Raptors’ Nurse thinks off-script coaching could be key in bubble

Nick Nurse explains how the new training and practice schedule for the Toronto Raptors feels like a summer basketball camp.

Nick Nurse knows there will be some unpredictable and uncontrollable aspects to the NBA’s restart.

The Toronto Raptors head coach was a guest on ESPN Radio’s Golic and Wingo show Thursday where he talked about the mental challenge of coaching in a bubble environment.

“The biggest thing that I’m thinking about is being really open-minded,” Nurse said. “It’s fine to have some plans but you’ve got to be comfortable getting off that playbook and maybe doing something else and just really having a feel and some connection with what’s happening in the moment each day.

“Things may change and you may say, ‘Hey, geez normally we’d have two film sessions and a practice and another walkthrough,’ and some of that stuff may not roll out the same but the ball’s going to go up anyway and maybe a guy will be out (of the lineup) here and there. But we go through not having players through injury (during the season). This is obviously a lot different and much more unknown, but I think being open-minded to change course of action quickly and just accepting what is and still trying to put your best effort out there each and every day.”

Being the only NBA team located outside of the United States, the Raptors had to do things slightly differently to prepare for the resumption of the 2019-20 season, so the team travelled to Fort Myers, Fla., on June 22 where they’ve been training at the facilities at Florida Gulf Coast University. They are expected to relocate on July 9 and join the other NBA teams involved in the league’s restart in Orlando.

Since the Raptors have already had a taste of bubble life prior to arriving at Disney World, Nurse isn’t concerned about his players adjusting to life in Orlando.

“For the most part I think our guys here so far in eight or nine or 10 days have grown accustomed to the deal and what we’ve asked them to do,” he said.

Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard expressed doubt on Wednesday that players will strictly follow the rules and protocols put in place by their teams and the league.

“I don’t think anybody’s going to be perfect,” Nurse said in regard to Lillard’s sentiment. “I think that there’s some reasonable risk but there’s also a lot of things going on. The extensiveness to what we’re doing as far as players come in and cleaning the court and each player has his own ball the whole time we’re here. There’s so many levels of things that we’re doing to try to stay safe. I think we’re doing as much as we can do and I’m sure the NBA in the bubble in Orlando is going to be as safe as they can make it. … On that sense, everybody’s got to buy in, everybody’s got to do it together.

“The sense that I’m getting from our guys is they’re really ready and eager and hungry to play. I would assume that there’s a heck of a lot of other teams that have the same vibe.”

The NBA season was suspended on March 11 due to the coronavirus pandemic and players were isolated and in limbo for several months. Because of this Nurse believes fitness will be perhaps the most important aspect of what will determine a team’s success.

“I know it sounds very obvious but the conditioning is going to need to get ramped up,” Nurse said. “I mean when those playoff games start there’s a heck of a lot of energy and a lot of speed and guys are moving really fast so being able to do that over a sustained period – you get into playoff games and some guys are inching up to 40 minutes et cetera and I would say they’re a long ways away from that right now just because of the simple fact that you cannot really get in that shape unless you’re doing it through basketball games.

“Physically, our guys look great. If you want to put a positive spin on it they probably are healthier than they’ve ever been. There’s a lot of time in the hotel which is spent resting.”

At the time of the league’s pause, the Raptors were second in the Eastern Conference with a 46-18 record following their championship 2018-19 season.

Although this post-season won’t look like any other in NBA history, the Raptors have the chance become the fourth team to repeat as champions in the past decade, joining the Golden State Warriors, Miami Heat and Los Angeles Lakers.

“If we win it, you can put 10 asterisks by it if you want to I don’t care,” Nurse laughed. “I think it would be a unique title to have and something that’s going to be really hard-fought and under tougher circumstances maybe than normal.”

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