Raptors won’t come out and say it, but should be playing on Christmas

PHILADELPHIA — The Toronto Raptors know they should be part of the NBA’s marquee Christmas Day slate on Tuesday, but they aren’t going to lose any sleep about not being there yet again.

When asked if there was much discussion in the locker room about the snub on Saturday, following their loss to the 76ers, point guard Fred VanVleet said no.

“I think it was talked about it last year because they talked to (DeMar DeRozan) about it and it became a big thing, but I really don’t think guys care that much,” VanVleet said.

DeRozan had made it clear he thought the Raptors weren’t getting their due, but it doesn’t seem like anything has changed.

“Obviously that’s a huge platform and stage, but we don’t control that. I don’t think the mark of being a great team is playing on Christmas,” VanVleet told Postmedia before catching the plane back to Toronto.

“I don’t think that’s any indication. It’s probably a business move and a chess move (by the NBA’s big thinkers), but we know we’re one of the top teams in the league and don’t care about that.”

VanVleet, who has a young daughter, actually saw a silver lining in the whole thing.

“For a guy that’s never played (on Christmas), I kind of enjoy being at home with family and spending time with your loved ones,” he said.

Despite having the top record in the conference and second-best in the entire NBA last season, and then adding superstar Kawhi Leonard to the mix, the Raptors did not receive a Christmas card from the league inviting them to the party. Again. This isn’t really new. The team has finished 3rd, 2nd and 4th in recent years without a Christmas appearance to show for it and got one of the marquee dates only back in the height of the Vince Carter era. Yes, the ratings issue comes into play (because Canadian eyeballs don’t count when viewership is measured down south), but Raptors games have drawn larger audiences so far this year when shown on ESPN or NBA TV than many other games.

Head coach Nick Nurse took the high road but admitted to a bit of disappointment.

“Maybe a little. I think it’s a marque day to play and I think our team would probably like to play and I think our fans would definitely, from what I sense, would like to see us play, but we’ll play the schedule as is,” Nurse said.

Danny Green, Leonard and Serge Ibaka are the rare Raptors who have played on Christmas, and Green said while his San Antonio Spurs had “quite a few (appearances),” it was “not as many as we should have,” Green told Postmedia.

Green is new to Toronto and knows the schedule is drawn up months before any games are played, but based on the run of Raptors success that has continued for years now, said the team “should have had one this year. We could have had some pretty good matchups on Christmas, but the league makes decisions,” Green said.

Then he added a statement that should warm the hearts of Raptors fans, since both he and Leonard will be free agents in the summer.

“Hopefully next year, we get everybody back, it would be nice, then we could have more fun (with a Christmas date),” Green said.

EMBIID THE COMEDIAN

Joel Embiid has proven he can hit three-pointers, but that doesn’t mean that outside shooting should be his primary weapon. The big man has been cutting back on his treys in recent games and it is paying off. By Nurse’s own admission, the all-star “man-handled” a Raptors team missing Jonas Valanciunas and Ibaka, getting Greg Monroe and Pascal Siakam into foul trouble, while piling up points inside.

Afterward Embiid even cracked jokes, partly tongue in cheek.

“I don’t like shooting threes. I only do it because of the spacing that we have (or lack thereof, since Ben Simmons won’t even attempt an outside shot) and sometimes I have to take them,” Embiid said.

“I have to be on the perimeter just getting guys open because of all the attention that sometimes it seems are presented to me. I don’t like shooting threes. I only do it because I got to make it work, but the last couple games, mainly the last two games, my mindset has been, if I’m on the perimeter it doesn’t mean that I have to shoot threes.” Embiid was slumping a bit and he feels like by mixing up his game and going inside more he is getting back on track.

Asked again whether he truly is against shooting threes, he changed his tune a bit.

“I mean, I wouldn’t say I don’t totally like it. I mean, it’s cool and all that. But when you look at yourself and see how dominant you can be inside … it doesn’t matter. I can score in so many ways,” Embiid said.

“It’s also about just feeling comfortable. Right now, I’m not feeling comfortable being in that situation. I’m sure I’m gonna take some. I’m sure some games I’m going to take 10, some games I’m going to take 15, so you’ll see.”

AROUND THE RIM

The Raptors enter the holidays with a 25-10 record, exactly the same record last year’s group managed. The team is at home until reconvening in Miami for a Christmas Day evening practice ahead of a Boxing Day meeting with the Heat … Sixers guard JJ Redick was full of praise for the Raptors. “This is a team that beat Golden State without Kawhi, obviously they are missing some other guys (on Saturday),” Redick said. “I think when they have been at full strength, they have been the best team in basketball this year. You want to test yourself against the best, but we need to collect wins, so I’m definitely satisfied with the victory.”

News Credit – Toronto Sun

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