Rap­tors ride high af­ter west­ern sweep

Winnipeg Free Press - - SPORTS - LORI EWING

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 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.

“The ad­just­ments, you make them as you see teams do­ing other things. Now there is Pas­cal. It’s tough to game-plan 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 two-point 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.

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. My­self, some­times I like to get this one in the paint early to get my­self con­fi­dence to keep go­ing on. I’m not go­ing to try to force to look for threes, but if the three is open, I’m go­ing to shoot it.”

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 has now 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.”

Rap­tors for­ward Pas­cal Si­akam (left).

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