How far they can climb the mountain is in their hands, and all of those hands will be on the bridge for a change.
It’s all three of those exhibition games as the NBA as a whole and the Toronto Raptors in particular woke up from a four-month, mid-season hibernation induced by a pandemic.
After their 117-106 loss to the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday afternoon, the Raptors fell to 2-1 in an exhibition game at the Wide World of Disney Resort, where 22 teams centralized and – provided the coronavirus did not no more to say about the 2019-2020 season than it has already done – we will leave in October as champion.
The Raptors fully – and rightly – expect them to be the only one.
Their NBA title defense briefly looked like it could be pulled away from them by circumstances far beyond anything they or anyone else could control, but is now about to begin in earnest.
It’s hard to imagine they won’t be ready, even though their display against the Suns might indicate otherwise.
A better indication will come on Saturday when the Raptors open their eight-game playoff schedule against LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers.
It can’t come soon enough.
After the initial basketball thrill of even three games, it was obvious it wasn’t all the way home – it lacked urgency, adrenaline, and a clear sense of purpose.
“I think I’m glad there aren’t any more, right?” Raptors head coach Nick Nurse said, without any argument. “I think we’ve gone too far with these… certainly [based on] our state of mind or the way we played tonight.
“But it’s okay. Look, we haven’t had a lot of awesome, committed play tonight yet, and that showed up in the transition defense and the disputed shots and the missed assignments and stuff like that, ”he said. . “But it’s so trivial that you can sort of wash it off pretty quickly and I hope we get their attention here for a few days of practice, which I’m sure we’ll do, and we’ll sort out some things and then we can see Saturday night what the deal is. ”
Despite the result against the Young Suns – the longest long shot to even qualify for the playoffs in standings games – the Raptors couldn’t be better positioned.
The number one goal was to get through the competition matches in good health and the second goal was to build up all the key elements for more intense competition to come.
It was a success on both counts, as Nurse was able to get everything expected to be the top seven players in her rotation with at least 20 minutes of playing time, topped by Pascal Siakam, who used his 26 minutes to lead the Raptors. to score. with 17 points, including 4 out of 5 out of three.
Only the status of deep wing defender Patrick McCaw is in doubt as he faces an undisclosed injury.
And even in what was a game mess, from the Raptors’ perspective – they made 28 turnovers, more than double their season average – there were a lot of encouraging signs.
Marc Gasol has been a bit of a mystery all year due to hamstring issues that limited him to 36 of the Raptors’ first 64 games. He didn’t play in the first exhibition match and managed an inconsequential 10 minutes in the second, but on Tuesday afternoon Gasol looked confident and as ready to contribute as his hunched physique suggests. .
He faced off for a three, blocked Suns big man Deandre Ayton at the rim and shot an elbow jumper in the opening minutes.
He took four shots in his first five minutes – a positive indicator of his level of attacking commitment, even though he only knocked down a single jumper in the first half. He hit a three in the second half and finished with five points, nine rebounds and a pair of assists.
Oh, and defensively Gasol still has it. He kept Ayton – a 20-10 machine in the regular season – to seven points and six rebounds on 3 of 8 shots. Just a warm-up for another potential playoff game against Philadelphia 76ers big man Joel Embiid?
If there’s a weird podcasting couple, maybe this is it. Donnovan Bennett and JD Bunkis don’t agree on much, but you’ll agree this is the Toronto Raptors’ best podcast.
Another minor concern – and we come here – was Norman Powell’s missing offense, and that was addressed as well.
After finishing 1 in 10 in three in the first two games and shooting just 7 of 21 overall, Powell looked like the threat of pre-pandemic breakouts off the bench again.
He finished with 14 points on 11 shots but that was the nature of some of his six marks: a triple from the top while waving screens late in the clock; another coming off the break in the transition, another bouncing in traffic on the lane – Powell’s trademarks playing with maximum confidence.
“Obviously taking so much time, the flow, the feel, the pace, the balance of the way you were before – it will take time to get all of that back,” said Powell, who was the last player to be. appointed. The Eastern Conference player from the week before the NBA took a hiatus from March 11. “So go ahead and play and let it all hang out.” You’re going to make mistakes, miss shots, return the ball, whatever you try to pick up in the way you were playing before.
“Every game you try to get a little something out of it,” Powell said of his rough start. “… As long as I got a good appearance and shot with confidence, it was just right to move on to the next game. I’ve taken these shots a million times so it’s nothing [to panic over]. Today I felt a little better. A little more pop in my legs, a little more feel, a little more fluidity.
Power will resume shortly. The Raptors’ opponents for their eight league games have a team winning percentage of 0.638, making it the toughest schedule among the 22 teams in the bubble.
But they do have some advantages – a three-game lead in second place in the East over the Boston Celtics in third place, and the confidence to have won an NBA title not too long ago.
It’s what informs everything the Raptors do as the season turns the corner and finally begins to join heavy traffic.
A tough afternoon against the Suns in the last exhibition game before they start playing games that matter just can’t be that bad, and it would be a mistake to do so.
The nurse doesn’t make that kind of mistake and neither do her players.
How long until the memory of an afternoon sidelined at Disney is emptied from the collective memory of the Raptors?
“Right after the game was over,” said Powell. “We’re obviously going to talk about it and how we can get better and better, but we take it for what it is and move on. It’s true on Saturday so we can’t focus too much on this one. We’re going to learn the lessons (lessons) that we can and see how we can improve for ranking games and prepare for the real deal.