OG Anunoby

VanVleet, Anunoby, Barnes Clear Protocols For Raptors

After experiencing a team-wide COVID-19 outbreak this month, the Raptors appear to be nearing the light at the end of the tunnel. Three of the team’s starters – Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, and Scottie Barnes – exited the protocols and returned to practice on Thursday, tweets Josh Lewenberg of TSN.ca.

It was a relatively full practice today for the Raptors, who only have Justin Champagnie and Isaac Bonga still in the protocols. As Lewenberg tweets, head coach Nick Nurse expects to have everyone but Champagnie and Bonga available on Friday vs. the Clippers, which means he could have a surplus of lineup options rather than trying to cobble together five-man groups using whoever is available.

The plan is for some combination of VanVleet, Anunoby, Barnes, Pascal Siakam, Gary Trent Jr., Khem Birch, and Precious Achiuwa to be in the starting five, according to Nurse.

NBA Postpones Raptors/Bulls Game; Anunoby Enters Protocols

The NBA is postponing Wednesday’s game in Chicago between the Raptors and Bulls, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic (Twitter link). The NBA has officially confirmed the decision, announcing that Toronto doesn’t have the required minimum of eight players available.

Marc Stein first reported (via Twitter) that the game was at risk of postponement because one or more of the replacement players Toronto agreed to sign in order to meet the roster minimum may need to immediately enter the NBA’s health and safety protocols.

The Raptors entered the day with seven players in the health and safety protocols and OG Anunoby entered the protocols on Wednesday, per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarwoski (Twitter link). Khem Birch (knee), Justin Champagnie (non-COVID illness), David Johnson (calf), and Goran Dragic (not with team) were also ruled out for tonight’s game, leaving the team with just four healthy players.

Toronto had lined up deals with five replacement players (Nik Stauskas, Brandon Goodwin, Tremont Waters, Juwan Morgan, and D.J. Wilson), but those signings aren’t yet official.

This is the second time in the last week that a Bulls/Raptors game has been postponed. The two teams were supposed to play in Chicago last Thursday, but the Bulls didn’t have enough players at that point.

Both clubs will now be off through Christmas before resuming their respective schedules on December 26. The Raptors play in Cleveland on Sunday, while the Bulls will host Indiana.

Lakers’ Westbrook, Cavs’ Okoro Enter COVID-19 Protocols

Lakers guard Russell Westbrook has entered the NBA’s health and safety protocols, sources tell ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Dave McMenamin (Twitter link). Lakers guard Avery Bradley has also been placed in the protocols, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic (Twitter link).

Westbrook and Bradley are the fourth and fifth Lakers to enter the protocols within the last three days, joining teammates Talen Horton-Tucker, Dwight Howard, and Malik Monk.

It’s unclear if the two Lakers guards have registered confirmed positive tests for COVID-19, but if they have, they’ll be sidelined for at least 10 days or until he returns two consecutive negative tests at least 24 hours apart.

The news of Westbrook and Bradley entering the protocols coincides with reports that the Lakers have agreed to sign Isaiah Thomas to a 10-day contract using a hardship exception. Westbrook’s and Bradley’s absences should open the door for Thomas to get some run at the point guard spot.

Here are a few more COVID-related updates from around the NBA:

  • Cavaliers forward Isaac Okoro has entered the health and safety protocols, sources tell Kelsey Russo of The Athletic (Twitter link). No other Cavs players are currently in the protocols, so we’ll have to wait to see if Okoro is a one-off or if any of his teammates join him in the coming days. If Okoro tested positive for COVID-19, he’ll be in the protocols for at least 10 days or until he returns two consecutive negative tests at least 24 hours apart.
  • Bulls head coach Billy Donovan told reporters, including Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times, that Coby White and Javonte Green are the only two players on the team who have cleared the health and safety protocols and have been conducting individual workouts. That leaves eight players in the protocols, and many of them – including Zach LaVine, Ayo Dosunmu, Alize Johnson, and Troy Brown Jr. – may not be back until after Christmas, according to Donovan.
  • Raptors big man Precious Achiuwa has cleared the health and safety protocols, tweets Eric Koreen of The Athletic. Koreen also provides a few injury updates on Raptors players — Dalano Banton (illness) is good to go, while OG Anunoby (hip) and Khem Birch (knee) will be listed as questionable for the club’s game vs. Golden State on Saturday.

