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Depleted Raptors get more bad news on injury front

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TORONTO – Bad news for the Toronto Raptors: They’re still very much banged up and when exactly they may return to full health again remains unclear.

As the team announced Monday, the Raptors will once again be without OG Anunoby (left hip pointer), Khem Birch (right knee swelling) and, of course, Goran Dragic, who is away from the team indefinitely on an excused absence to attend to a personal matter, Tuesday when they take on the Memphis Grizzlies in the second contest of a seven-game homestand.

Gary Trent Jr., who missed Sunday’s loss against the Boston Celtics with a right calf contusion, has been listed as “questionable” for Tuesday’s matchup.

However, given the fact Trent sat out practice Monday, along with Anunoby and Birch, and with coach Nick Nurse saying he’s suffering from “an incredibly painful” bruise, it might be best not to get too hopeful that Trent will be able to return Tuesday.

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Even less encouraging was what Nurse had to say about Anunoby’s status Monday.

“The change is it hasn’t changed for the better, let’s put it that way,” Nurse said after his team practised. “It seemed to be progressing nicely, and then it kind of hit a bit of a wall here. … He has gone out and practised a couple times – short amount of minutes – but it’s just not really getting much better. I know they did an MRI on it, there’s nothing serious there, and I think most MRIs show something on about anybody, but there’s nothing serious there, we know that, but there’s not nothing, neither.

“It’s just like, ‘Why does it hurt?’ Well, there’s some, whatever, inflammation or those kind of things that show up in there and it’s very sore and, like I said, has hit a wall a little bit. So, I don’t know what to say as far as timeline.”

Anunoby will miss his seventh straight game Tuesday and was in the midst of a career season before he got hurt, leading the Raptors in scoring, averaging 20.1 points per game.

The Raptors are 2-4 without Anunoby — and things get that much more difficult without Birch and, possibly, Trent.

Unlike in seasons past, this isn’t a particularly deep Raptors team and with injuries sustained to key rotation members, their lack of depth becomes very apparent.

With that said, as the old adage goes, it’s “next man up” for the Raptors. There’s now opportunity for lesser players to prove themselves.

“We’re striving for a getting ready to go and a contribution and a work rate, a focus rate that needs to be more consistent, and we haven’t had that from some of the guys,” said Nurse. “And, as you guys know, last night I didn’t play a couple guys and tried some other guys and that’s got to be the consequence right now. We can’t have multiple guys not engaged in the game like in Indiana. And the bench guys, I don’t want to put pressure on them, the nights you really need them is when a couple of your other guys aren’t firing. I don’t expect everybody to fire every night – especially on the shots going in and the shot making – I’ve always said my goal is for you to play a good game and play hard regardless of if the ball’s going in for you or not. …

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“And that’s where we need [Malachi Flynn], [Dalano Banton], Chris [Boucher]. Those guys have to come in with the mindset of bringing everything they’ve got. There’s just no time to ease into the game, there’s no time to play it a little cool, there’s no time to not just give maximum effort the whole time they’re in there and that’s what we’re striving for right now all the way through the bench, and we’re battling there a little bit.”

To the point Nurse was making, the Raptors had only 11 men available Sunday against the Celtics, and everyone played but Boucher, who has struggled this season and looked like he was punished, in particular, for a poor night last Friday against the Indiana Pacers.

“He’s got to handle it like a pro. When he gets his chance, he has to be a little more consistent,” said Nurse after Sunday’s game of his decision to bench Boucher.

But, as Nurse mentioned, Boucher isn’t the only lesser light on the Raptors roster who needs to step up with key pieces out. Given the fact Raptors starters are injured, it means bench players have been promoted to the starting lineup, and they have to find a way to produce.

Notably, on Sunday, Svi Mykhailiuk got the start in place of Trent. Mykhailiuk scored 12 points and was just 2-for-7 from three-point range, but Nurse liked what he saw from the sharpshooting forward and wants him to take this chance he’s being afforded and use it as a springboard for his career.

