First game in the NBA bubble. Playoff berth stalled a long time ago. Neither of the facts mattered to Kyle Lowry and the Raptors on Saturday.
Convenience in the postseason as their coach wants? No. They knew who was on the other side of the floor. They knew they couldn’t drive at half speed.
And so, the defending champions pitted against the top team in the West, the Lakers. Toronto left with a win of 107-92 after beating LA 24-9 in the last six minutes.
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“(Raptors coach) Nick (nurse) says he will put us at ease a little and use it as an exhibition,” Lowry told reporters, per The Associated Press, after Toronto’s 11th consecutive victory over the Lakers. “We have too many competitive guys who want to go out and play and hoop and win games, especially against the guys like the Lakers and with the number 1 team in the West. The competitive juices get to work.”
Lowry battled in 35 minutes with 33 points, 14 boards and six assists. His six points over a 30-second period (a free-throw of 3 and three on a three-shot error) helped to close the win.
The Raptors received additional help from Los Angeles, which shot 35.4 percent off the field and 10 for 40 from 3 in its second game in three nights. LeBron James still made sure to say good things about them.
“That’s a great team,” he told reporters, according to the Los Angeles Times (subscription required). “No ifs, ones or buts. Exceptionally well coached and champion DNA, you can never take that away from a ball club if you win a championship. And even before that, they only had playoff-tested guys.”
Guys like Lowry, Serge Ibaka, Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet and Marc Gasol, the remaining core of last year’s Finals-winning squad. Kawhi Leonard is now with the Clippers and Danny Green is now a Laker, but James doesn’t seem to mind.
“The media may not talk much about them or give them much appreciation because Kawhi is gone, but players in the league certainly know what kind of team they are,” he said.
The Raptors (47-18) have achieved at least a top four seed, but they certainly want to enter the playoffs as No. 2 in the East and postpone a possible match with the top-placed Bucks until the conference final. If they can achieve that goal in their three games this week, then maybe Lowry and his teammates can downshift – even before meeting those Bucks in eight days.