Amid intense travel, Raptors show signs of progress in preseason loss to Bulls

Toronto – There aren’t many downsides to being part of Team Canada and having communities across the country want to welcome you and fans from coast to coast, engulfing your expensive merchandise.

But one of them is that your pre-season requires travel. Training camp in Victoria and exhibition game in Edmonton, another in Montreal at the end of the week and trips to Boston and Houston in between.

It’s a lot. The Raptors hosted the Chicago Bulls for their only exhibition game at home on Sunday night – they lost 115-98 to fall to 2-2 with one more to play – and had a case to prove they were a bit tired of the road, and this before the start of the season.

“I would never complain about being on the Canada team, but part of that is that we’re going to be playing these games in other cities across Canada and that forces us to have a busy travel schedule,” said Raptors head coach Nick Nurse. “We still have obligations to play teams because most of them are in the United States and we still have obligations there from time to time…and the reality is that it’s not that easy to get the teams to go on a long trip and play us somewhere in Canada, so in return we have to go and give them back at some point and that’s how it lands sometimes.

“It’s already been a lot of travel and a lot of late nights, but that’s okay, you’ll be fine.”

A case of road steps could explain the Raptors’ pitiful three-point shooting in their first three exhibition games. They entered Sunday’s game shooting 25.5% from deep. Take away Gabe Brown, a camp signee, who was 4 of 9 heading into Sunday and Khem Birch who was 2 of 3 — neither of them are likely to throw triples for the Raptors early in the season — and the Raptors who will actually be on expects them to make three stumbles at 22 percent.

Part of the problem is that the Raptors have gone through their schedule with a focus on getting as much practice time as possible, travel issues aside.

“I mean, look, we probably did things a lot differently than we would have done in the regular season,” Nurse said. [practice] coming back from the west coast, like a really long physical hard going to boston [on Wednesday] because it’s training camp mode, … if it was regular season, it wouldn’t have looked like this [and] we still have guys trying to get in shape and putting a lot of time, energy and physicality into a lot of practices and that doubles the effect I think.

The Raptors have another day off Monday and will be home until they make the quick trip to Montreal for Friday’s game, and hopefully some time in their own beds helps. Shooting continues to be a problem for a team that struggled to shoot the ball last year. The Raptors led 57-47 at halftime, but that was mostly forcing the Bulls to 16 turnovers in the first two quarters. Toronto was 4 of 15 from the bottom of the half and 8 of 37 for the game. Shooting this badly won’t continue and should improve when free agent Otto Porter Jr. (hamstring) is available, but it’s hard to watch right now.

Much more interesting is the battle for the last two guaranteed contracts on the 15-man roster.

Well, check this out: After Dalano Banton turned in another impressive performance – he was the Raptors’ most consistent player in the preseason – Rexdale’s long guard is all but guaranteed to start the regular season with the team. his hometown and to have his second-year option picked up.

“I think the most important thing is that he looks so comfortable there,” Nurse said after Banton had 11 points, five rebounds and two assists in 17 minutes of game time. field. He’s now shooting 65.5% from the ground, mostly on his dive drives, but with just enough jump shots to hint at what the future may hold. “He plays at the pace he wants to play and I think he does a bit of everything, not just on the attacking side.

“I think he plays in transition. He leads the team pretty well, he runs the sets, that sort of thing. But he was really good on the defensive end, wasn’t he. He’s really noticeable, getting his hands on the basketball and pushing it away or reaching for the weak side or whatever that pulls one out. He’s done a good job, I think he’s using that length and he’s also got a really good instinct as to where the ball is going maybe a little bit in advance, okay, so he can get my hands on it. So that part has been good to see, his defense and his kind of success on and off the ball.

Banton credits a busy offseason where he played on the Raptors’ Summer League team in July, played the Raptors against other NBA pros in races hosted by assistant coach Rico Hines in August and they played for Raptors assistant Nate Mitchell for Team Canada at the AmeriCup in September.

“I really feel like confidence-wise, I feel like the guys there trust me to do what they think I do well,” Banton said afterwards. . “And then definitely the game over the summer – a lot of games in the Summer League, playing Rico and then playing Brazil with Team Canada. I just feel like a lot of live reps over the summer got me started and I’m going to keep running with it. My confidence is there. I feel like with these guys looking for me in my places, helping me to leverage my strengths and trusting me and being there for me as a youngster has been great for me and my development.

If Banton’s place seems increasingly secure, it’s a mess after that, with each of DJ Wilson, Josh Jackson and Gabe Brown having shown well enough to make their case. Still waiting for his chance is Justin Champagnie, the second-year forward who had his two-way deal converted at the end of last season but was sidelined last summer with a broken thumb and then missed last week – and the Raptors’ exhibition three games – with a sprained hip.

“I think it’s really important for him [to perform well in games]”, said the nurse. “Because it’s not like the other guys haven’t been of interest. Some of the guys have also done things, you know. So you would like to say, ‘Justin has did some good things for us last year he’s been in the system he’s had a pretty good summer his shooting is getting a little bit better’ you’re leaning towards that as part of the [evaluation because] it’s already a lot of time and investment.

“But he has to play because, like you, you saw some of the other guys, all of them really made their case.”

After the Bulls fought back in the third quarter, making it 80-77 to start the fourth, Champagnie finally found himself on the floor. It was neither a resounding success nor a cavalcade of errors. He made a good play to pick up a loose mid-court ball – the kind of head-up play he seems to do regularly – and drove the lane and foul, but a moment later he got beat on a cut for a lay-up. He worked his way inside on a missed free throw and somehow managed an offensive rebound that almost resulted in extra possession for Toronto, although the ball ended up going out of bounds and back to the Bulls . He forced a drive into the lane and got stuck. For the most part, Champagnie looked like he was trying to find his feet in the hodgepodge of preseason garbage time after not playing NBA speed for months.

Helping Champagnie’s cause in particular is that none of the players battling for the final roster spot(s) have shown particularly well. The Bulls’ bench group pulled away from the Raptors thanks to a 14-3 run midway through the final period.

The Raptors hit the road – naturally – for their final exhibition game this Friday in Montreal. The rotation’s key players should be better rested after a heavy load during training camp and the first part of the exhibition season, and while those in the Champagnie position will be on their last chances to decide the Raptors. about their future.

Dalano Banton? He can rest easy. His place on the Canadian team seems assured.

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