Raptors start defence with low target

The Toronto Raptors went to work before seeing off the New Orleans Pelicans 130-122.
The Toronto Raptors went to work before seeing off the New Orleans Pelicans 130-122.PHOTO: AFP

TORONTO • Before the start of the new National Basketball Association (NBA) campaign on Tuesday, the Toronto Raptors and their fans basked in last season's glory by unfurling a championship banner and collecting diamond-encrusted rings.

Then they went to work - overtime - before seeing off the New Orleans Pelicans 130-122 to keep the party rolling a little while longer.

Rarely in sport has so little been expected from a team that just four months ago accomplished so much, bringing an NBA championship to Canada for the first time.

In June, nearly two million fans clogged Toronto's streets for a victory parade but on Tuesday, as the banner was hoisted to the rafters, few hopes were being raised along with it.

"One last nice celebration for everybody," summed up Raptors coach Nick Nurse.

"I think it is cool to have that piece of history certainly for this generation and for the next generation that every time they come in to a game or event and they are going to look up and see that (banner)."

There is little talk of a championship repeat. In a matter of weeks, fans have lowered the bar and their expectations to the point where simply making the play-offs would be an acceptable result.

Oddsmakers have set the defending champions a 30-1 long shot to retain their crown with a dozen or more teams ranked ahead of them.

That is what happens in the NBA when a team lose their best player, like Toronto did when the Finals' Most Valuable Player Kawhi Leonard signed for the Los Angeles Clippers.

What Toronto are left with is a good team. But, to be contenders, they need a great player. Or two.

"It is more of a chance to prove ourselves," insisted Nurse.

"I see this as a tremendous opportunity for our organisation, our coaching staff, for a lot of players.

"I keep saying there are some really special guys on this team."

Not participating in the free agent musical chairs, Toronto instead decided to spend their money rewarding 25-year-old Pascal Siakam, the NBA's most improved player, with a four-year, US$130 million (S$177.3 million) contract extension. They are taking a gamble on the lanky Cameroonian blossoming into a top player.

And he has taken on the assignment with gusto and a smile, finishing the opener with 34 points and 18 rebounds.

REUTERS, NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 24, 2019, with the headline 'Raptors start defence with low target'. Print Edition | Subscribe