March is behind them and the Raptors are back on the winning track, but the short benches Nick Nurse and his staff have been battling with don’t seem to be going anywhere soon.
Barring the return of point guard Fred VanVleet, who did not practise yesterday, the Raptors will likely be taking on the visiting Washington Wizards on Monday night with all of nine bodies.
VanVleet left Friday’s game with a strained left hip flexor and was described as day-to-day by Nurse on Sunday evening.
With Kyle Lowry already out (left foot/toe), that could mean a career first start for rookie Malachi Flynn.
Nurse revealed that there was nothing on the MRI that VanVleet had, so it’s not expected to be a long-term absence if he does miss any time at all.
Also already ruled out for Monday’s game are Rodney Hood (hip), Paul Watson Jr. (health and safety protocols), Pat McCaw (knee) and Jalen Harris (hip).
Washington isn’t exactly tearing up the NBA these days, but that backcourt of Russell Westbrook and Bradly Beal is lethal. Beal sat out Saturday’s game against the Mavericks with a right hip contusion and is listed as questionable for Monday, so perhaps the Raptors haven’t cornered the market on star injuries just yet.
JUST SO YOU KNOW
The word ‘tanking’ gets thrown around a lot when a team such as the Raptors falls into the lower third of the conference standings.
Nurse hears the talk and he understands the inevitability of it getting attached to his team. It’s part of the reality of pro sports in the 21st century.
But that doesn’t mean Nurse has to listen to it.
“Yeah, I don’t like it,” Nurse said. “I don’t like talking about it, I don’t like thinking about it and I don’t like that it goes on.”
But is it insulting when people talk about it in regards to the team you are coaching?
“It’s reality, right?,” Nurse said. “It’s the reality of it. But we’re still playing to win and we’re still playing to make the playoffs and were still playing to get better.”
DONE ANSWERING THAT ONE
Rarely does Nurse completely dodge a question asked of him. Even if he can’t fully answer something, either because it might give an opponent an advantage, Nurse finds a way to respond without hurting his team.
An exception surfaced on Sunday when he was asked for the umpteenth time if Pascal Siakam was back looking like the Siakam of old following a stellar night in a recent win over Golden State.
“I think that it’s probably time for us to stop talking about that, it really is,” Nurse said. “(Siakam) played great the other night, exactly how we want him to play … It’s been a long time since that has passed, I’m going to move on from answering ‘does he look like he used to look’ from now on. I thought he looked really good the other night, I think his energy looks good, his body language looks good, played both ends, he rebounded. Looked like a good basketball player the other night.”
BEMBRY WITHOUT THE RUST
DeAndre Bembry returned from four-game stint in the league’s health and safety protocols that had him in quarantine for a little more than a week and stepped right back into action against Golden State.
Bembry admitted he was a little more winded than he would have liked, even if it didn’t look that way.
“We just played well,” Bembry said. “I obviously came off the bench, those guys already had it going. Obviously, Pascal had a great shooting night, Trent has been playing great, phenomenal, since he’s been with us. It was just easy for me to get back out there. Me and Malachi already have a bond.
“So that was just a good team effort. I was confident and comfortable as soon as I got out there. The only thing missing like a week and a half off was the conditioning part where I wasn’t able to get on the court. Other than that, I felt good.”
About that time away, how tough was it?
“Very boring,” Bembry said. “It was also a little relaxing, too. You obviously don’t get too many breaks like that, especially random breaks of that sort. It was OK. I was just at my house not doing much at all. It was pretty boring, especially watching a couple of the games where we lost. I wish I was able to be there and just help the team.”
Bembry is the seventh player, in addition to six coaches, who have had stints in the league’s health and safety protocols. Paul Watson Jr. is the lone remaining Raptor still out for COVID-related reasons.
“You know how it is,” Bembry said. “It’s protocols and you’ve gotta deal with it. This team has dealt with a lot of adversity this year with protocols and COVID and all of the sort. But we found a way to push through and last game was a good one for us.”
With just nine healthy bodies on the roster at the moment, Bembry’s return wasn’t a minute too soon.
Toronto Raptors (19-30) at Washington Wizards (17-30)
7 p.m., Amalie Arena, TV: Sportsnet; RADIO: AM 1050
SCOUTING REPORT: The Wizards are coming off a three-game losing streak having lost 11 of their past 14. They were without their own and the league’s leading scorer in Bradley Beal for the fourth consecutive game as he deals with a hip issue. He’s questionable for tonight. After a ton of early COVID issues that resulted in a handful of postponements, things have settled down for the Wizards but the early issues mean a much heavier second half schedule for the Wizards.
MARQUEE MATCHUP: Malachi Flynn vs. Russell Westbrook
In debut in the starting five, Flynn, the Raptors rookie, is going to get introduced to a new level of point-guard speed going up against Westbrook. Flynn is not slouch defensively and has been used strategically these past few weeks to focus in on one matchup and take his opponent off his game. All Westbrook is doing is averaging a triple-double this season with seven in the past 10 games alone.
DID YOU KNOW: The Raptors have won this head-to-head matchup eight games in a row including a win earlier this season in Washington … Westbrook needs just 18 more triple-doubles to surpass Oscar Robertson for the all-time triple-doubles mark in league history … Alex Len, who began the year with Toronto, is making the most of his opportunities in Washington. He has started the past 13 games for the Wizards.
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