The Raptors are out of quarantine and looking to establish routines as they mark the days before the re-start of the 2019-20 season which was put on hiatus on March 11 due to the coronavirus pandemic. They practiced for the second day on campus in the so-called ‘Covid Bubble’ at Walt Disney World Resort outside Orlando.
Some notes, quotes and anecdotes follow.
Home for now
When Terence Davis checked into what he hopes will be his accommodations for the next three months, there were already touches of home in place.
He put his bags down, looked around and saw pictures of his one-year-old son, Hasaan, and other pictures of him with his family after a game when he starred in college at Ole Miss.
They’re small touches but the kind of things that reflect planning and attention to detail on the part of the organization, and they matter as the team settles in for what could be a long stay.
“I noticed it walking in my room,” the Raptors rookie said during a conference call after the Raptors second day of practice in Orlando. “They had pictures set up, one of me and my son and then one of all my family members at a college game. It meant a lot, man.
“It felt like they really care. Just seeing the pictures, it was heart-warming. Obviously, I miss my son every day, just being without him, but one day he’ll understand what daddy does for a living.”
Davis said he spent the first little while in his room getting it organized for the long haul.
“I got my games set up for sure, [I] recently put my clothes in my drawers, folded them up, making it home. We’ll be here for a few months so definitely making it home right now.”
He says he hasn’t really toured around to take in the amenities that are on offer from the NBA, which range from fishing trips to golf outings to live DJ sets pool side.
“… I’m just trying to get the hand of things and how things are going,” David said. “Like breakfast is sometimes in my room and sometimes it’s in the meal room. So, just really getting the hang of things right now. Maybe I’ll venture out but right now it’s really about business.”
Easing into things
During the regular season practice time is a precious commodity as teams have to balance rest, travel and injuries. While skill development and film sessions are constant, even one full practice a week during the season can seem like a luxury. With nothing to do but practice — the Raptors have 13 scheduled before they meet the Los Angeles Lakers on Aug. 1 — the challenge for head coach Nick Nurse is to not overcook things. Veterans like Marc Gasol and Kyle Lowry will get consideration, but Nurse says he plans to monitor all the members of his rotation that will likely bear the brunt of load once competition resumes.
“You go hard for a few days and then you might pull guys out and start sprinkling in some days off around the board, and Marc is certainly a candidate for that. Obviously I would even put Pascal, OG, Freddy, Kyle into that group, too, Serge, that we’ll again probably monitor it individually but almost mandate some days off in there again to let their bodies kind of regroup for a full day and recharge as we get back here early.”
Nothing to see here
Gasol was supposed to speak to the media for the first time since the hiatus by way of a conference call on Sunday but there was a late change in plans when he left practice early. Given Gasol missed 28 of the Raptors first 64 games with hamstring issues after playing career-high 115 games in 2018-19, totalling NBA regular season, playoffs and leading Spain to gold at the World Cup, eyebrows were raised.
No need to be alarmed
“He did practice, like I said, a good portion of the first bit,” said Nurse. “… We got started pretty early today, and he just, they just decided to get him an early ride back instead of just sitting around for the next, whatever. One of the things getting back and forth is you kind of have to hang out a little bit, and since he was done already they just gave him a quick ride back is all.”
And his hamstring?
“As far as I’m aware, he’s fully healed,” said Nurse. “And as you know he looks great. His skills look fantastic as well. He looks like he’s in good shape. I don’t see any issues.”
Let’s do this!
It’s the little details that are vital
Step by steppic.twitter.com/4IgJbNhsga
— Marc Gasol (@MarcGasol) July 10, 2020
Gasol’s diet an inspiration
Without saying a word in public Gasol has been one of the stars of the hiatus, generating considerable buzz with his ‘skinny Gasol’ look. His teammates remain impressed as the 35-year-old looks to be well under his 255-lb listed weight.
“I love it, he’s in playoff mode right now,” said Davis. “He’ll probably tell you that himself, he’s been in playoff mode since [last] April and he’s gonna continue being in that mode. He looks really, really good, he’s moving really well. He looks like Prime Marc to me, so, I don’t know, man. It’s scary.”
Whether that could translate into a punchier scoring role for the Spanish centre remains to be seen. As valuable a defender, passer and screen setter as Gasol has been since joining the Raptors at the trade deadline prior to their championship run, he’s only scored 8.3 points a game with Toronto. Two seasons ago he scored 17.2 per game for Memphis and he put up a career-high 19.5 points a game in 2016-17.
“I’d probably like to make him a main cog in the offence, but the way things have been going since he’s been here, and even this year, it seems to be, there’s a lot of guys who can chip in on this thing,” said Nurse. “I think there’s probably some baskets in him in the fourth quarter or down the stretch we can probably find, and play a little bit inside out through him as well, because like I always say, any time we can get him the ball, good things happen, not necessarily buckets from him, but good things happen [so it would] probably good to see if we can get his usage rate up. Again, I’m working on it, I’m not sure it’s going to happen, but it is a thought in the forefront of what we’re (doing).”
Nurse -– who says he’d like to lose a few pounds himself –- says in talking to Gasol it was the routine afforded by the lockdown that was an early feature of the pandemic that helped the big man’s cause and leaves little excuse for the rest of us.
“I didn’t ask him what his purpose was [for his weight loss],” said Nurse. “I would imagine, just guessing his purpose is kind of get in shape, play at his highest level, continue to get better as a player.
“I did ask him about what was the key, what’d you do, and he just said ‘Man, it was consistency,’ it was just again with the situation we’ve all been in in the last four months, you take out the games and all the long road trips and the late night flights, and all the things that factor in making fitness and nutrition a little harder, take all those out and he just said it was a consistent rhythm, eating at the same time every day, and eating very healthy obviously, and all that stuff.”
Finding a rhythm
With 22 teams sharing three practice floors, scheduling is somewhat out of the team’s hands, but you won’t find Nurse complaining. Teams generally are assigned a three-hour block in the morning or the afternoon in which they need to get warm-ups done, team drill work and individual skill development.
It’s plenty, Nurse says.
“I think all of us for four months have lost the rhythm of our lives, right, the ways we probably want them to set up,” he said. “You just kinda gotta be open-minded and adaptable and just kind of take it.
“I mean a three-hour block of time is a pretty long time that we can usually get our stretching and corrective pre-practice work done, start somewhere in the middle of that… block of time to get their main work done and then you kind of taper out of it, get some shooting.
“You’ve seen us before, some of the younger guys… kind of putting the second session to kind of get ‘em those reps that they need on the defensive end and all that stuff.
“We’re trying to manage it a little bit individually but also get a bunch of group work done as well.”