Raptors feeling good a quarter of the way through NBA season


The NBA season has rounded the quarter pole and the Toronto Raptors have been one of the early surprises.

Without Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, and with Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka missing significant time due to injuries, Toronto has been extremely sharp defensively and elite shooting three-pointers. The result has been a 15-6 record, the third-best after 21 games in franchise history.

Last year’s 17-4 mark was tops, and the 2014-15 edition started 16-5 on the way to a then-record 49 wins. Still, it’s hard to figure out just who or what the 2019-20 Raptors are. A 9-0 record against teams below .500 has powered this start, so there is still much to prove. A strong effort on Sunday at Philadelphia would be a good statement.

Head coach Nick Nurse and starting centre Marc Gasol were asked Saturday if they know where this team stands a quarter of the way through.

“I kept saying it was too early to look at the numbers and I’ve been using that a little too long. So 20, 25 games I think usually gets you into a sense of who you are and who you can be, and I think we’ve gotta be really happy with where we are at this point,” Nurse said after the team’s third practice of the week, a rarity given the quirks of the schedule.

“Just because I think we’ve looked at some players, played some really good basketball, we’ve played hard, I think, most nights — you can’t argue with the effort — and I think we’ve built a deeper team in this stretch. All kinds of things I think are positives going forward and now you’ve gotta settle in and play the season out and get back to not overreacting to anything,” Nurse said.

“You don’t overreact when you’re 15-4 and you don’t overreact when you’re now 15-6 (after dropping games to Miami and Houston). Just get back to going to work and taking them as they come because you’re probably gonna win quite a few games if you put the effort forward, and you’re gonna slip up every now and then because that’s basketball.”

Gasol believes “our identity is pretty clear. What kind of team we are and what we stand for defensively and what our pillars are on both ends of the floor,” he said.

“Now it’s a matter of putting everything together and we will. I think we’re already are together, just because sometimes we don’t make as many shots or the ball doesn’t move as much, we can still figure out as a team and that’s all that really matters,” he said.

“Guys have the right mindset about it, they’re all in the gym working and thinking about being a great team.”

The next step is getting everything to flow properly now that Lowry and Ibaka have returned. The group was rolling (against weaker competition) without them, and adjustments have to be made with two featured players back in action.

“It’s a matter of putting everything out there and playing and sharing the ball and moving your body, moving the ball, communicating and having a positive mindset and it always works out,” Gasol said.

“I think that once you work for your teammates and you help each other and think about them before you think about yourself, it always fun and that’s the way these guys think and I’m sure we’re going to be just fine.”


Nurse already has more quality players than he has available minutes to dole out, but he’s about to get even more options.

Guard Patrick McCaw has been cleared for contact at practice, though he was not on hand on Saturday due to a medical appointment to get cleared and will meet the team in Philadelphia. Nurse said he’s been upgraded to questionable for the next two games, though it stands to reason they might not just throw him back into game action without some practice time.

“We’ll see how fast we can get him to the court,” Nurse said. “He’s cleared for practice but I don’t know when the next practice would be. Like, Wednesday, supposedly. So he’s still got some days if he needs a practice before he can play.”
Forward Stanley Johnson, who has also been sidelined for a while due to a groin issue, was doing some light work at OVO Centre, but is still “a ways away,” according to Nurse.


Nurse didn’t have any second thoughts about his little “experiment” deployed in trying to contain James Harden and the Rockets on Thursday.

“Gosh, it was really good. Now that I look back on it, I wasn’t quite sure I was glad I did it or not, but I’m 100 percent glad I did it now,” Nurse said of the approach.

“It gives us another interesting thing to do (against MVP caliber players).”

Nurse also mentioned that he might have been a bit too hard on his team’s offence post-game. He pointed out they had about their worst night shooting corner three-pointers, and if a couple of those open looks went down, the result could have been quite different.





Philadelphia will be completing a back-to-back, while Toronto will be starting one. The Sixers hosted Cleveland on Saturday night, making this early game an extremely quick turnaround. Philadelphia has been the NBA’s fifth-best defensive team, while Toronto ranks sixth (before Saturday’s games). Offence has been a bit of an issue, with the Sixers ranking just 18th in efficiency. Things haven’t come together fully yet for this new-look team and that included a recent 117-113 loss to Washington despite a 20-20 game from Joel Embiid and big games from Tobias Harris and Ben Simmons. Guard Josh Richardson missed that game and Saturday’s as well, making him questionable for the Raptors game. The Sixers did hold Wizards superstar Bradley Beal to 7-for-24 shooting in the loss.


Marc Gasol vs. Joel Embiid Gasol was the driving force in limiting Embiid, arguably the NBA’s best centre, to 36.3% shooting in the East semi-final, then completely shut him down in a recent Toronto visit by the Sixers. Gasol would not entertain questions on Saturday that he’s in Embiid’s head though. The team is keeping Embiid’s minutes down this season in an effort to get the most out of him both now and down the line. Embiid’s production has dipped a bit as a result, though he’s actually rebounding better, getting to the free throw line at a slightly higher rate and averaging a tad more win shares per 48 minutes.

All that said, Embiid missed Saturday’s game due to a hip contusion and was not guaranteed to return for Sunday.


These franchises have met twice in the post-season and both seven-game series were epics that won’t soon be forgotten … Philadelphia is the NBA’s best rebounding team … Toronto has won four of the last five regular season meetings … The Raptors hold opponents to .411 shooting, tops in the league.