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

Police blocked off 40th Avenue on Jan. 10, 2015 while firefighters battled a meth lab blaze. The fire has led to a lawsuit against Langley Township. (Langley Advance Times files)
Bill for meth lab fire leads to lawsuit against Langley Township

Local farmers say they shouldn’t have to pay costs of putting out fire in rental house

Wes Barker, second from left, with fellow Big Trick Energy show performers on “Ellen,” in video posted to youtube.com.
VIDEO: On ‘Ellen,’ former Langley man works magic with new ‘Big Trick Energy’ gang

A decade ago, Wes Barker quit his job with the City of Surrey to do magic professionally

Dr. Bonnie Henry gives her daily media briefing regarding Covid-19 for the province of British Columbia in Victoria, B.C, Monday, December 7, 2020.   THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
More Langley-area business closed due to COVID-19

Any business with three or more cases among employees can be closed

Vancouver Giants victorious over the Royals in Kamloops Thursday, April 15. The G-Men won, 4-0. (Allen Douglas/Special to Black Press Media)
VIDEO: Giants young goalie shutouts Victoria, 4-0

The Langley-based WHL team earn another victory over the Royals Thursday in Kamloops

Critter Care’s first ever 50/50 winner is Kim Madill, who took home $28,852.50. (Critter Care/Special to The Star)
Winner takes home $28,852.50 through Critter Care’s first virtual 50/50

Kim Madill instantly donated part of the funds to the Langley-based wildlife society

Rainbow trouts thrashing with life as they’re about to be transferred to the largest lake of their lives, even though it’s pretty small. These rainbows have a blue tinge because they matched the blue of their hatchery pen, but soon they’ll take on the green-browns of their new home at Lookout Lake. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
VIDEO: B.C. lake stocked with hatchery trout to delight of a seniors fishing club

The Cherish Trout Scouts made plans to come back fishing soon

Nick Warmerdam and his dog Diesel are inviting locals to check out the Lakeland Farm U-pick Flower Farm this spring. (Ben Lypka/Abbotsford News)
VIDEO & SLIDESHOW: Abbotsford’s Lakeland Flowers opens for spring

Tulip farm attraction opened on April 14, open to the public daily seven days a week

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops. (Dave Eagles/Kamloops This Week file photo)
RCMP intercept vehicle fleeing with infant taken from Kamloops hospital

The baby was at the hospital receiving life-saving care

The female driver of this Jeep Grand Cherokee (right) was driving erratically with a young child inside on Highway 1 eastbound. After hitting a barrier and a parked car, she finally exited the highway at Yale Road West and came to a stop. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Video captures woman driving erratically with child after hitting barrier, car on Hwy 1 in Chilliwack

Smoke seen coming from SUV as it continues to travel eastbound of shoulder of highway

Former Pitt Meadows city councillor David Murray was convicted of sex assault, and is now being sued by the victim. (files)
Former Pitt Meadows city councillor sued for sex assault

David Murray was convicted in 2017 of sexually assaulting a teen 25 years earlier

Vancouver Police Const. Deepak Sood is under review by the Independent Investigations Office of B.C. after making comments to a harm reduction advocate Sunday, April 11. (Screen grab)
VIDEO: Vancouver officer convicted of uttering threats under watchdog review again

Const. Deepak Sood was recorded Sunday saying ‘I’ll smack you’ and ‘go back to selling drugs’ to a harm reduction advocate

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry prepares a daily update on the coronavirus pandemic, April 21, 2020. (B.C. Government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate persists, 1,005 new cases Friday

Hospitalization up to 425, six more virus-related deaths

Premier John Horgan receives a dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at the pharmacy in James Bay Thrifty’s Foods in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, April 16, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. Premier John Horgan gets AstraZeneca shot, encourages others

27% of residents in B.C. have now been vaccinated against COVID-19

Most Read