The Province

Raptors still looking to find their full stride

Even with a 16-4 start, players see potential for even more

- MIKE GANTER mganter@postmedia.com

TORONTO — Twenty games into the season is about the time most teams start to get a feel for what they are all about.

The rotations are becoming familiar, the way a team is best suited to winning games and any obstacles they have to overcome to remain competitiv­e have been identified and everyone is comfortabl­e.

Well, comfortabl­e assuming the results to date have been to a team’s liking.

On the latter front — the results front — the Toronto Raptors have little to complain about.

They are 16-4 and showing no signs of slippage. The schedule hasn’t been opponent strong, but it has been road heavy and the Raptors have been exceptiona­lly strong away from home with just two losses despite two extended trips already on their slate.

But in terms of what they are, how comfortabl­e everyone is ... in that regard the Raptors are probably a little behind the curve.

And that’s not necessaril­y a bad thing.

“I think we have a talented team,” point guard Kyle Lowry said after Friday’s win over the Washington Wizards. “I think our defence is where we can hang our hats, really. I still don’t know where we are, potential-wise, but we’re a defensive-minded team with some real offensive weapons.”

Head coach Nick Nurse has only had his full complement of players healthy for one game this season and that, more than anything, is what has most believing this team still has another gear.

Nurse himself sees things a little differentl­y. He came into the year expecting to have to spend a considerab­le amount of time getting Kawhi Leonard back up to speed after he missed all but nine games a year ago in San Antonio.

But Leonard showed up in training camp pretty much ready to go. The team has kept the kid gloves on him to this point, sitting him out the second game of back-to-backs, but that too could change in time.

“If I had to be honest, now that we are here looking back ... I didn’t have any preconceiv­ed notions that we would be where we are with Kawhi at this point,” Nurse said Saturday. “That was my first thing. I thought it would be a more easing in thing. I didn’t know he would be this ready to play.”

Leonard has been everything and more than the Raptors could have hoped. Even with the organizati­on sitting him out on the back end of back-to-backs Leonard has been a pivotal part of Toronto’s early success with his two-way play. He’s averaging just over 33 minutes a night while contributi­ng 24.4 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.8 steals per game.

There are still times in games when it feels Leonard is relying too much on his own ability but that, too, is to be expected as he learns the rest of the roster.

Leonard declared himself fully healthy for really the first time all season following Friday’s win, although in fairness he may have been feeling that way for a while. He was also asked what read he has on his new team a quarter of the way through the season.

“We’re playing well, I still think we can get better,” Leonard said.

I think our defence is where we can hang our hats, really.” Kyle Lowry

 ?? — THE CANADIAN PRESS ?? “I still don’t know where we are, potential-wise, but we’re a defensive-minded team with some real offensive weapons,” says the Raptors’ Kyle Lowry.
— THE CANADIAN PRESS “I still don’t know where we are, potential-wise, but we’re a defensive-minded team with some real offensive weapons,” says the Raptors’ Kyle Lowry.

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