Toronto Raptors ready to pick up where they left off in title defense

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The Toronto Raptors were the hottest team in the NBA at the start of March, on a four-game winning streak among the league’s best, after a solid swing on the West Coast and coming off a berth in playoffs. They were happily making their pre-season reviews eat their words.Then the threat of COVID-19 swept through sports like a prairie fire. The suspension from the NBA on March 11 was just the first domino to fall into what would become a global gang.

Now, 145 days after the Raptors last played a meaningful game – a 101-92 victory over the Jazz on March 9 – the Raptors will resume their NBA Championship defense on Saturday against the Los Angeles Lakers in a world that looks very different than when they came out of the Utah field.

The Raptors will once again attempt to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy into the nearly empty NBA bubble arena at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex at the Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., As the coronavirus makes its way rage all around them. And they hope to continue their work on social justice while they are at it.

WATCH | Raptors focus on social issues, title defense:

The NBA is returning to the field after a four-month absence and as the Toronto Raptors aim to defend their league title, the players are also shedding light on social injustice. 1:47

After the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer that sparked an American uprising, players feared the NBA’s takeover could slow the momentum. Their voices would not be heard. The league and its players have therefore devoted much of the recovery to the work of racial justice.

As Wayne Embry, the team’s senior basketball advisor, says in a Raptors promotional video, “We don’t just come back to the game, we come back to the fight – ball in hand and fist up. ”

The Raptors are No.2 in the Eastern Conference (46-18) and are not expected to drop lower than No.3 in the eight standings round games that determine the postseason clashes.

While Kawhi Leonard’s loss to the Los Angeles Clippers last summer made people mock Toronto’s chances in yet another playoff series, the Raptors paid no heed, climbing to second. conference rank despite injuries – Toronto was fifth worst in the league. in matches lost to injury.

A spot in the NBA Finals would mean being sequestered on the NBA campus until mid-October. Coach Nick Nurse thinks his team have what it takes to ring in the fall at Disney World.

“I think we have special players, I think we have a good combination of experience with energetic youth, I think we play defense and we really like to play defense. I think if you play defense at a level that we’re capable of doing, you can go a long way any season, really, ”he said.

The nurse spoke of the “peculiarity” of some players, then proceeded to list virtually all of her roster.

“It’s a good group of guys, and we have tenacity and we love to play and we love to compete,” he said. “We can’t wait to be able to do what we’re doing there and think we’re hard to beat. ”

The Raptors have the toughest schedule of the 22 teams in the bubble, facing teams such as Milwaukee, Philadelphia and Boston over the next two weeks.

The nurse said her players were eager to start.

“The feel, there is excitement and energy there, but it seems to be very similar, back to the regular season,” he said. “It feels like March… when it comes to games, it’s an attitude that it’s March rather than November, October (the traditional start of the regular season), whatever. ”

Injury is a concern after a four-month layoff that for many players was the longest of their careers.

“We have this confidence in ourselves now,” says Ibaka

The Nurse is unlikely to tighten her rotation ahead of the playoffs, to allow her players time to resume playing full games. But it might be difficult to contain them.

“You know it’s going to be too hard for me and for players like me and all the pros to hold me back,” said rambling goaltender Kyle Lowry. “Nick is going to do his best for us and we trust him and what he’s going to do and we’re going to ride with the decisions he makes and we’re going to go out there and try to improve and try to win every game.” . ”

Serge Ibaka believes the Raptors’ experience and sense of solidarity will take them far into the post-season.

“We have this confidence in ourselves now, after last year, we believe in ourselves,” he said. “I think it’s our trust, nobody can take that from us, we trust each other, we know what to do to win… No matter what is going on there, whatever they say (about us) , I think that’s one thing that they can’t take away from us, it’s our trust, and how we live with each other, how we know how to play with each other, I think a something that no one can take from us. ”

Is there something Lowry is curious to see from his team after the long break?

“Nah,” he said. “I just want to get back to work, to be honest with you. “

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