Nick Nurse was proactive on the eve of his first official game as an NBA coach. He woke up early Tuesday morning and went to the gym in an effort to ensure he’ll be tuckered out at the end of the day and actually get some sleep.
Of course, no one would blame Nurse if nerves kept him up. The rookie head coach is about to enter a season in which he’s expected to guide the Toronto Raptors to new heights.
“I’ll be OK,” Nurse said during a guest spot on Sportsnet’s Starting Lineup Tuesday morning. “I’m looking forward to it.”
As for those heights, Nurse is keenly aware that what his club does next spring will be open to more scrutiny than anything in the months before.
“For us, where we are is playoff success, really,” Nurse told hosts Greg Brady and Elliott Price on Sportsnet 590 The FAN. “Fifty-nine or 54 or 52 or 49 wins isn’t going to mean a whole lot. What’s going to mean a whole lot to me, our organization and our fans is how we perform in the playoffs and how deep a run we can make and that’s what we’re setting our sights on.”
The Raptors finished with a franchise-record 59 wins last season, but were ultimately swept in four games by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference semifinals. It marked the third straight year the Raptors were eliminated by the Cavs and in large part led to the firing of head coach Dwane Casey and the blockbuster deal that swapped DeMar DeRozan for Kawhi Leonard.
The Raptors are set to face those same Cavs on Wednesday at Scotiabank Arena, albeit the DNA of that franchise was drastically altered in the summer when LeBron James departed to join the Los Angeles Lakers.
“There’s only a small part of you that wishes he was here, that you wanted to knock him out,” said Nurse when asked if he was happy to see James leave the East. “I had that mode going last year pretty strongly that we wanted to be the ones that took him out, but unfortunately it didn’t go that way. [I’m] in the former category [now]. Have fun out in L.A. and we’ll see you way down the road if we see you at all.”
Of course, the path to conference supremacy is not guaranteed for the Raptors. The Boston Celtics are generally viewed as an elite superpower and a visit to Toronto on Friday will offer somewhat of a showcase for both teams.
“In the regular season, they all only count for one win or one loss,” said Nurse. “But for a team or coaching staff, these are tests and you want to see where you’re at. They’re certainly tremendous learning experiences. That’s kind of where we are — we need to play these real games, we need to play some good teams and find out exactly where we are, so we can begin on the process of getting down the path of reaching our potential.
“You can’t do that unless you play some real good teams. It’s a great test for us to see where we are.”
Listen to the full interview in the audio player below.