Toronto Raptors showing rust ahead of NBA’s Orlando restart

Everything about the Toronto Raptors’ final exhibition game of the NBA restart appeared peculiar, from the presence of digital fans and scorekeepers behind plexiglass, to the NBA’s reigning champs playing sloppy basketball.

The Raptors looked disengaged on Tuesday when they played the last of their three scrimmages in the league’s Orlando bubble. Chalk it up to players who are still working themselves into game shape at the same time simultaneously growing bored of exhibition games.

The Raptors were defensively porous and turned the ball more than 28 times. Pascal Siakam led the champs in the losing effort with 17 points, consisting of four three-pointers, while Norman Powell chipped in 14 points.

Toronto won two of its three scrimmages in the Orlando bubble, and finally gets set for meaningful games, which start Saturday night against LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers. Each of the 22 teams will play eight times in the next two weeks in order to determine the 16 seeds for the NBA playoffs.

Fans have had several weeks to get used to the idea of NBA basketball inside a tightly secured Orlando bubble and see social-media posts of players in a world including its own daily testing for coronavirus, along with fishing ponds, ping-pong tables, and barber shops. However, it still seemed surreal for fans to watch a Raptors game broadcast live from Disney World on a weekday afternoon of July.

The arena was empty, instead of a crowd of some 20,000 hollering fans at a typical NBA game. Its walls instead featured 17-foot video boards flashing prerecorded images of cheering fans. While the scorekeepers worked courtside, behind a hockey-style plexiglass barrier, the players and coaches sat in physically-distanced assigned seats. Only a small group of media is allowed to get inside the bubble. Beloved Raptors broadcasters Jack Armstrong and Matt Devlin are also calling games off TV in Toronto.

Although the atmosphere was different with the Raptors playing lacklustre ball, there were some familiar moments. OG Anunoby had a trio of blocks, Nurse played many of his starters more than 20 minutes, Powell was driving to the hoop, and Kyle Lowry was putting his body on the line to draw charges.