Finally, it’s time to see if defending champion Toronto Raptors can go back.
The Raptors were riding a streak in four games, crowned by a solid road victory in Utah on March 9, when the Jazz center Rudy Gobert proved positive for the coronavirus, prompting the championship to suspend the season.
Toronto had enjoyed a surprisingly successful campaign: second in the East after losing Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green in free agency, thanks above all to the birth of Pascal Siakam as an all-star.
Now, the defense of the title resumes almost five months later from the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex at Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, where 22 teams will live in an air bubble environment to prevent the spread of coronavirus like the rest. the season is over.
Players started arriving in early July and are tested daily for the virus.
The road to the NBA finals will be somewhat familiar. After eight regular season games to finalize the seeding of the playoffs, the NBA will launch its regular playoff format, with a turning point for the teams vying for the eighth seed.
Raptors are not worried about this. Sitting 6.5 games behind Milwaukee Bucks’ number 1, Toronto probably won’t be able to improve his position. In the meantime, the Boston Celtics sit three games behind the Raptors – a gap difficult to catch in just eight games, but certainly possible.
Toronto’s first game is Saturday night against LeBron James and Los Angeles Lakers.
The league’s latest coronavirus report revealed zero positive tests among all players on Wednesday. This is the second empty and direct relationship.
The bubble, therefore, seems to work, even if some players have left and returned.
The NBA will use three playgrounds at Disney: The Arena, Visa Athletic Center and HP Field House. The players, on the sidelines, will sit on assigned chairs, physically distant from each other.
Of course, eventually they will get up and sweat each other on the field. But the optics are beautiful.
For fans, the championship has experienced false crowd noises from the NBA2K video game. In some games a live feed will be used with 300 virtual fans projected in the margin.
During the Raptors games, game man Matt Devlin and analysts Jack Armstrong and Leo Rautins will do their job in the Toronto studios.
Social justice movement
Fans will also note that player names will be absent from the back of the shirts for the first four days of matches. As part of the NBA social justice movement, players could choose from a list of 29 league-approved messages to wear on their shirts.
Seven Raptors will bring a message from “Black Lives Matter”, Kyle Lowry has chosen “Education Reform” and Serge Ibaka stands for “Respectez Biso”, a French dialect translation of “Respect Us”.
The phrase “Black Lives Matter” will also be painted on all three courts. And players are expected to participate in some form of demonstration while playing the American national anthem, and perhaps even during the Canadian anthem. At the opening of the WNBA, players left the pitch before the anthem sounded.
Led by head coach Nick Nurse, the Raptors recently launched an initiative that urges American expats living in Canada to vote in the upcoming presidential election.
Return to basketball
It was only a year ago that the shine of a championship started to fade and questions arose about the new Raptors. Sure, they kept the liver on their list, but two key players in Leonard and Green are gone.
The 2019-20 Raptors answered these questions with emphasis. Led by veteran Lowry, the Raptors have evolved into an intelligent, hardworking and intelligent basketball team. During the break, Toronto finished second in the defensive rankings (points allowed per 100 possessions) while maintaining 12th in attack.
Positioning in the top 10 in both categories is generally the sign of a true title contender, and the Raptors almost did it by overcoming injuries to almost all the important players on the roster.
The nurse will be the key during the post season. Probably winner of the coach of the year, he demonstrated his adaptability in the run to last year’s playoffs, from Leonard’s move to Bucks star Giannis Antentokounmpo in game 3 of the conference finals, to the creation of creative defensive solutions to stop Stephen Curry in the final.
Similar adaptability should be of utmost importance in these unusual circumstances.
But Antentokounmpo places itself again on the road of the Raptors. His Bucks improved in last year’s impressive regular season, but now they have even more to prove after exiting the playoffs. Greek Freak is online to win consecutive MVP awards – and may have used quarantine to improve his only weakness: shoot.
Leonard, last season’s response to Antentokounmpo, now does his job for the Los Clippers. This means that Siakam and third-year striker OG Anunoby will be forced to play more defensive roles if Raptors and Bucks meet.
It also means defending the team, Lowry’s identity and the nurse’s creativity – qualities that made these Raptors what they were – must stand out even more to reach a second-row final.
The reign of a season longer than ever will soon end. Can some Disney magic help Raptors make two in a row?