“First of all, I really like him. I really think he’s got a lot of talent, he’s got a lot of game,” said Nurse. “This has given him an incredible opportunity to grow into an NBA player, really.

“I don’t know for sure, but I would imagine other places that he’s been … that he’s got chances and maybe had a bad game or two or four or five and that was it, he didn’t get to play too much I don’t think.

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“This is giving us a chance to stick with him. I really like him, I really believe in him. I think he’s got more shot-making from three in [him]. He did a better job last night, we’ve got to get him over turning down open ones. For whatever reason, every now and then, he’ll come off wide open and bounce it and look for something. For a player, he plays and as a good a shooter as he is, he’s got to take every single one of those. I thought he did that last night.”

Mykhailiuk sees an opening to add more value to the team.

“It is what it is,” he said of the injuries. “In any team, if anybody’s getting hurt, other guys it’s next up, either it’s me or other guys it doesn’t matter, it’s supposed to be everybody’s mentality. It’s not really like seeing opportunity, it’s helping my team win, all I’m trying to do is win and I feel like everybody here is trying to win. For me, in this example, if somebody gets hurt, I feel like I gotta go step up and do it to the best of my abilities.”

The Raptors need more from their supporting cast while they’re dealing with injuries.

The chance is there for the taking many members of the Raptors’ reserve corps, and Nurse is just waiting for someone to grab it.

“I don’t think they fully understand it because they don’t do it each night,” the Raptors coach said. “But it’s a big teaching point. It’s not footwork, and it’s not form shooting and it’s not defensive slides. It’s a mentality of being ready to play in this league.”

Quick dribbles

• Fred VanVleet leads the league in minutes played per game at a whopping 38.1. This is necessary because the Raptors are a full three points per 100 possessions better when he’s on the floor compared to a disastrous minus-13.3 points per 100 possessions when he’s off it.

With the Raptors featuring five players in the top 50 of the NBA in minutes played per game, it’s fair to wonder if Nurse and his coaching staff might be letting up on some of the harder practices they’ve had this season.

In short: Nope.

“I would say they’re still pretty hard,” Nurse said. “We’ve gotta continue to go. We show the film and then we go out and work on some of the top priorities and thing that need to get patched up quickly. There’s a lot of fundamental drill work that gets done everyday, especially on the defensive end, and I would say the hard-work mentality will continue – it has continued and it will continue.”

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• During Sunday’s game, rookie Scottie Barnes hit a career-best four three-pointers on nine attempts. The Raptors had been encouraging Barnes to let loose from deep more often all season long and Sunday he finally did.

This could potentially be a big development for the Raptors’ offence as it could help with spacing

“It helps a lot because, obviously, they’re gonna press up on him more and he’s good enough to go by people,” said Mykhailiuk of Barnes’ shooting. “If he makes shots like yesterday – I’m sure he will – people just gotta adjust to it more and I feel like we’re gonna create shots for everybody on the court because we’re just gonna start driving and kick it out, play smart basketball.”

• On the topic of Dragic departing the team to deal with a personal matter, Raptors forward Precious Achiuwa, who has been with the point guard his entire short career dating back to his rookie season last year in Miami, drew back the curtains a little on what the veteran has meant to him and other youngsters on the team.

“Goran was the oldest point guard on the team, he had the most years in the league on the team, arguably the most experience, and just losing that veteran experience, veteran leadership, and someone that you could go and ask questions to, he’s basically seen everything, it’s big,” said Achiuwa. “I know it’s not just myself that goes to him for questions and stuff like that. I always ask him what does he see during the course of the game and then he tells me ‘hey, do this, don’t do this, or approach it this way’. And that’s what he brings to the team.”

“People definitely don’t see that,” Achiuwa continued. “It’s very important. Like I said, I’m not the only one, I’m sure Scottie does the same thing. Even in practice and film sessions, he’s saying stuff. He’s like, ‘Hey, this probably wouldn’t work, we should probably do it this way.’ It’s stuff like that that’s not seen to the people on the outside but us players we see that, especially myself.”

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