TORONTO – Less than two months ago, the Toronto Raptors returned victorious to Scotiabank Arena, exactly 600 days since they last played at home.
While the Washington Wizards continue to win, the October 20 regular season opener looks like a win. The Raptors were thrilled to be back home from spending a competitive season away from Tampa, Fla., and a full crowd of 19,800 celebrated their return.
But the recent surge in COVID-19 cases in Ontario resembles Groundhog Day on Thursday. The Ontario provincial government is cutting crowd numbers at events to half capacity, starting with Saturday’s Raptors game against Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors.
“I’m trying to be optimistic about it,” defender Fred VanVleet said in a virtual media briefing on Thursday. “It’s been a bit of a bittersweet thing, we’re lucky to have our fans back, we’re lucky to be back, but obviously we have to put health and safety first.”
Coach Nick Nurse said the feeling of sliding backwards was uncomfortable, but the team realized safety first.
“Everybody can see the logic and I, like anyone, have a balance of frustration at times because you want things to stay the way they are or improve and they just don’t work right now,” he said.
“Common sense always prevails… and you just need to adjust your thinking a little bit. Do yourself a bit to let it move over you. Hopefully we’ve learned some lessons about keeping our focus and attention working, alert and ready to play.
“The game is still to play and we need to try our best, be the most professional with that.”
Not only were the Raptors the only NBA team to play outside of their market last season, they were also impacted by a COVID-19 outbreak in late February that left several key players, including VanVleet and most Most of the coaching staff had to sit out and watch them go down. Eastern Conference standings and missed out on the knockout stages.
They have also failed to manage to avoid the virus this season. Precious Achiuwa has missed four games as directed by Toronto Public Health because of close contact and team president Masai Ujiri announced that he contracted COVID-19 following the Giants of Africa event on May 5. 12 has recorded a number of cases.
The Raptors were scheduled to host Chicago on Thursday, but that game was postponed after 10 Bulls players joined league protocols.
The Brooklyn Nets have just the minimum eight players in the league when they host Toronto on Tuesday, beating the Raptors 131-129 in extra time.
When asked if it feels weird playing a team without hands, VanVleet said it’s not something the Raptors haven’t experienced before.
“No, we did it last year so nothing is new,” he said. “Until I see a whole team go out on the field with all the coaches, like we had it in another city, then I will think about it, but we watched it all last year so it no different.”
About 33 players across the league joined the health and safety regulations on Thursday, including RJ Barrett of the New York Knicks of Canada. Sacramento Kings interim coach Alvin Gentry and two players tested positive amid an outbreak there. Both the Knicks and Kings played in Toronto in the last week.
The NBA and the National Basketball Players Association are said to be in the process of strengthening their health and safety protocols in response to the increased cases.
The nurse said the Raptors had the ball rolling.
“We had to go back, improve our protocols so they were at a higher level, I think we did an incredibly good job with that that might not even have been asked to do. so,” said Nurse. “We could have gone a few days earlier, and we did all the extensive testing and double checks before we were allowed into the building, all of that since it was at a strict level. Best.
“Your first reaction is ‘ah, experiment more’ and you get over that after about a day or five minutes or whatever and realize you’re doing it right.”
The Raptors had some good news on Thursday. Achiuwa, OG Anunoby (hip injury) and Khem Birch (swollen knee) have all returned to training. Anunoby, a top defender, was also the team’s top scorer when he was injured. He missed 13 games in a row.
This Canadian Press report was first published on December 16, 2021.
© 2021 Canadian Press
https://globalnews.ca/news/8456861/raptors-say-safety-first-in-cutting-arena-capacity/ Raptors say safety first in reducing arena capacity