The Toronto Raptors are finally back to full strength; something the team is seemingly always chasing and seldom maintaining.
Three more Raptors return from protocol
Josh Lewenberg of TSN tweeted Thursday that starters Fred Vanvleet, OG Anunoby and Scottie Barnes have cleared COVID-19 protocol and returned to practice. That leaves just two Raptors remaining out due to health and safety concerns: Justin Champagnie and Isaac Bonga.
Raptors dressed eight players, four regulars vs Cavs
The Raptors had as many as ten players miss a game this week, dressing just eight guys and four regulars for Sunday’s matchup against the Cleveland Cavaliers. The team had to sign multiple players to ten-day contracts to fill enough roster spots to play. Unsurprisingly, the severely undermanned Raptors proved to be inferior to the semi-healthy Cavs, as they fell by a score of 144-99. Yuta Watanabe made the most of the opportunity, pouring in 26 points and grabbing 13 rebounds on 55% shooting and 2-5 from downtown.
Three of Toronto’s previous four games had been postponed. They will have to make up two games against the Bulls and one against the Magic at some point this season.
Undermanned Raptors fall vs Philly
The Raptors got Pascal Siakam, Gary Trent Jr. and Malachi Flynn back for Tuesday’s game against the Philadelphia 76ers but still remained without three key starters. Siakam finished with 28 points, 6 rebounds and 8 assists while Chris Boucher added 28 of his own to go with 19 rebounds, and a pair of blocks. He finished an incredibly-efficient 10-14 from the field and 5-7 from deep. Impressively, Toronto stayed in the game right down to the final minute before the 76ers pulled away late; 114-109 the final.
Uphill playoff battle continues
The Raptors’ continuous battle for playoff positioning has come with an abundance of obstacles and complications. A .500 record seems to the benchmark for this team. They have been a game under six different times this season, yet they have not surpassed that since November 10th when they were 6-6. Just when they seem to build momentum and string together a couple of wins, that seems to be when injury or COVID strikes. They now sit 14-17 after losing two-straight that can both be chalked up to missing key players. They keep finding themselves in that one-to-three games below .500 range, and here they are right back at the bottom of that spectrum.
Raptors were playing high-quality basketball pre-COVID
However, the Raptors have real reason to feel good about where they are at. Before the entire league got caught up in a whirlwind of missed games, the Raptors were playing some of the best basketball in the NBA. They had gone on a 5-2 seven-game run that ranked them 2nd in net rating, 6th in offense and 3rd in defense. Yet, they were still missing multiple key players to injury. If the Raptors can get back into that groove, they should have no trouble making up those three games.
Raptors hope battle with COVID won’t be as difficult this time around
The Raptors’ 2020-21 season was derailed by COVID, probably more than any other team. They can only hope that this season will be different and allow them to overcome their struggles, at least to some extent. Head coach Nick Nurse is optimistic that that will be the case.
“It seems to me, around the league, you are not hearing the same things you were hearing a year ago,” Nurse said. “They are just not feeling as bad when they have it or as winded or whatever when they come out. So I’m confident once this thing passes here this week we should be okay and get up to speed pretty quickly.”
The Raptors host the LA Clippers on Friday at 7:30 pm ET from Scotiabank Arena in downtown Toronto.