Two days after laying waste to the sad-sack Charlotte Hornets, the Raptors thumped the injury-riddled Orlando Magic 113-97 in Toronto.
The defending NBA champions improved to 10-4 thanks to contributions from nearly the entire roster. Fred VanVleet scored 24 points, Pascal Siakam 18, Terence Davis set a new career high (for the fourth time in 10 days) with 17, Norman Powell added 15, Chris Boucher 12 points and 11 rebounds off of the bench. Evan Fournier led Orlando with 21 points.
Orlando had won three games in a row before embarking on a four-game road trip north of the border. The teams will meet again on Nov. 29, already the third meeting of the year between last year’s first round opponents.
The Raptors led 61-51 at the break when a D.J. Augustin three-pointer was ruled too late upon review. At that point the game was still at least somewhat still in doubt. But the Magic lost all-star centre Nikola Vucevic midway through the second quarter due to an ankle injury. Vucevic couldn’t put any weight on the ankle as he was helped off. At the time he had gone just 1-for-8 from the field, but led all players in rebounds and assists. Vucevic is just 2-for-21 from the field this year against Marc Gasol, who dominated him in the playoffs. The Magic also lost starter Aaron Gordon at the half with an ankle injury of his own. Without those two pillars, Orlando fought valiantly for a spell, trailing only 79-68 after a third quarter that was tough on the eyes, but the Raptors pulled away in the fourth.
Powell has scored at least 14 points in all but one of his past seven games. That’s the kind of consistency head coach Nick Nurse has been looking for from him.
DOING IT BY COMMITTEE
With various Raptors missing time due to injuries this season, others have been required to step in. Instead of fretting about who has been out, head coach Nick Nurse says he has enjoyed getting a glimpse of what some other players can do.
“I try to look at it as a really cool opportunity for some guys, and don’t fret very long about missing some guys and say, ‘OK, let’s look at the bright side,’” Nurse said.
“We get a couple guys who get a great opportunity. We need to develop guys, we’re gonna need some guys later. Maybe some of our guys that are out get some miles rested and that’ll benefit us later in the year as well,” he noted.
Nurse said centre Serge Ibaka could return at some point on the weekend. As first reported by Postmedia a couple of days ago, Ibaka’s tender ankle has mostly healed up. Kyle Lowry’s return date is less certain.
A few days ago Powell – who has been getting a chance to start with Lowry out – was asked what he’d learned about Toronto’s depth.
“We have a good team and the guys who are fighting for minutes, fighting for an opportunity, we know those guys were going to come in and step up,” Powell said.
“They’re hungry to go out there and play and contribute to the team. We weren’t really worried about what people were saying outside of what the team believes. We always have that next man up mentality and go out and lay it all on the line and we’re not going to back down and that group of guys that has that same mentality are able to just go out there and play.”
Davis, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Boucher took advantage of the extra minutes in the first half on Wednesday, giving the Magic all kinds of fits. Boucher hit double figures in scoring for the fourth time in his past six games. Davis had 13 points in the first half, including eight in his first two minutes and set a new scoring high for the fourth time in 10 days.
FEELING FOR BABCOCK
Mike Babcock’s firing as head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs was the talk of the town and it filtered down to the Raptors.
“Obviously known him for a little while and had some good conversations with him and it’s very tough,” Nurse said.“ Tough business and tough when it’s in your own organization like that, for sure … I thought from my takeaways from him, he liked to really work hard and practice hard and coach hard. There’s still, believe it or not in this day and age, there’s still a place for that,” Nurse said.
NO WORRIES ABOUT GASOL
Marc Gasol might be averaging career-lows in scoring, field goal percentage and shot attempts (with a two-point percentage below 30%, even though he’s close to 50% on two-pointers for his career), but the Raptors aren’t concerned.
Gasol is still one of the club’s leaders in plus minus and an elite defender.
“He is such a pillar to our defence and a captain back there behind it and he’s also kind of a revolving wheel on the offence. You always hear me say it, throw the ball to Marc and start cutting,” Nurse said.
“I can’t hardly remember his bad games if he’s had a few here or whatever. I just think he brings so much to our team from a leadership, defensive, passing, likability, winner, that even if he goes 1-for-6 or even if he has a game where he has two points, he usually still has a really good game out there. He’s not really measured by that any more, for our team at least.”
Gasol had scored only five points in a recent win over Charlotte, but added nine assists and eight rebounds. In this one he again nearly had more rebounds or assists than points, but was still very good.