TORONTO — The reeling Toronto Raptors could be getting some much-needed help.
Gary Trent Jr., who’s missed two games with a deep bruise in his right calf, practised on Wednesday and could return to the lineup when the Raptors host the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday.
The bad news however is that OG Anunoby — whose excellent play was abruptly halted by a hip injury that has seen him sit out seven straight games — did not participate in practice, nor did Khem Birch (knee swelling).
“OG is not ready for tomorrow,” coach Nick Nurse said in delivering the bleak news.
The Raptors have been hit hard by injuries already this young NBA season, missing Pascal Siakam for the first 10 games, and now Anunoby and Birch.
The pair of big men are sorely missed as Toronto (9-13) has tumbled down the standings to 12th in the Eastern Conference. They’ve won just three of their last 13 games, and are an uncharacteristically terrible 2-8 at home this season.
Nurse has no explanation for why his team has fared better on the road.
“I don’t know,” he said. “We have in general some really good road players. Kyle (Lowry) was a great road player. We’ve had a real band-together mentality on the road, a real grittiness on the road. I guess we have this year too more times than we have at home, that’s for sure.”
Is it easier to play on the road?
“I think it can be,” Nurse said. “Once the ball goes up it should seemingly be harder with the crowd and all that stuff. Things leading up to the game may be more difficult at home.”
Missing Anunoby, Birch, and Trent, the Raptors had trouble generating any offense in an ugly 98-91 loss to Memphis on Tuesday night that saw huge pockets of empty seats in Scotiabank Arena before the final buzzer sounded.
Always excellent on the defensive end, Anunoby had developed into a key cog in Toronto’s offense this season. He led the team in scoring with 20.1 points before he injured his hip in practice on Nov. 17, a day after scoring 29 points against Portland.
Making matter worse, the hip pointer — pain and/or bruising over the top or front of the hip bone usually caused by a direct blow — appears more serious than perhaps originally thought. He “hit a wall” in his recovery, Nurse said earlier this week, and the hip isn’t healing as well as the team had hoped.
Fred VanVleet, who had 15 points and nine rebounds in Tuesday’s loss, was asked how tough it is to generate offense with key players missing.
“I’d love to have an answer for you,” VanVleet said. “I would say it’s a long season. It’s five-, six-month seasons, playoffs is even longer. So you just worry about ‘can you create the shot?’
“There’s going to be nights when they go in, there’s going to be nights where we score 140 points. There’s going to be nights when you score 80, or 39 in a half. It’s going to happen.”
VanVleet said the sting of losing at home wasn’t significantly sharper than a loss on the road.
“It’s just disappointing to lose, it doesn’t really have anything to do with playing at home, to be honest with you. We could play on Pluto for all I care, it’s just disappointing to lose any time,” he said. “We expect to win around here, we have high standards and that’s not going to change.”
The Raptors, who rank 13th in the league in offensive efficiency and a lowly 24th in defensive efficiency, have to hope they can turn things around at home since 10 of their 13 games in December are at Scotiabank Arena.
On the plus side, the season is still young, and the Raptors are only two-and-a-half games out of the play-in tournament.