Fuelled by Lowry's fire, Raps head into new season

by Chris O'Leary

It started appropriately enough with a pullup three from 26-feet out, the ball barely moving the mesh as it caught iron and dropped through. 

Whenever Kyle Lowry’s name came up through the Raptors’ training camp, Nick Nurse would touch on the same points: He’s in incredible shape. He works hard, he battles. He’s always ready to go when the season gets here. 

For the last couple of weeks, that’s all that we had on Lowry. The team’s star point guard, coming off of the best season of his 14-year career, stayed behind in Tampa last week when the team went to Charlotte for a pair of preseason games. He didn’t appear in front of a camera until Thursday and Friday marked the first time since the Raps’ Game 7 loss to Boston -- a span of 99 days -- that he’d been a part of an NBA game. 

The lesson from this? Always listen to Nick Nurse. 

The rust apparently shaken off before he set foot on the court Friday, Lowry finished with 25 points, making 6 of 10 shots from deep, his 27 minutes logged before the fourth quarter.  

“It was certainly one of the bright spots from tonight’s performance,” Nurse said after the Raps’ 117-105 preseason finale loss to Miami. 

“He looked like he was in midseason form.” 

Like every team in the NBA, the Raptors head into the regular-season with a lot of questions that can only be answered over the next 72 games. We don’t know how Aron Baynes, Alex Len, Chris Boucher and perhaps to a lesser extent OG Anunoby will fare filling the void left by Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka. We don’t know who on the roster will continue to take steps forward or who could regress. We’ll see how a beefed up Eastern Conference shakes out and what kind of post-season logjam it could create in the late stages of the season. 

What we do know is that at the start of his ninth season in Toronto, Lowry will be the motor that drives the Raptors into 2021. Lowry turned 34 in March, played the third-most minutes of his career (36.2 per game) last season and simultaneously gave us his best basketball, his relentless energy spilling all over the court until the end of that Game 7 loss to Boston. 

“That boy is grand, man,” Raptors president Masai Ujiri said, raving about Lowry in his start-of-season press conference. “He’s in my opinion a hall of famer, he’s heading there to be one of the best Raptors of all-time.” 

“Last year to me was his best year,” Nurse said. 

“He seems to find a rhythm of how to come out of the gates, maybe not burning quite as much fuel as he did maybe five years ago. He knows how to temper that and continue to play through the course of the game at a high level, obviously managing a lot of the grind. He looks fantastic and he's in shape.” 

Through the questions that only time will answer, Lowry will be the player to set the tone for this team. He’ll help quarterback the offence and provide punch when it’s needed. He supplies charges taken on the other end of the floor and countless arguments for calls with officials in between. Whatever this Raptors team will do this year, it’ll be molded by the fire that burns within Lowry. 

If Lowry has his way, he wants the mentality of that six-foot-one, 196-pound body standing under the basket, sacrificing itself for a charge to spread across the floor.  

“I think we should become a real-life defensive monster,” he said. 

“I don't want to be this offensive juggernaut. I want us to be a defensive team where every single possession, every single night the team who's coming in knows that it's going to be a slug-it-out game and they're going to get hit, they're going to get beat up. They're not going to be just roaming free. I think that's one thing I would love for us to become.” 

You know what you get from Lowry but there’s uncertainty around him, too. He heads into a contract year, which isn’t unfamiliar territory for him but questions about his future will likely follow him through the next eight months.  

“My expectation personally is always winning a championship. I don't go out there to do anything but win games and win championships, that’s all I want to do. I've always said that, my whole career,” he said. 

“Where we are right now it’s going to be a process and it’s going to be (to) get better every single day. That's how I look at things, that’s how our organization looks at things. We expect to win and we expect to win at a high level.” 

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