Game Preview: Raptors vs Trail Blazers

Holly MacKenzie - Raptors.com

Portland Trail Blazers (0-0)  @ Toronto Raptors (0-0)

When: Saturday, September 29, 7 P.M. ET

Where: Rogers Arena, Vancouver, B.C.

Leading into tonight:

We made it: Saturday’s game against the Portland Trail Blazers will be the first of Toronto’s five-game preseason schedule. It will be played in Vancouver, where the team is holding their training camp, as part of the NBA Canada Series presented by Bell. It also marks another step closer to the team’s regular-season opener on Oct. 17 against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

 First looks: Saturday’s game will have a lot of firsts. It will be Nick Nurse’s first preseason game as head coach. It’ll be the first time Raptors fans will get a look at Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green in Raptors uniforms since being traded to the Raptors in July. It will also be the first time the current squad will get to play against opponents other than their own teammates in practice.

Nurse spoke at the team’s media day about trying different lineups, so fans could be in for a glimpse at some interesting five-man combinations. 

“I think our team’s very versatile,” Nurse said. “I think we’ll be able to move a lot of people around, which in this day and age in basketball a lot of teams are playing a lot of different lineups and we’re going to be able to do the same.”

 Team effort: Training camp is all about getting familiar. Learning new teammates, a new coaching style and its terminologies, understanding offensive and defensive systems. Though much of the Raptors roster are returning players, a new head coach means adapting to a new system. Though returning players have a head start in knowing Nurse, there hasn’t been a hierarchy when it comes to teaching.

“We help each other,” Jonas Valanciunas said. “it's not like me and Kyle [Lowry], or somebody else who has experience [is doing it all], we're all helping each other. We're a team. We're not 'Oh we have some years so you guys all listen to us.' No, we all help each other. Doesn't matter. A new guy can tell me 'JV you're not in the right place, go down, go up.' As a team sport we help each other.’”

Extra assists:

WWE Champions: Assistant coach Nate Bjorkgren has brought some levity to training camp with a pair of WWE championship belts that are given out after each practice. One belt goes to the winner of a 1-on-1 challenge while the other goes to the player that wins shooting drills. 

Business as usual: Though the coaching staff has been sprinkling in things to break up the monotony of camp, having music playing and belts being presented hasn’t taken away from the focus that the practices demand. C.J. Miles, who has 13 NBA seasons and training camps under his belt, says this year’s camp is as intense as any.

“There’s no lax approach to what we’re doing, there’s just music in the background,” he said. “There’s still yelling, there’s still us going hard, diving on the floor, you just might hear Stevie Wonder playing. We’re still in here going hard, still guys mad at fouls not being called, still guys trying to win every possession, every drill. I don’t want people to think when they hear that we’re winning belts and all this stuff that it’s changing. There’s still elbows, busted lips, stitches. It’s the same training camp.”

KL & KL: For the majority of the team’s practice sessions in Vancouver, Kyle Lowry and Kawhi Leonard have been paired together in the same groups for drills. Getting the team’s two All-Stars familiar with each other is one of the biggest keys to this year’s training camp. Five days in, Lowry says the two are learning each other’s games. ”He's a heck of a player," Lowry said. "Us being on the same page makes everything a lot easier, and then [after that] getting everyone else on the same page will come.”