TORONTO — Few people picked the Toronto Raptors to do much this season.
But despite a banged-up roster, and boasting no bona fide superstars, the Raptors are poised to set a franchise-best winning streak. And the adversity they’ve faced this season makes it that much sweeter.
“Even though we’ve won 11 in a row, there was quite a few games in there I’m not sure we played all that great but we found a way to win, which is a good characteristic that we have,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said.
A victory over the visiting Indiana Pacers on Wednesday would stretch the Raptors’ league-high win streak to 12 games — one of the longest in Toronto pro sports history.
The Raptors won 11 consecutive games twice before: Feb. 26 to March 16, 2018 and Jan. 6-30, 2016. The Toronto Blue Jays have won 11 in a row five times. The Maple Leafs’ longest win streak is 10 games in 1993. The Argonauts won 10 straight in 1997. And the Toronto Wolfpack, the city’s trans-Atlantic rugby league team, saw its 23-game win streak end last weekend.
The Raptors’ sizzling stretch came despite missing several key players, and the injury misery continues. Marc Gasol reaggravated his hamstring injury and could be out until after NBA all-star weekend. Norm Powell broke a finger last weekend, and had it heavily bandaged at Tuesday’s practice.
The only positive update was that Rondae Hollis-Jefferson could return from a sprained ankle Wednesday.
“We were healthy for like three, four games?” Pascal Siakam said. “It’s not funny, but it’s like man, we can’t catch a break. It’s tough but things like that happen and I think one of the things that we’ve been able to do is next man to step up and play at a high level.”
The Raptors could be in tough against an Indy team that’s flown under the radar in the Eastern Conference, sitting just five games behind Toronto.
Two-time all-star Victor Oladipo also returned last week after sitting out a calendar year with a major knee injury he suffered against the Raptors. Oladipo was chasing down Siakam when he fell awkwardly in January of 2019.
“It’s great to see him back,” said Raptors coach Nick Nurse. “He’s a great person, really great player in this league, great to see him back but we’ve got to do our work to get ourselves ready for him.”
Raptors guard Kyle Lowry texted Oladipo after his return last week — he scored a game-tying three-pointer in Indy’s win over Chicago — saying “welcome back.”
“He’s not in a rhythm yet, so that’s good. Hopefully he stays out of rhythm,” Lowry said of facing Oladipo. “But I’m happy any time a guy like that comes back, a good guy, a guy who worked so hard to become who he was. I’m happy for him, honestly.”
The Raptors face the Pacers in consecutive games, they travel to Indy on Friday a day after Thursday’s NBA trade deadline.
Raptors president Masai Ujiri was busy at this time last year, manoeuvring to pull the trigger on the deal that sent Jonas Valanciunas, Delon Wright and CJ Miles to Memphis for Gasol.
Are there immediate changes coming for Toronto?
Nurse, for one, said he believes in the group of players he has now.
“I think there’s guys that have certainly raised their own profile which has in turn raised the profile of our team. I think we’ve developed a bit of a bench, as well, which we can count on, right?” he said. “Some of those guys don’t even get to play now and we can still count on them when we need to.
“And the other thing I would say is I trust Masai, Bobby (general manager Bobby Webster) and the front office, if they see a move they think would help us, and they make it, we’re certainly behind them in that and we make the best we can to put the best team on the floor and put them in the best positions to succeed.”
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press