The Toronto Raptors are back.
On Friday, the Raptors played their first of three scrimmages ahead of the season restart at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida. Led by Serge Ibaka, who finished with a team-high 18 points in only 17 minutes, they defeated the Houston Rockets by a final score of 94-83.
The end result doesn't mean much considering these scrimmages won't count towards either team's wins and losses - they're tune-ups ahead of the eight seeding games, which begin next week - but that doesn't mean there isn't anything we can learn from them.
With that in mind, here are some quick observations from the game...
1. The Raptors are healthy!
Per Blake Murphy of The Athletic, all 17 players were available for the Raptors. Not everyone played - Marc Gasol sat out for matchup reasons - but everyone dressed.
I can't tell you the last time that was the case. The Raptors have missed the fifth-most games to injury this season. At least they're getting the season restart off on the right foot.
2. The Rockets are still working Russell Westbrook back
After testing positive for COVID-19 prior to entering the Orlando bubble, Westbrook only recently joined the Rockets.
That's probably why Rockets head coach Mike D'Antoni said before the game that Westbrook would sit out the second half against the Raptors while everyone else got in "a good run."
Westbrook ended up playing only 15 minutes, but he was his usual active self during his short time on the court, finishing with 10 points, nine rebounds and one assist on 5-for-12 shooting from the field.
He had a couple of spectacular finishes, like this one that came in the closing seconds of the first half:
Off the made TOR free throw, Westbrook breaks out of the crowd and Lowry takes a route a CB gambling for a pick. The play is over at that point, Russ with that much of a run way to get going, there is no stopping that. pic.twitter.com/kLW2g1gHQ5- Mo Dakhil (@MoDakhil_NBA) July 25, 2020
If nothing else, it's encouraging that it doesn't appear as though Westbrook has skipped a beat.
3. Slow and steady wins the race
Nick Nurse, meanwhile, said before the game that the priority for the Raptors was conditioning, meaning everyone's minutes were going to be limited, which, well, shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone considering these are only scrimmages and this was the first time the Raptors have played in 137 days.
Sure enough, Nurse stuck to his word.
With Gasol out, Nurse went with a starting five of Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam and Serge Ibaka, but they each played less than 25 minutes. The bulk of their normal minutes went to Terence Davis, Chris Boucher, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Matt Thomas, although Stanley Johnson and Oshae Brissett also got some burn.
That points to something bigger that will be worth monitoring over the next couple of weeks. It's safe to assume that there are seven locks in Nurse's rotation for the playoffs, those locks being Lowry, VanVleet, Anunoby, Siakam, Gasol, Ibaka and Norman Powell. What remains to be seen is if Nurse settles on an eighth man or if he uses that as an opportunity to rotate different players depending on what's needed - two-way play from Davis, rim protection from Boucher, energy and defence from Hollis-Jefferson, shooting from Thomas.
This game didn't exactly provide much clarity on which direction Nurse is leaning, but the upcoming scrimmages and seeding games should provide more clarity.
4. Serge Ibaka really has had a wonderful season
And it looks like it'll continue in Orlando.
He was Toronto's leading scorer in this one with 18 points on 8-for-10 shooting from the field. He did it in a variety of ways, using his size to score on the smaller Rockets in the post and knocking down a couple of 3-pointers. He even had a couple of nice passes.
It's only one game and it's only a scrimmage, but it looks like Ibaka is going to pick up from where he left off.
5. OG Anunoby expanding his game
The Raptors went to Anunoby in the post a couple of times against the Rockets.
He didn't score on either possession - he missed a turnaround on the first and picked up an offensive foul on the second if I remember correctly - but it's noteworthy because getting the ball in the post with the intention of scoring is not something we've seen much from Anunoby this season. According to NBA.com, he has a total of 28 post-up possessions. His numbers on those possessions: 0.61 points per, ranking him in the 8th percentile in scoring efficiency.
In other words, not only does Anunoby rarely post up, he's been one of the league's least efficient scorers in the post the few times he's tried to score with his back to the basket.
So why bring it up? It wouldn't shock me if it becomes a bigger part of his game in the playoffs. With him being the worst offensive player in the starting lineup for the Raptors, teams may very well stick either their shortest or weakest defender on him knowing he's not much of a threat to create his own offence. If Anunoby can punish them for doing that by using his size to bulldoze his way to the rim, even if it's only once or twice per game, it will make it much harder for teams to hide defenders on him.
That's important because Anunoby is arguably Toronto's best perimeter defender. If teams can figure out a way to play him off the court by making him a liability on offence, it will make it much harder for the Raptors to slow down some of the NBA's best scorers.
Him bullying smaller defenders in the post could be the key to make sure that doesn't happen.
6. Kyle Lowry probably draws charges in his sleep
Playoff games. All-Star Games. Regular season games. Preseason games. Scrimmages.
It doesn't matter. If there's a charge to be drawn, Lowry is there.
Kyle Lowry draws the charge in a meaningless game.- Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) July 25, 2020
Basketball is truly and officially back.
7. Next up
The Raptors will play their second scrimmage game on Sunday, July 26. Their opponent? Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers.
The game will start at 6:00 p.m. ET and will air on Sportsnet. Catch you then.
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