The Raptors arrived in London, England around 11am on Monday morning – following and overnight a flight from Toronto that last just under seven hours. Dwane Casey gave his players the day off as well, so most of the guys had a chance to rest and recuperate and get their bodies right for Tuesday’s practice.
Both the Raptors and Orlando Magic were scheduled to practice at Ethos at Imperial College – less than five minutes from London’s famous Hyde Park – but Orlando cancelled their workout and any of the connected media commitments as well. The Magic didn’t arrive overseas until Tuesday and Scott Skiles, understandably, didn’t want his players on the floor after the long flight and time zone adjustment.
As a result Toronto was in the spotlight. A lot of folks back in Ontario and across Canada had been asking me about the interest in the game from a British perspective and I had been telling folks that the buzz was luke-warm at best. But if the gathering of media at Ethos was any indication, I was entirely wrong.
By my rough estimate there had to be 80-100 members of the media in attendance— from writers and broadcasters to photographers and videographers— and they were all clamouring for the Raptors’ attention.
Though many scrums and conversations broke out across the gym with the likes of Cory Joseph, Patrick Patterson, Jonas Valanciunas and Bismack Biyombo, it was the combination of DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry and Casey that attracted the most coverage.
Casey— when not being asked by one reporter who the best team in the NBA was (“Golden State or San Antonio?”)— stuck to the same script he has had for Toronto reporters over the last couple of days: This is a business trip.
And the coach is right. As nice as it is that most of the players were able to bring family and friends with them overseas (including many young children as well), the fact remains that Thursday’s game against Orlando is not an exhibition. It’s a regular season game that could carry a lot of importance based on how jammed-up the standings are in the Eastern Conference.
“They are a very physical basketball team – a lot like [Skiles’] teams in Milwaukee and Chicago were,” said Casey of the Magic.
He added that Toronto took their first loss of the season— back in November, after a 5-0 start— in Orlando so they’re a tough foe that the Raptors can’t lose focus of.
THE KYLE AND DEMAR SHOW
It has happened a few times over the years in Toronto – but not often. DeRozan and Lowry opted to do their scrum with the media together, shoulder to shoulder. From a TV perspective – or for a reporter on any medium, for that matter – the logistics aren’t fantastic. But the set up certainly makes for a looser setting and both players seemed more-than-willing to bust some chops and have some fun at the expense of one another.
Perhaps the best moment came when DeRozan told a local scribe that the Raptors had gone 0-2 the last time the club came to London in 2011 and, thus, he was looking to get his first win and improve to “one and three” in the UK.
Lowry looked, stunned and perplexed, eye-rolling at his teammate as he tried to re-do the math for him. Here’s how the conversation went:
KL: You played three games?
DD: Ya, this will be my third game.
KL: So, one and TWO.
DD: You know what I mean.
KL: No, I don’t.
DD: No, wait…..
KL: If you played two games and you add one …
DD: That’s three games!”
KL: Ya but you said one AND three.
I then jumped in and tried to throw DeRozan a lifeline, suggesting: “One FOR three.”
KL: “Oh, one FOR three?”
DD: “Ya, that’s what I meant.”
Lowry ended the lesson for DeRozan with a sarcastic “USC, baby.”
After DeRozan shrugged off the jabs, he did say that the energy level in London won’t be an issue for him or his teammates. Though he acknowledge that the time difference and fatigue from the flight is tough to get used to on such a short turn-around, he believes adrenaline will take over come game-time and enabled the guys to power through.
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As I noted in my column two days ago, a number of the Raptors players and coaches— including the likes of Patterson, Joseph, Lucas Nogueira and Luis Scola— are scheduled to take in the Chelsea/West Brom match on Wednesday night. Outside of a team photo taken near Westminster and Big Ben (on Tuesday afternoon), the soccer match is one of the few team-organized events in London. The players have otherwise been left to themselves to do their own sightseeing and exploring with family and friends. But Patterson is certainly excited to see Chelsea, live.
“It’s a sport that I played growing up,” he said. “Once I got too tall I stopped. But I always admired the footwork. The things that they can do with the soccer ball is beyond amazing.”
The Raptors tip-off against the Orlando Magic Thursday at 3 pm. ET on SN1 live from London’s 02 Arena.