Raps wrap historic road trip
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The road trip wasn’t just good. It was historic.
The Raptors didn’t collectively spit on the accomplishment, but it’s very clear this isn’t anywhere near as good as they believe they can be.
“It’s just four wins,” Kyle Lowry said of the first road trip sweep of four games or more in team history. He punctuated that with a shoulder shrug.
So no big deal then, right?
“Continue to get better,” Lowry said. “Nothing special.” Then after a pause and a knowing look, “Bigger picture,” he said.
That in a nutshell was the response from most everyone on this team after accomplishing something no other Raptors team ever has.
But far from disrespecting the accomplishment, this speaks to the team’s internal expectations. Within the locker room, they actually aren’t that thrilled with the way they played on this trip with wins over Phoenix, the Lakers, Utah, and the Kings Thursday night.
“Just finding a way,” Fred VanVleet said giving the whole trip an appropriate theme. “None of these (wins) were particularly pretty except for the Lakers game and even in that second half we gave them a run. But that’s just the game. It’s finding a way to win. I think each of the four games were different in their own right. It speaks to the versatility and the calibre of team we have.” But satisfied? Not this group. “I think we were lucky to come out with this one,” shooting guard Danny Green offered. “You look up and down the line. I think the only thing we beat them in was rebounding.
But that’s a good sign for us.
It shows how good this team can be. Even though it was an ugly night for us we were able to grind it out and come out with a win.”
Again something they did in Phoenix. And they had a rather gruesome first quarter in Utah before righting the ship.
In Green’s opinion, and consider him one of the better analysts in the clubhouse, the 11-1 record to date is just a sign of what the Raptors can be. The last thing he wants anyone within the Raptors locker room is to take this start to the season as some sort of affirmation that the Raptors are better than everyone else.
“Every other team is still trying to figure it out, too,” Green said. “Not many teams have their foundation back, but for a few. Everybody is trying to figure it out. I think we have a good group of people back from last year with a couple of additions which makes it easier, but I’m anxious to see how we are when we are 100% healthy.”
And health has been rather fleeting for this team so far this season.
They’ve already had five rotation players — Delon Wright, VanVleet, Kawhi Leonard, Norm Powell and C.J.. Miles — miss time due to injury and a sixth in OG Anunoby who has missed two games due to personal issues.
“Two steps forward, one step back, right?” said VanVleet. “You just want to keep nudging and keep transitioning upwards. I think I had a good game in Utah, OG has looked good the past couple of games, and obviously Kawhi is going to take some time. I mean when he (misses games) it’s like starting over each time. But 25 (points) and 10 (actually 11 rebounds) he can probably do that in his sleep.
“It’s like we said in pre-season, this is going to take time, but 10 and 11 games in you are starting to see flashes and the next 10 you try to build on what you did the previous 10,” VanVleet said.
Head coach Nick Nurse is actually giddy with the results he’s getting considering how much he still needs to do with this team. He knows this team is nowhere near its peak.
“I’d say 35 per cent of our defensive schemes aren’t in yet and our offense is about the same,” Nurse said Wednesday. “There’s a lot of things to get out there and a lot of things we still want to try and see if they can be effective for later on.”
Newcomer Kawhi Leonard then sums up the Raptors situation perfectly.
“It’s still early,” he said. “We still have a lot of potential. We can be confident of where we are, but we still have to have a sort of fear of us knowing that guys can beat us. Just have the mindset of wanting to get better because this is not where we want to (top out). We want to be the best team.”
All that after only the best road trip in franchise history. Buckle up Raptors fans. The ride is just getting started.
Toronto’s Kyle Lowry goes to the basket as Sacramento’s Kosta Koufos looks on during the Raptors’ 114-105 win over the Kings Wednesday night in Sacramento.