Scor­ing depth key to Rap­tors’ strong start

Toronto get­ting qual­ity con­tri­bu­tions from Si­akam, Ibaka ahead of host­ing New York Knicks tonight

Penticton Herald - - SPORTS - By The Cana­dian Press

TORONTO — Nick Nurse hasn’t been sleep­ing well. And that’s a good thing.

Back home af­ter a per­fect and his­toric 4-0 west­ern road swing, and boast­ing the best record in the NBA at 11-1, the new Toronto Rap­tors coach has been too pumped to sleep.

“It’s ex­cit­ing,” Nurse said af­ter Fri­day’s prac­tice. “I wish I was sleep­ing bet­ter to be hon­est with you. I’ve al­ways been like that. Af­ter a loss, I go home and pass out and don’t give it an­other thought. When I’m win­ning, I’m too ex­cited.

“I’m try­ing to even-keel it a lit­tle bit more, like I’m telling the team to.”

The trip marked the first time in fran­chise his­tory the Rap­tors have gone un­de­feated out west.

It also put Pas­cal Si­akam and Serge Ibaka squarely onto the scout­ing re­ports of op­pos­ing teams that al­ready had their hands full try­ing to find ways to stop Kyle Lowry and Kawhi Leonard.

“That’s the real beauty of it, be­cause you know they’re game-plan­ning for Kyle and Kawhi, and I’m not sure peo­ple game-planned for Serge much when he was play­ing (power for­ward), but now you can see they’re plan­ning for him rolling and play­ing in­side.

“Now there is Pas­cal. It’s tough to game­plan for a whole bunch of peo­ple, but that’s what we’re try­ing to get to . . . they have to do it or else those guys will con­tinue to hurt them, but it will open up more things for Kyle and Kawhi again.”

Si­akam is sec­ond in the league in two­point per­cent­age at 71.3 per cent be­hind Utah’s Rudy Gobert. Ibaka, who’s play­ing bet­ter than he has at any time in Toronto, is fourth (66.4).

Ibaka has been thriv­ing since Nurse moved the Con­golese big man back to cen­tre this sea­son. On his ca­reer-best scor­ing night (34 points) last week against the L.A. Lak­ers, Ibaka was like a freight train on a straight track to the rim, of­ten fill­ing the lane off fast breaks.

Ibaka’s shot at­tempts near the rim are up sig­nif­i­cantly, al­most dou­ble the 29.6 per cent he shot from in­side last sea­son.

“You have to choose which one you do the best,” he said, on points in the paint ver­sus three-point shoot­ing. “Not every­body can do ev­ery­thing at a high level. So you choose the one you think can help your game.”

While it’s still early, signs are point­ing to a break­out sea­son for Si­akam. He’s al­ways been a big boost of en­ergy for the Rap­tors, but now has added some eye-pop­ping ball move­ment to his reper­toire.

Lowry, mean­while, leads the league in as­sists with 11.3 per game, and Leonard is av­er­ag­ing 26 points a night with ad­mit­tedly much of the Rap­tors’ of­fence still to learn, mak­ing for a multi-headed night­mare for op­pos­ing teams.

The Rap­tors, Si­akam said, def­i­nitely aren’t rest­ing on their lau­rels.

“There is al­ways room for im­prove­ment,” said the wiry 24-year-old from Cameroon. “We’ve played some de­cent bas­ket­ball and we’re win­ning games and more im­por­tantly I think we can al­ways get bet­ter.

“On de­fence, I don’t think we’ve reached our po­ten­tial or what we can do just with the length that we have and the guys on the team. And of­fence, we’re still fig­ur­ing ev­ery­thing out. We still have a long way to go.”

The Rap­tors are home for the next three games, start­ing tonight against the New York Knicks (4-8, 11th in the East). The New Or­leans Pel­i­cans are in Toronto on Mon­day. And for­mer Rap­tors coach Dwane Casey, who was fired af­ter the team failed to get past the Cleve­land Cava­liers in last sea­son’s play­offs, brings his Detroit Pis­tons to town on Wed­nes­day.

Long­time com­mis­sioner, Stern, pleased to see Rap­tors thriv­ing

TORONTO — David Stern and Rap­tors pres­i­dent Ma­sai Ujiri are in agree­ment — there’s no doubt Toronto has be­come a des­ti­na­tion for NBA play­ers.

And Stern, the league’s com­mis­sioner from 1984 to 2014, said any no­tion the city isn’t one died long ago.

“It has not worn off, it has been ex­ploded off,” Stern said. “Toronto has the most won­der­ful ar­ray of sports as­sets and a cos­mopoli­tan com­mu­nity and a great build­ing.

“It’s a plea­sure to see that it is a des­ti­na­tion city that play­ers want to go to.”

Stern over­saw the NBA’s ex­pan­sion to Canada dur­ing his ten­ure, with both the Rap­tors and Van­cou­ver Griz­zlies join­ing the league ahead of the 1995-96 cam­paign.

But while the Rap­tors have flour­ished af­ter some early strug­gles, the Griz­zlies only lasted six sea­sons be­fore mov­ing to Mem­phis in 2001.

“I con­sider (Toronto) a great suc­cess,” Stern said. “Just as I con­sider Van­cou­ver to be one of our fail­ures.”

Stern still be­lieves there’s a chance the NBA might one day re­turn to Canada’s west coast.

“I would never say never about any­thing,” the 76-year-old said. “Van­cou­ver still has a great build­ing.”

The As­so­ci­ated Press

Toronto Rap­tors for­ward Pas­cal Si­akam dunks over Sacra­mento Kings guard Iman Shumpert dur­ing NBA ac­tion Wed­nes­day in Sacra­mento, Calif.


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