A team reliant on stars not all that long ago now will lean on togetherness when the Toronto Raptors open their season against the visiting Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday night.
Winners of the 2019 NBA Finals behind players like Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry, the Raptors still have leftover experience from that squad in Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet and OG Anunoby as head coach Nick Nurse leans on a team approach.
“The ideal, or the premise, is that’s who we are and that’s the way we’ve got to play and it probably is,” Nurse said. “We need to go out there and you need to feel us at the defensive end and understand it’s going to be a fight.
“Even if we can’t (score at will), we’re going to keep trying. We’re going to be on the glass so hard that we’re not leaving until we get a bucket, that type of thing.”
It also will help the Raptors that Siakam will be ready to open this season. He missedthe first 10 games last season as he completed his rehabilitation from shoulder surgery. It also took him several games to gain his top form.
“I’m starting the season at the point where I want to start and not having to play catch up,” Siakam said.
Said Nurse: “He, probably, of all the guys, was the most ready to go right at the start.”
Otto Porter Jr., Juancho Hernangomezand rookie Christian Koloko are among the newcomers to the Raptors. Porter is dealing with a hamstring injury and is at least a week away from playing in a game.
VanVleet sets the tone at point guard with his high work ethic.
“He sets it just because that’s his nature,” Nurse said. “He competes to win. That’s just who he is. He doesn’t know (any other way). … I think Freddie does it and it gets handed off. I think Pascal does it and it trickles down. I think Scottie (Barnes) does it.”
The Cavaliers added star power with the acquisition of Donovan Mitchell from the Utah Jazz. He will team in the backcourt with Darius Garland.
They will need time to learn how to play together.
“We talked about the willingness to make something work and a willingness to help somebody besides yourself,” Cavaliers coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “Taking time to watch another guy so that you can help him speaks to Darius’s character and leadership because he understands the value of it. I think it definitely helps”
The early results were promising.
“They play well together because they understand how to play basketball,” Bickerstaff said. “They are two intelligent guys who make shots and know how to pass the ball. They are so dangerous, (opponents) will have to pay attention to them. People won’t want to leave them open. That’s going to help everybody.”
Bickerstaff knows there is much to be done.
“(The team is) a work in progress, a new interesting dynamic,” Bickerstaff said. “We’re not a finished product.”
There are high expectations for second-year forward Evan Mobley, who appears ready for the regular season after missing the first three preseason games with a sprained ankle.
“I feel like last year I really didn’t know where my spots were as much as I know now,” Mobley said. “I know where I’m going to get the ball, how I want to score and stuff like that. It’s like second nature. First year. I was learning the system and trying to learn players as well. I think this year it’s going to translate better.”
–Field Level Media