking ass … that’s what you miss the most.”

Valanciunas was averaging a career-high 12.8 points and 7.2 rebounds in 30 games before he went down, adjusting well to sharing the five spot with Serge Ibaka. This, in spite of the fact Valanciunas was playing a career-low 18.8 minutes a night and getting used to the second unit after making just 10 starts. His per-36-minutes scoring — 24.5 points — was the highest of his career.

At the time of the injury, which occurred when the Warriors’ Draymond Green swatted at Valanciunas’ hands near the basket, the team said he would be in a cast for four weeks. On Wednesday, just days shy of that mark, the team announced that Valanciunas’ finger is now in a splint, which he will use for “approximately the next four weeks.”

That puts his return sometime around February’s all-star break.

The good thing about an upper body injury, Valanciunas said, is that he can run and keep up his conditioning, for the most part.

Raptors centre Jonas Valanciunas dislocated his thumb against the Warriors on Dec. 12. He’s expected to be out until mid-February, but says he’s hopeful of an earlier return.Raptors centre Jonas Valanciunas dislocated his thumb against the Warriors on Dec. 12. He’s expected to be out until mid-February, but says he’s hopeful of an earlier return.  (Jeff Chiu / The Associated Press)

“He went through 60 to 70 per cent (of practice) today,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said.

“Any time we finished a drill that ended in rebounding, even a simulated block out drill, we held him out. Any other time, he was in. There’s not a lot of contact going on this time of year, but you want to be careful. The last thing we want to do is have Jonas at 11:30 (a.m.) on a Thursday hurt himself on a five-on-oh drill or a five-on-one block out drill.”

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But Nurse is hopeful Valanciunas will return to the lineup sooner than expected.

“It feels like it (will be) but that’s only because he’s around and in my ear every day asking questions: ‘Can I do this drill? Can I not do this drill.’ So let’s all cross our fingers.”

Valanciunas’ continued engagement doesn’t go unnoticed by his teammates, either. Norm Powell knows better than most the boredom Valanciunas is dealing with, having felt that way himself three games into the 20 he missed earlier this season with a partially dislocated shoulder.

“He’s been really good, he’s been here every day working, getting his conditioning in,” Powell said of Valanciunas. “You see him itching and hungry to get on the floor, even with his splint on, but he’s been putting the work in and I think he’s really ready to come back.”

Powell’s extended time off gave the guard a different perspective on his team. It became clear during his rehabilitation the Raptors would need him to return as a defensive, energy guy, a spark plug bringing a physicality and toughness on that end of the floor.

He believes Valanciunas is watching and learning, looking for things he can do better upon his return.

“You’re able to become a student of the game and watch and see where you can help the team, and see how you can incorporate yourself when you get back. For JV, being a dominant post presence and paint protector, I think that’s what he sees,” Powell said.

For the next little while, at least, Valanciunas will have to make do with that outside perspective.

“There’s not much you can do right now but watch and learn, try to stay in tune and be ready to come back.”

Laura Armstrong is a sports reporter based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @lauraarmy



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