Toronto Star

Raps relish tougher schedule coming up


One of the takeaways from the Raptors’ win over the Golden State Warriors on Thursday night was how much players delighted in one of the first big battles of the NBA season.

“It was a fun game, man,” Kyle Lowry said after Toronto’s 131128 overtime victory. “This is what the league is all about, guys going at it. (Kevin Durant) had 51 (points), put them on their backs, made two huge threes down the stretch and Kawhi (Leonard) made some big shots. It was a fun game.”

If going toe-to-toe with the best is what gets the blood pumping for Lowry and his teammates, December is going to be a blast.

In the Raptors’ first 23 games, heading into a visit to last-place Cleveland on Saturday night, the team had cruised through the sixth-easiest schedule in the NBA, according to — it was the third-easiest before dates with the Memphis Grizzlies and Warriors this past week.

The combined win percentage of their first 23 opponents was .465. For the next nine, it’s .625.

Looking too far ahead isn’t in the Raptors’ DNA, nor is placing added emphasis on socalled “big” games — at least publicly. Their familiar refrain is that “any team in the NBA is a hard team to beat.”

“I’m not really looking at teams’ records and where they’re at, because at this point in the season everybody’s all over the place and those records will balance themselves out as the season goes on. So, I think right now everybody’s about even and anybody can get beat on any given night, so you’ve just got to go out there and give your best effort,” guard Fred VanVleet said recently.

Coach Nick Nurse said recently that he looks forward to the upcoming challenge.

“It’s good,” he said. “I want to get in some knock-’em-out, drag-’em-out (games) and I want to see what we’re made of. I’m looking forward to that.”

In less than three weeks — before they take on the Cavaliers again on Dec. 21 — the Raptors play nearly every second day. The exceptions: a back-to-back, Dec. 11 and 12 against the Clippers and Warriors, and two days off between facing the Nuggets on Dec.16 and a Dec.19 visit by the Indiana Pacers on Dec. 19. Four of the games in that stretch are at home, five on the road.

For Leonard, the pace of the schedule is just as important as the teams they’ll be playing.

“I feel like it’s going to be good for us, just so we can get a rhythm,” he said. “We’re playing every other day and I think this is a time we can gel as a team.”

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