First game in the NBA bubble. Playoff berth clinched long ago. Neither fact mattered to Kyle Lowry and the Raptors on Saturday.
Ease into the postseason like their coach wants? Nope. They knew who was on the other end of the floor. They knew they couldn’t go half-speed.
And so the defending league champs exerted themselves against the top team in the West, the Lakers. Toronto left with a 107-92 win after outscoring LA 24-9 in the final six minutes.
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”(Raptors coach) Nick (Nurse) says he’s going to kind of ease us back in and use it as an exhibition,” Lowry told reporters, per The Associated Press, after Toronto’s 11th win in a row over the Lakers. “We’ve got too many competitive guys that want to go out there and play and hoop and win games, especially against the guys like the Lakers and with the team that’s No. 1 in the West. The competitive juices get going.”
Lowry competed to the tune of 33 points, 14 boards and six assists in 35 minutes. His six points in a 30-second span (a 3 and three free throws on a three-shot foul) helped to close out the win.
The Raptors got additional help from Los Angeles, which shot 35.4 percent from 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, per the Los Angeles Times (subscription required). “No ifs, ands or buts. Exceptionally well coached and championship DNA, you can never take that away from a ballclub if you win a championship. And even before that, they just got 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 that doesn’t seem to matter to James.
“The media may not talk about them much or give them much credit because Kawhi is gone, but players in the league definitely know what type of team they are,” he said.
The Raptors (47-18) have clinched at least a top-four seed, but surely they’d like to enter the playoffs as No. 2 in the East and delay a potential matchup with the top-seeded Bucks until the conference finals. If they can achieve that goal in their three games this week, then maybe Lowry and his teammates can gear down — even for their meeting with those Bucks in eight days.