Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse talks to Fred VanVleet during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Milwaukee Bucks Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021, in Milwaukee. A greatly reduced Raptors team will host the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday in Toronto’s temporary home of Tampa, Fla. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Morry Gash

Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse talks to Fred VanVleet during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Milwaukee Bucks Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021, in Milwaukee. A greatly reduced Raptors team will host the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday in Toronto’s temporary home of Tampa, Fla. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Morry Gash

After dodging COVID-19 for months, the Raptors are feeling full force of pandemic

Raptors have been playing in Florida, a COVID-19 hotspot

The Toronto Raptors had largely dodged COVID-19 for the first half of an NBA season reeling from the global pandemic.

But the Raptors are feeling the full force of it now, preparing to host the Detroit Pistons with a skeleton roster and coaching staff.

Starters Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby, plus Malachi Flynn and Patrick McCaw have all been ruled out of Toronto’s rescheduled game Wednesday against visiting Detroit, along with head coach Nick Nurse and most of his coaching staff.

Asked what he’s learned from the team’s first major brush with the virus, GM Bobby Webster said: “That you don’t ever want to go through it again.

“It’s what you can imagine,” Webster said in a Zoom call with media on Tuesday night. “It’s the emotional stress of having colleagues that potentially, obviously, can be sick. The enormous amount of stress everyone feels, everyone’s walking a bit on eggshells here in the locker room and you can’t necessarily be as friendly …

“The basketball will go on, we’ll play the games, but just to maintain everybody’s belonging and familiarity is really important.”

Assistant coach Sergio Scariolo, who guided Toronto to a 122-111 win over Houston on Friday, will act as head coach again Wednesday.

Webster said players were cleared to do some individual work on the court Tuesday.

The big takeaway, he said, was that the team’s had “multiple days of no new cases.”

“It’s been a tough couple of days, to get to here and be able to practise, we had to clear a number of hurdles,” Webster said.

Webster believes the five players out Wednesday will still be unavailable for Thursday’s game in Boston. Jalen Harris and recently-signed big man Donta Hall joined the team from its G League affiliate, Raptors 905.

Scariolo said he’ll likely play De’Andre Bembry and Harris at point guard along with Kyle Lowry.

The Italian, who coached Spain to the 2019 World Cup title, said there was a definite mood of concern around the players who are cleared to play.

“Before practice we were always wondering how our buddies were doing — at home, and everybody is in touch with almost everybody,” he said. “(But) at this point the ones that are left have to focus on the basketball task and leave everything that happened out of our gym, at least for that hour, hour and a half, and (Wednesday) in those three hours.

“Even work harder to try to do our best for the guys who will not be able to be with us.”

The game was originally slated for Tuesday at Tampa’s Amalie Arena — the Raptors’ home this season due to Canada’s border restrictions and COVID-19 health protocols in Ontario — but was postponed due to what the league said was “positive test results and ongoing contact tracing within the Raptors organization.” Sunday’s game against the Chicago Bulls was also postponed.

The Pistons plane was delayed more than two hours leaving Detroit as the Raptors awaited the green light from the NBA.

Toronto had been one of just four remaining teams in the league that hadn’t had a game postponed until Sunday’s game against visiting Chicago.

READ MORE: Toronto Raptors game against Chicago postponed due to COVID-19 cases

The league has now had 31 games scrapped due to too few healthy players. There was a sense of not if but when it would hit the Raptors, particularly making their homes in Florida, a COVID-19 hotspot.

Assistants Adrian Griffin, Jama Mahlalela and Jon Goodwillie are all still sidelined under health and safety protocols, while Webster said one other assistant who coached Friday is now unavailable. He didn’t reveal who, but it would be either Jim Sann, Mark Tyndale, or Jamaal Magloire.

Webster said keeping the team’s spirits up has been a priority.

“It’s difficult, you can’t really see people, right? So a lot of it is done via Zoom, we held an all-staff Zoom (Tuesday) just to check in on people,” he said. “Some of it’s really as basic as just seeing everyone’s face and having some laughs and doing that.

“Nothing super complicated, nothing super psychological, just actually being there for people and having them know whether they’re in quarantine or they’re not in quarantine that they’re still part of the team.”

The Raptors at least have some time off coming up. Boston is their last game before the NBA all-star break.

Toronto tips off the second half of the season March 11 against the visiting Atlanta Hawks.

Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

CoronavirusNBA

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Alisa Gusakova was one of two Grade 12 Chilliwack students who received a $5,000 Horatio Alger Canadian Scholarship earlier this year. Now, a fundraiser has been created for the teen after her mother was killed. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Fundraiser launched for daughter of Chilliwack woman killed

Money raised will help Chilliwack teen attend UFV to earn business degree

Chilliwack Search and Rescue volunteers say that a call on April 17 on Vedder Mountain was affected by bikers who rode through the rescue site, throwing rocks onto members and the patient. (Chilliwack Search and Rescue image)
Chilliwack Search and Rescue team, and patient, sprayed with rocks and dirt during rescue

Volunteer crew speaks out after riders on Vedder Mountain show no courtesy at accident scene

Agassiz Fire Department has been called to an ATV rollover on Harrison East Forest Service Road on Sunday, April 18, 2021. (Google Maps)
Agassiz Fire called out to ATV rollover incident on Harrison FSR

Morning call follows exceptionally busy Saturday as temperatures soar in Fraser Valley

A Chilliwack Search and Rescue truck heads down Vedder Road towards Cultus Lake to assist a dirtbiker with a broken leg. (Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress)
Emergency crews, SAR busy with three separate outdoor recreation incidents in Chilliwack area

Calls in 1 afternoon include ATV collision, parachuter who fell from tree, dirtbiker with broken leg

Chilliwack’s historic Royal Hotel is offering COVID-style wedding packages for two weeks in June. (Facebook/ Royal Hotel Chilliwack)
Chilliwack hotel offers pop-up, COVID-style weddings for 2 weeks this June

‘Weddings can still happen, albeit in a different fashion,’ says Laura Reid of Royal Hotel

Vancouver resident Beryl Pye was witness to a “concerning,” spontaneous dance party that spread throughout social groups at Kitsilano Beach on April 16. (Screen grab/Beryl Pye)
VIDEO: Dance party erupts at Vancouver’s Kitsilano Beach to the dismay of onlookers

‘It was a complete disregard for current COVID-19 public health orders,’ says Vancouver resident Beryl Pye

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons Tuesday December 8, 2020 in Ottawa. The stage is set for arguably the most important federal budget in recent memory, as the Liberal government prepares to unveil its plan for Canada’s post-pandemic recovery even as a third wave of COVID-19 rages across the country. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Election reticence expected to temper political battle over federal budget

Opposition parties have laid out their own demands in the weeks leading up to the budget

File photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graeme Roy
One man dead after shooting in Downtown Vancouver

This is Vancouver’s fifth homicide of the year

A syringe is loaded with COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. to open up COVID vaccine registration to all B.C. residents 18+ in April

Registration does not equate to being able to book an appointment

(Black Press file photo).
Multiple stabbings at Vancouver Island bush party

Three youths hospitalized after an assault in Comox

Selina Robinson is shown in Coquitlam, B.C., on Friday November 17, 2017. British Columbia’s finance minister says her professional training as a family therapist helped her develop the New Democrat government’s first budget during the COVID-19 pandemic, which she will table Tuesday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. finance minister to table historic pandemic-challenged deficit budget

Budget aims to take care of people during pandemic while preparing for post-COVID-19 recovery, Robinson said

Police tape is shown in Toronto Tuesday, May 2, 2017. Statistics Canada says the country's crime rate ticked up again in 2018, for a fourth year in a row, though it was still lower than it was a decade ago. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graeme Roy
CRIME STOPPERS: ‘Most wanted’ for the week of April 18

Crime Stoppers’ weekly list based on information provided by police investigators

Each spring, the Okanagan Fest-of-Ale is held in Penticton. This year, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival will not be held. However, beer is still available. How much do you know about this beverage? (pxfuel.com)
QUIZ: How much do you really know about beer?

Put your knowledge to the test with this short quiz

Lord Tweedsmuir’s Tremmel States-Jones jumps a player and the goal line to score a touchdown against the Kelowna Owls in 2019. The face of high school football, along with a majority of other high school sports, could significantly change if a new governance proposal is passed at the B.C. School Sports AGM May 1. (Malin Jordan)
Power struggle: New governance model proposed for B.C. high school sports

Most commissions are against the new model, but B.C. School Sports (BCSS) and its board is in favour

Most Read