The Toronto Raptors are actually via a few quarter of their 2021-22 season, a big chunk of which has been spent away from Scotiabank Enviornment. In truth, they’ve performed 12 of their 20 whole video games on the highway, the place they’ve achieved a 7-5 report.
Most of these video games got here inside the final two weeks, with the Raptors heading out for his or her longest journey of the season — a six-game trial-by-fire highway journey that noticed them face off towards some Western Convention heavy hitters (Golden State Warriors, Utah Jazz) in addition to some strong opponents (Portland Trail Blazers, Memphis Grizzlies) and in the end go 2-4.
The NBA season is, because the cliche goes, a marathon not a dash, and these prolonged voyages — particularly once they happen early on — can have a salient affect on how the rest of a staff’s yr goes.
That is notably true for younger teams just like the Raptors, who, sure, have a core in OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, and Fred VanVleet that is aware of itself very effectively, however have additionally added contemporary items like Scottie Barnes, Dalano Banton, Valuable Achiuwa, and Svi Mykhailiuk, who’re nonetheless discovering themselves inside their roles whereas enjoying key minutes.
Relationship-building, then, turns into important.
“It was a protracted highway journey,” Barnes stated. “You gotta keep collectively throughout these occasions, simply attempting to get higher. Pack a variety of garments.
“We’re with one another day by day within the resort. Simply hold speaking with one another. We’re bonding, I might say.”
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Not solely are connections solid in most of these conditions, alternatives come up for groups to actually uncover who they’re and what they’re able to as a collective unit. For the Raptors, this early expertise has been a bit jarring, for the reason that id they’ve regarded to undertake since coaching camp (that of a formidable defensive staff) has been challenged in quite a few methods and has but to be one thing they’ll constantly depend on (they at present rank twenty fourth in defensive ranking).
“I’d say it takes a superb season for a man to be taught the actions of NBA protection,” head coach Nick Nurse stated. “I’m all the time speaking about connectivity — the protection needs to be related. And we lose a little bit little bit of that and a few of that’s simply, I don’t wanna say chemistry, but it surely’s completely different individuals out and in and completely different positions and completely different stuff taking place frequently — it makes it arduous to get that chemistry and connectivity.
“However we’ve gotta stick with it. We’ve been actually working arduous and drilling our fundamentals and day by day simply going over all these issues defensively simply to get some extra repetitions in.”
Even so, that doesn’t imply the staff has opted to shift its focus. As an alternative, the revelation that the offense, notably with Siakam again within the fold, is stronger than initially anticipated (ninth within the league) has solely strengthened the notion that, if and when the protection does come collectively, Toronto will lastly start to see the model of itself within the mirror that it is aware of it may be.
“We all know what we are able to do once we’re all doing what we’re alleged to do and all of us play with that kind of power that we have to play with,” Siakam stated. “And there have been video games the place we didn’t have that, it was apparent.
“After we’re all clicking on all cylinders and doing what we do, utilizing our size, our athleticism, and doing all these issues, we’re a troublesome staff to beat. And once we don’t do this, it’s the other.”
After all, the Raptors’ struggles haven’t merely been about new faces and poorly executed protection — they’ve additionally had a litany of accidents, such that key names have been lacking from the rotation nearly each single evening. From Siakam’s delayed begin as a consequence of his offseason shoulder surgical procedure to Yuta Watanabe’s preseason calf damage to VanVleet’s groin pressure to Anunoby’s hip pointer, enjoying video games on the highway hasn’t been the hardest little bit of the early season.
“We’ve had a variety of our bodies out and in, which we gotta attempt to resolve that,” Nurse stated. “I don’t understand how we resolve that, however I all the time say I hope the ball bounces a little bit higher our method on that entrance. I believe if we get in a state of affairs the place we’re wanting individuals eye-to-eye our protection is a lot better.”
Whereas they’ll nonetheless have to attend to roll out a wholly wholesome roster, the Raptors will at the least get the instant advantage of returning residence for seven straight video games, the place they’ll look to regroup and use what they realized from their early-season ordeal to make that subsequent step towards their final objective, turning flashes into regularity.
“I believe that we’ve performed a little bit up and down like a younger staff would possibly,” Nurse stated. “At first of the yr you most likely would’ve thought there’d be up and down moments — there’s been some great basketball at occasions.”