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Raptors pound Magic, move closer to clinching second in East

Orlando Magic forward James Ennis III  and Toronto Raptors center Marc Gasol go after a loose ball in the first half last night at the Visa Athletic Center.
Orlando Magic forward James Ennis III and Toronto Raptors center Marc Gasol go after a loose ball in the first half last night at the Visa Athletic Center.

If the Toronto Raptors and Orlando Magic square off again in the first round of the playoffs, it doesn’t seem like it will be a competitive series.

After winning the first three meetings of the regular season, Toronto ran over the Magic in the first half of Wednesday’s game and ended up with a 109-99 win.

Fred VanVleet led the way for the second straight night with 21 points and 10 assists. Pascal Siakam added 15 points and four other Toronto players scored in double figures. Terrence Ross and Evan Fournier led Orlando with 15 apiece.

Already down key starting forward Jonathan Isaac, who tore his ACL earlier this week, Orlando lost Aaron Gordon to a tight hamstring in the third quarter. Add in all-star centre Nikola Vucevic being shut down again by Marc Gasol and it was amazing that Orlando made it even as close as the final score.

Vucevic had shot 2-for-20 against the Raptors this season heading into the game, and was 2-for-7 in the first half as Toronto built a 20-point advantage.
“We’ve got two really good defensive bigs,” Raptors head coach Nick Nurse explained of Toronto’s dominance against Vucevic, who also had a brutal playoff series last spring. “I keep saying Marc Gasol’s as good as it gets at that position, and when Serge (Ibaka) gets cranked up, he’s a really great defensive — I mean, he’s an all-league defensive player.

“When we (are facing) a really good big, we like to try to send both those guys at him, kind of a two-versus-one situation, if we can.”

A late surge got Vucevic to 12 points on 4-for-10 shooting, but Gasol had 13, Ibaka 11.

“We have a good team defence,” Gasol said. “Everybody has done a great job. It’s not an easy task to stop a player, an all-star player like Nik.

“He’s a big body down there,” said Norman Powell, who had a nice night off the bench, said of Gasol. “It’s really hard for guys to score over and finish over him.
“Serge does a great job as well with that, moving his feet, being able to switch and do different coverages. Those guys really make us really deadly.”

Toronto has looked excellent defensively in their first three games — all wins — in Orlando as it cut its magic number to clinch second in the Eastern Conference to one. The Raptors will meet either Orlando or the Brooklyn Nets after concluding the regular season.

While the Raptors won’t benefit from the typically boisterous Scotiabank Arena crowd playing in the bubble, Nurse believes there is still some benefit to gaining “home court” against every team in the East except league-leading Milwaukee.

“I’m not sure the home court thing won’t be a little bit of an advantage, maybe. It seems like (the NBA is) tweaking a little bit more and more as they go here in the games, as they’re learning things about how to put the game on in this setting,” Nurse said.

“We’re seeing familiar faces on those (virtual screens, such as the Raptors mascot and one of Siakam’s brother) and who knows what it’ll evolve to here two months from now. So I don’t want to discount the home court thing quite yet,” he said.”

SEE YA, FOR A WHILE

Jonathan Isaac and Siakam have had some great battles in the regular season and in the playoffs, but they won’t be facing off for a long time.
That’s because Isaac, unfortunately, tore his ACL this week. The potential defensive player-of-the-year candidate presents a challenge for Siakam when he’s on the court.

“That’s a heck of a one-on-one matchup that’s kind of played out a little bit,” said Nurse. “Isaac has defended Pascal at times pretty well and Pascal’s bounced back and scored at him pretty well, it’s been an intriguing matchup,”

NO TITLE HANGOVER

Nurse wasn’t sure how his club would react after losing Kawhi Leonard and having the rest of the league gunning for the NBA champions.

“It’s been interesting to me,” he said. “I thought winning a championship was gonna be a much heavier burden to carry around, but it doesn’t feel like it being around these guys.

“That’s one thing, second thing: Fred, Pascal, Norman kinda all came back to camp in the fall different players, just better, seemingly more confident without overdoing it. Maybe that was because of the playoff run and winning it.”

NBA AND P.A. STEP UP

The NBA board of governors announced Wednesday that it will contribute $300 million in initial funding to establish the first-ever NBA Foundation dedicated to creating greater economic empowerment in the Black community. The Foundation is being launched in partnership with the National Basketball Players Association. Over the next 10 years, the 30 NBA team owners will collectively contribute $30 million annually to establish a new, league-wide charitable foundation.

“On behalf of the NBA Board of Governors, I am thrilled to announce the creation of the NBA Foundation,” said NBA board chairman and Toronto Raptors governor Larry Tanenbaum. “All NBA team governors recognize our unique position to effect change and we are committed to supporting and empowering young Black men and women in each of our team markets as well as communities across the U.S. and Canada.”

AROUND THE RIM

The NBA announced once again that nobody had tested positive for COVID-19 in the latest round of testing … Lowry passed one of his mentors, Chauncey Billups, in career assists in the second quarter days after also moving by both Allen Iverson and Michael Jordan … Lowry fell two points and one rebound shy of extending his franchise record for triple-doubles to 15 … Toronto is now a win away from a fifth consecutive season with at least 50 wins. The franchise failed to win 50 games in each of its first 50 seasons.

@WolstatSun

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020

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