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

Just Posted

Suspected methamphetamine and scale seized by police. (Terrace RCMP photo)
Terrace RCMP seize guns, ammo, suspected narcotics

Man released after court appearance

Caledonia Secondary School is the recipient of a $50,000 grant to replace its aging science equipment. (File photo)
Cal snags major grant to modernize science equipment

The $50,000 comes from a pharmaceutical company

Unemployment rate drops in northwestern B.C.

Large improvement since Spring 2020

Uplands Nursery this year will do all of the 4600 Block of Lazelle Ave., beginning at its east end, and a portion of the 4700 Block. (File photo)
Lazelle sidewalk project begins June 14

Improvements coming to 4600 and 4700 Blocks

Cassie Hall Elementary School students pose for a picture in their garden. Since 2019, students and staff at the school have been attending to the garden project. (Binny Paul/Terrace Standard)
Cassie Hall students grow a green sanctuary at school

The K-6 elementary school students and staff have been working on the garden project since 2019

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participates in a plenary session at the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, England on Friday June 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada donating 13M surplus COVID-19 vaccine doses to poor countries

Trudeau says the government will pay for 87 million shots to be distributed to poor countries

Premier John Horgan speaks as provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, right, and health minister Adrian Dix look on during a press conference to update on the province’s fall pandemic preparedness plan during a press conference from the press theatre at Legislature in Victoria, Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. officials to provide details on Step 2 of COVID reopening plan Monday

Step 2 could allow for larger gatherings and a resumption of recreational travel

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller is seen during a news conference, Wednesday May 19, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Indigenous child-welfare battle heads to court despite calls for Ottawa to drop cases

Feds are poised to argue against two Canadian Human Rights Tribunal rulings

The Great Ogopogo Bathtub Race has been held in Summerland as a fundraising event. Do you know which Canadian city introduced this sport? (Black Press file photo)
QUIZ: A summer’s day at the water

How much do you know about boats, lakes and water?

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod laughs while playing with Lucky the puppy outside their Chilliwack home on Thursday, June 10, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: B.C. family finds ‘perfect’ puppy with limb difference for 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy has special bond with Lucky the puppy who was also born with limb difference

A million-dollar ticket was sold to an individual in Vernon from the Lotto Max draw Friday, June 11, 2021. (Photo courtesy of BCLC)
Lottery ticket worth $1 million sold in Vernon

One lucky individual holds one of 20 tickets worth $1 million from Friday’s Lotto Max draw

“65 years, I’ve carried the stories in my mind and live it every day,” says Jack Kruger. (Athena Bonneau)
‘Maybe this time they will listen’: Survivor shares stories from B.C. residential school

Jack Kruger, living in Syilx territory, wasn’t surprised by news of 215 children’s remains found on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School

A logging truck carries its load down the Elaho Valley near in Squamish, B.C. in this file photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chuck Stoody
Squamish Nation calls for old-growth logging moratorium in its territory

The nation says 44% of old-growth forests in its 6,900-square kilometre territory are protected while the rest remain at risk

Flowers and cards are left at a makeshift memorial at a monument outside the former Kamloops Indian Residential School to honour the 215 children whose remains are believed to have been discovered buried near the city in Kamloops, B.C., on Monday, May 31, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
‘Pick a Sunday:’ Indigenous leaders ask Catholics to stay home, push for apology

Indigenous leaders are calling on Catholics to stand in solidarity with residential school survivors by not attending church services

Most Read