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NBA return around the corner, but racism issue is consuming Raptors

Raptors head coach Nick Nurse all his players want to talk about right now is the murder of George Floyd and the unrest that has followed.
Raptors head coach Nick Nurse all his players want to talk about right now is the murder of George Floyd and the unrest that has followed.

On his to-do list, Nick Nurse has a championship to defend, a roster to get back in shape after an unprecedented mid-season three-month layoff and the prospect of convincing 17 somewhat spoiled athletes that three months in a confined area of Orlando is not worth whining about.

But all of that right now is taking a backseat to the current struggle for racial equality that is consuming all of our worlds right now.

On a conference call with reporters on Tuesday, the Raptors head coach admitted the vast majority of his meetings either with his players, his staff, fellow league coaches and representatives is dominated with talk of ridding society of the pervasive racism that came to a head with the recent murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.

“There’s been, like, very little, if any at all, talk about basketball,” Nurse said of his interactions with team personnel. “I think we must have had four team-wide calls before we got to a quick 10-minute one yesterday to say this is this possible re-start. We’ve just given you kind of a heads-up here, but we’ve really been entrenched in the issue. Again, making sure everyone’s OK everyone’s safe, listening to their ideas and thoughts, etc.”

It’s a strange time, really, to be doing anything else, given how wide-reaching and all-consuming the protests and marches have been all over the continent and throughout the world these past weeks.

“As tragic as all these recent events (have been), this has been going on for a long time,” Nurse said. “This is an historic opportunity to make some lasting change and I think we all have to take part in that.”

Nurse believes there is plenty of time to get everyone up to speed and locked in for basketball when it officially resumes with games on July 31. As it stands now, the Raptors are still in the decision-making stage of where and when their own pre-training camp period begins and takes place.

“We’ve made plans on both sides of the border, just for doing it as safe as possible. That’s kind of our first and foremost priority, then maybe as quickly as possible too,” Nurse said. “We’re going to hopefully be in the Disney situation for quite a while, so we’ve got to take that into consideration, as well.”

Disney, of course, is the venue where the league will conclude the season, beginning with eight regular-season games and then a full slate of playoffs.

Nurse and his team will get there in the first week of July and, if all goes according to plan, won’t leave until they have defended their championship on or about Oct. 12.

Nurse says he is very much in favour of the return-to-play plan, mostly because it sticks as closely to the traditional NBA way of doing things as much as pandemically possible.

“I like most of the simplicity of it,” Nurse said. “I like East versus West, I think people are used to that. I like (best-of) seven, every round being played out to its fullest, people are used to that. I think the closer we keep it to as is, because it is already kind of a strange situation, I think that helps.”

Nurse can take some comfort in the fact he has a mostly veteran roster that knows exactly what it takes to win a championship. But even that will get a little lost with all the games taking place in one location and over the course of almost 2 1/2 months, and that’s after the training camp period.

He anticipates having to do a lot of adjusting on the fly but, fortunately for the Raptors and their fanbase, that happens to be one of Nurse’s greatest strengths. Even so, he knows there are going to be lots of first-time scenarios he’ll have to navigate.

“Your attitude day-to-day is going to get challenged in a different way, so how are you going to be able to — for lack of a better word — keep people from just complaining?” Nurse asked. “ ‘Man, it’s too hot, the sun’s out’ or ‘it’s too cold, the air-conditioning’, whatever. You’re going to have to try to keep an extra positive attitude for starters and you’re going to have to go with the flow a little bit, and understand going in that this is going to be different.”

With that all being said, Nurse likes his team’s chances now, just as he did before this pandemic shut the world down for a spell.

“I love — I mean we are right in the same position that we were a year ago going into it,” Nurse said of the low expectations. “Nobody was talking about us — ‘Yeah, they’ve got a decent team up there’ — but they weren’t really talking about us as a serious threat and long may it continue. We are looking forward to it.”

HOME, ROAD DOESN’T MATTER

Nick Nurse and the Raptors won’t receive the normal advantage a team receives with one of the best records in the NBA heading into the playoffs and he’s fine with that.

Normally, the Raptors would enjoy a home court advantage, assuming they maintain their No. 3 seed through the eight regular-season games they will play, at least into the conference finals.

“We worked hard to get a high seed and home-court advantage, but I don’t know how much home court affected things last year,” Nurse said. “If you want me to be honest, the Finals seemed to affect it. I felt like having Game 1 of the Finals at home was a big deal and we played well and after Game 1, we realized we were better and we were going to win. Nobody proceeded to win a home game after that. So that might shoot a hole in my theory there. But I would say I was surprised at – and you can only know what your own team is feeling – but it didn’t seem to make any difference to us, or it didn’t feel any different playing home or away.

“Now, is it awesome playing at home at Scotiabank? Yes it is. But when you’re competing, it’s pretty awesome to go in to Philadelphia or Orlando or Golden State and win there. That’s an awesome feeling, too. So I don’t really buy into it (being an advantage lost) very much,” Nurse said.

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