Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse directs play from courtside during first half NBA basketball action against the Brooklyn Nets, in Toronto, Saturday, Feb. 8, 2020. Nurse wasn’t sure to expect from his players after nearly four months off, but the Toronto Raptors coach said they “look fantastic,” particularly the “chiseled Marc” Gasol. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse directs play from courtside during first half NBA basketball action against the Brooklyn Nets, in Toronto, Saturday, Feb. 8, 2020. Nurse wasn’t sure to expect from his players after nearly four months off, but the Toronto Raptors coach said they “look fantastic,” particularly the “chiseled Marc” Gasol. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

Raptors coach Nurse says despite layoff, his players ‘look fantastic’

Many players said it’s been the longest they’ve gone without playing

In the more than three months since the Toronto Raptors stepped off the court, the players have been scattered abroad.

Besides regular weight checks and virtual workouts, it’s been on them to stay in shape in less than ideal conditions. In these unprecedented times, many players said it’s been the longest they’ve gone without playing.

Coach Nick Nurse — who had noticed a few weeks ago how fit Marc Gasol appeared on team Zoom calls — still didn’t know what to expect when his team convened last week in Naples, Fla., to hopefully resume their quest for a second consecutive NBA championship.

“Players look fantastic, I mean absolutely,” Nurse said on a conference call Tuesday. “When you see them with the eyeball test they look great.

“I came in here open-minded. I didn’t know if we were going to be not really in the right frame of mind or whatever… But I am pleasantly surprised with the frame of mind, I am pleasantly surprised with the conditioning, and I just think you have a bunch of guys who have a high care factor.

“They love to play, they’re concerned about getting better individually, about their own careers, it just seems like they are doing a really professional job. I just think there is a strong love of the game there for a lot of these guys.”

Gasol, who missed 28 games this season with a hamstring injury, and veteran guard Kyle Lowry have looked noticeably leaner in recent photos circulating on social media.

“The chiselled Marc. Cut up. He looks great,” Nurse said of the big Spaniard.

Nurse said as highly as he already thinks of the cerebral Gasol, his improved fitness is motivating for Raptors teammates, might get him a few more rebounds a night and could give his legs more life down the stretch of games.

“If his conditioning improves him as a player it’s going to be a super added bonus for us,” Nurse said.

Raptors guard/forward Norm Powell called the physical change in Gasol ”drastic.”

“I make fun of him all the time, looking like a soccer player in Barcelona,” Powell laughed. ”He looks great, man, he’s moving great, he’s feeling great.”

Powell and Gasol have a tennis match scheduled for the next couple of days.

“Hopefully I’ll still be able to give him a run for his money,” Powell said.

Because of Canada’s requirement of a 14-day quarantine period for people entering the country, the Raptors were the first team to arrive in Florida ahead of next month’s restart at Disney World.

Despite the Raptors’ positive mindset, Powell said there was some trepidation travelling to Florida, which has seen a startling surge in COVID-19 cases. The more than 6,000 new cases reported Tuesday pushed the total over 150,000 in the Sunshine State. Deaths have climbed past 3,500.

More than 8,500 new cases were recorded on three consecutive days late last week.

The NBA announced last week that 16 players had tested positive for the coronavirus. ESPN reported Tuesday that the Nuggets had closed their practice facility after positive tests within Denver’s group travelling to Orlando.

READ MORE: The NBA is coming back, and here’s 10 things to know

Brooklyn’s Spencer Dinwiddie and DeAndre Jordan have also tested positive. Jordan won’t be with the team when it resumes play while Dinwiddie is still experiencing symptoms, so his status is uncertain.

Powell said he’s not particularly concerned about his well-being or that of his teammates, because the Raptors are following coronavirus safety guidelines “to a T.”

“I’m concerned about it just from a general standpoint of numbers increasing,” Powell said. “Outside (the NBA’s planned quasi-bubble), I’m very concerned about just how dangerous it is. I’m more concerned about my family members that are out, having to deal with going out in public, going back to work and putting themselves in danger of catching the virus.”

A week into what could be three months in Florida, Nurse said the Raptors have managed to stave off homesickness and boredom.

“The first week has gone by in a snap of a finger. That’s a really good sign,” he said.

The coaches are up early, and spend all day in the gym, with players arriving in staggered groups of four to practise — one player and two coaches per net.

