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Q&A with Raptors' Jonas Valanciunas: 'I'm not going to relax'

TORONTO -- The Toronto Raptors came into the playoffs sporting an All-Star backcourt.

But in Games 1 and 2 of their first-round series against the Indiana Pacers, Jonas Valanciunas -- not Kyle Lowry or DeMar DeRozan -- has proved to be the team’s most unstoppable force.

While Lowry and DeRozan have combined to shoot 17-for-63 from the field, Valanciunas has amassed 35 points and 34 rebounds.

“He’s been huge -- literally. He’s the one that’s causing us problems right now,” Paul George, Indiana’s best player, said of the 7-foot center.

“He’s not a finished product,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “He’s going to get better. Sky’s the limit for that young man.”

The 23-year-old Lithuanian, however, received his best compliment from veteran frontcourt mate Luis Scola.

“He has no ceiling,” Scola said. “He could be an All-Star; he could be an All-NBA player. He could be whatever he wants to be.”

ESPN.com conducted a brief Q&A with Valanciunas on Wednesday before the team’s flight to Indiana in advance of Thursday’s Game 3 in a series that's tied 1-1.

Q: What do you think of what Luis said about you?

A: It’s a great feeling when everybody recognizes you, gives you credit and says good things about you, but I’m not going to relax. Our team still has a job to do and we have big things we need to accomplish, so we have to concentrate on the game. You’re never too good, you’re never too bad, you know?

Q: Why have you had so much success early on in this series?

A: Tough question. I’m just playing my game. I’m not trying to do too much. I’m just doing the stuff I’m supposed to do, playing hard, coming with energy every game, and that’s what I have to keep doing. I’m just enjoying what I do.

Q: On the first offensive possession in Game 2, you fought really hard down low and let out a primal roar after you got a foul call. Why?

A: I was just pumped up. I just enjoy getting rebounds, getting putbacks, blocking shots and setting good screens. That’s what I feel good about.

Q: What facets of your game have improved the most?

A: My footwork, my quickness, my ability to be lighter and quicker on my feet and my ability to know what my opponents are doing. But those are things I also feel like I need to keep working at and continuing to get better at.

Q: You’ve been working a lot with Jack Sikma. What has he been able to teach you?

A: Footwork in the low post to get your opponent adjusting. How he’s playing you -- is he close, is he far away? -- and which move you should use.

Q: Earlier this season, you missed significant time with a hand injury. How tough was that?

A: Being hurt is not a good thing. You miss some games, but you have to be able to learn some things when you’re sitting on the bench and see what they’re doing and looking at the different pictures from the bench -- not just when you’re playing. It’s still a learning process.

Q: What is it like playing with Kyle?

A: He’s really focused in the game. He’s trying to know all the plays, what they’re doing -- he’s trying to be a step ahead of the opponent. He’s trying to read all the small situations. I think he’s going to be a coach after his career is over.

Q: You decided to sign a four-year, $64 million contract extension last summer. Why not wait until this summer when you could have gotten more money with the new TV contract kicking in?

A: I’m happy. I got four more years. My head is clear. I’m fighting for the second round right now. I’m not thinking about my contract or anything else. I’m just thinking about basketball and concentrating on the court, not the things that go on in the offices and the paperwork. I’m happy where I am now.

Q: “Traditional” centers could be a dying breed in today’s NBA as teams play small-ball lineups and a more pace-and-space oriented game. How do you view it?

A: I will try to make sure they’re not going to forget about centers. I’ll keep reminding them. You’ve got a lot of guys that can shoot 3s and who are good rebounders. The league is full of guys that can do different things, but I think you still need a center that can rebound the ball and score in the low post.

Q: When are we going to see you hoisting 3-pointers out there?

A: [Laughs] Let’s focus on midrange shots now, OK?

Q: Rumor has it you are a pretty big jokester. There was that time last season you took a PR staffer’s tie and autographed it during your postgame interview session with the media [Valanciunas bought him a new one to replace it]. What are some of your best moments?

A: I don’t know. I just like to laugh once in a while. You have to enjoy yourself. You have to be serious when you have to be serious, but sometimes you have to enjoy yourself and know how to laugh at yourself.

Q: Your mom put you in dance class when you were young. How good were you?

A: You don’t want to see it.

Q: She also raised you by herself in Lithuania. Pretty incredible, isn’t it?

A: I had everything from my mom. She did a wonderful job raising me alone and giving me everything that I needed. Just supporting me and trying to make me comfortable in this world. I want to say thank you.

Q: How is living in Toronto compared to living in Lithuania?

A: The weather is similar. I feel like I’m at home.

Q: Your beard seems to draw a lot of attention, huh?

A: I started growing it three years ago. It’s something that comes naturally, but you’ve got to take care of it. Beard oil helps with that.

Q: Your wife must like it, right?

A: That’s another problem. She doesn’t like it a lot.