Kyle Lowry’s return will mean the Raptors are getting serious about the regular season


There’s nothing like a little age and wisdom and experience to add some pizzazz and purpose to the final week of the NBA pre-season for the Toronto Raptors.

With only a week remaining until the emotional banner-raising, ring-distribution night that will put a final exclamation point on the team’s championship run, there will be a welcome sense of normalcy to practices and the final pretend game.

Kyle Lowry should finally get back on the court and join the other veterans who’ve been resting a bit and coasting a bit since training camp began late last month in Quebec. Finally.

“We’re obviously going to have to get Kyle some work here this week but you can tell the difference, I think, when you get some vet, high-IQ toughness guys back out there,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said after Sunday’s disjointed loss to the Chicago Bulls at the Scoatiabank Arena.

That’s what he and the players are looking for in a half-dozen practices and one final pre-season game in Brooklyn on Friday leading into next Tuesday’s regular-season opener against the New Orleans Pelicans. They figure they have enough time and enough collective smarts and experience that it won’t take long to get fully up to speed.

“Even in Tokyo (in two games last week) when (Marc) Gasol hit the floor, you could see this galvanizing,” Nurse said. “One big, strong, smart guy hits the floor and that kind of changes the way things look and that’s what it’ll be like when Kyle hits the floor, too.”

The truth is, as long as the Raptors get some work in for their top seven guys or so, get them in the flow of things and work off each other as they did in the playoffs last season, that’s all they need. It might be slow at times — Lowry hasn’t picked up a ball in serious work since thumb surgery in July — but it’s kind of second nature to the main group.

“I think we got some pretty extended minutes out of our guys in Japan, and I thought they played really well (minus Lowry),” Nurse said. “I thought there was some really good chemistry there and the ball was moving and the shots were coming and there wasn’t much bog-down, and there was times when they decided to play some defence and they really did a decent job.

“So I’m not overly concerned. I think you guys can see there’s probably eight guys for sure, and we’re just looking for a couple more that are going to fill into some roles.”

There’s a clear delineation right now between the top tier Raptors and the back of the rotation two or three. Lowry, Norm Powell, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam and Gasol are basically locked in as starters and Fred VanVleet and Serge Ibaka are the key bench guys. Perhaps Patrick McCaw becomes No. 8 — he twisted a knee Sunday and was getting further examination on Monday — but no one knows for sure who’ll play a lot after that group.

“That could be a lot of guys at this point,” Nurse said. “Is there much difference between this guy, this guy, this guy, this guy, and this guy? I don’t know.”

The criteria to win those minutes, or lose them, are simple.

“For me, it starts with who’s going to execute the defensive game plan and who’s going to be a safe pair of hands on offence, and then who’s going to not be afraid to take the kick-out shot, because while they’re in there they’ll probably get a few.”

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Doug Smith