“The days go by pretty quickly, we’re trying to mix in some days off, we’re trying to mix in a lot of different activities,” he said.

The team had a barbecue recently. They play ping-pong and pool.

“There are a few other things we’re trying to mix in, too. I don’t really sense much anxiety or people worrying about, ‘Man, this is going to be a long time,’” he said. “They seem really good. You can ask me that again in a month if you want. I’ve said that a lot, how much I’ve missed coaching these guys. I just sense that these guys like being around each other and like to play.”

The Raptors were 46-18 and second in the East when the league shuttered on March 11. They tip off the restart on Aug. 1 versus the Los Angeles Lakers, and face among the toughest eight-game seeding schedule of the 22 teams that will be in Orlando.

“I like the schedule, I think it’s great to see the Lakers again, (No. 1) Milwaukee again, just to get a feel for them again,” he said. “We’re playing really quality teams, I think every team we’ve got is a playoff team, so that’s going to be obviously those are good teams, so I like it.”

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

Image courtesy CDC
Confirmed COVID-19 cases in Kitamaat Village

Haisla Nation Council said there are two confirmed cases they are aware of at this time

A coal-fired power plant seen through dense smog from the window of an electric bullet train south of Beijing, December 2016. China has continued to increase thermal coal production and power generation, adding to greenhouse gas emissions that are already the world’s largest. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press)
LNG featured at B.C. energy industry, climate change conference

Hydrogen, nuclear, carbon capture needed for Canada’s net-zero goal

Victoria’s Royal Jubilee Hospital took in two COVID-19 patients from Northern Health as part of a provincial agreement. (Black Press Media file photo)
Victoria hospital takes in two COVID-19 patients from Northern Health

Royal Jubilee Hospital takes patients as part of provincial transport network

An aerial shot of Cedar Valley Lodge this past August, LNG Canada’s newest accommodation for workers. This is where several employees are isolating after a COVID-19 outbreak was declared on Nov. 19. (Photo courtesy of LNG Canada)
52 positive COVID-19 cases now associated with LNG Canada site outbreak

Eight cases still active, 44 considered recovered

The Kitimat River in July. (Clare Rayment photo)
Good News, Kitimat!

Bringing some local good news to your week

Motorists wait to enter a Fraser Health COVID-19 testing facility, in Surrey, B.C., on Monday, Nov. 9, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Another 694 diagnosed with COVID-19 in B.C. Thursday

Three more health care outbreaks, 12 deaths

A demonstrator wears representations of sea lice outside the Fisheries and Oceans Canada offices in downtown Vancouver Sept. 24, demanding more action on the Cohen Commission recommendations to protect wild Fraser River sockeye. (Quinn Bender photo)
First Nations renew call to revoke salmon farm licences

Leadership council implores use of precautionary principle in Discovery Islands

Ten-month-old Aidan Deschamps poses for a photo with his parents Amanda Sully and Adam Deschamps in this undated handout photo. Ten-month-old Aidan Deschamps was the first baby in Canada to be diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy through Ontario’s newborn screening program. The test was added to the program six days before he was born. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Children’s Hospital Eastern Ontario *MANDATORY CREDIT*
First newborn tested for spinal muscular atrophy in Canada hits new milestones

‘If Aidan had been born any earlier or anywhere else our story would be quite different’

(Pixabay)
Canadians’ mental health has deteriorated with the second wave, study finds

Increased substance use one of the ways people are coping

An RCMP officer confers with military rescuers outside their Cormorant helicopter near Bridesville, B.C. Tuesday, Dec. 1. Photo courtesy of RCMP Cpl. Jesse O’Donaghey
Good Samaritan helped Kootenay police nab, rescue suspect which drew armed forces response

Midway RCMP said a Good Samaritan helped track the suspect, then brought the arresting officer dry socks

People line up at a COVID-19 assessment centre during the COVID-19 pandemic in Scarborough, Ont., on Wednesday, December 2, 2020. Toronto and Peel region continue to be in lockdown. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
COVID-19 vaccine approval could be days away as pressures mount on health-care system

Many health officials in regions across the country have reported increasing pressures on hospitals

(Needpix.com)
Pandemic has ‘exacerbated’ concerns for B.C. children and youth with special needs: report

Pandemic worsened an already patchwork system, representative says

Most Read