Raptors’ Anunoby, Birch To Remain Sidelined For “Foreseeable Future”

Raptors forward OG Anunoby and center Khem Birch aren’t on the verge of returning to the court, according to head coach Nick Nurse, who said on Tuesday that the two veterans will remain sidelined for the “foreseeable future,” according to Josh Lewenberg of TSN.ca (Twitter link).

Anunoby, who is dealing with a left hip pointer, has been out of action since November 15. Right knee swelling has kept Birch on the shelf since November 21. Both players were starters when they were last healthy.

Nurse said last week that Anunoby hadn’t suffered a setback in his recovery from his hip issue, but that he had “hit a wall” in the rehab process and that the injury wasn’t healing like the team had hoped. It appears the fifth-year forward hasn’t taken any significant steps forward since then.

As for Birch, Nurse told reporters today that the 29-year-old has undergone tests that haven’t revealed any serious damage to his knee. However, the Raptors have had trouble getting the swelling under control and are trying to stop it from flaring up.

After experimenting with a small-ball lineup for several games, Toronto made Birch its starting center when Anunoby went down in mid-November. Since Birch’s injury, Precious Achiuwa has reclaimed that role, with Yuta Watanabe and Chris Boucher playing regular minutes off the bench.

Raptors Notes: Anunoby, Dragic, Bench, Boucher

Raptors forward OG Anunoby appeared to be nearing a return from his hip injury last week, having been listed as questionable for multiple games. However, he still hasn’t played and was held out of practice on Monday, tweets Josh Lewenberg of TSN.ca.

As Lewenberg explains (via Twitter), Anunoby hasn’t suffered a setback, but he has “hit a wall” in his recovery process, per head coach Nick Nurse. An MRI didn’t show any significant concerns, but the injury isn’t healing as rapidly as the team hoped and remains very sore, according to Lewenberg. There’s still no timeline set for Anunoby’s return.

Here’s more on the Raptors:

  • Goran Dragic‘s personal absence from the Raptors figures to increase speculation about him moving on to a new team, but league sources tell Marc Stein that the big picture remains unchanged for the veteran point guard — a trade market hasn’t materialized for Dragic, and it’s still too early in the season for the two sides to have a productive buyout discussion. While it’s possible Dragic has played his last game for the Raptors, it sounds he’ll probably remain on the roster for at least a few more weeks, if not all the way to the trade deadline.
  • It looked briefly last week as if the Raptors might soon have a fully healthy roster, but that hasn’t materialized, and the team’s depth continues to be tested, according to Josh Lewenberg of TSN.ca, who notes that Toronto ranks last in the NBA in bench scoring. The Raptors’ reliance on their reserves is highlighting the inexperience and inconsistency of that group, Lewenberg adds.
  • Chris Boucher was pulled from the rotation for Sunday’s game vs. Boston, with his minutes going to Isaac Bonga, writes Doug Smith of The Toronto Star. As Ryan Wolstat of The Toronto Sun observes, Boucher looked like a major success story last season, but he’ll be a free agent in 2022 and the Raptors will have to listen if he draws trade interest before then.

Atlantic Notes: Nets, Anunoby, Trent Jr., Thibodeau

The Nets lost to the red-hot Suns 113-107 on Saturday, dropping a marquee home game in front of the largest crowd the team has hosted since moving to Brooklyn (18,071).

Phoenix was led by Devin Booker, who recorded 30 points and four assists, while Brooklyn was led by Kevin Durant, who finished with 39 points, nine rebounds and seven assists. Despite owning the best record in the East at 14-6, it’s clear the Nets still have work to do.

“We’re a team that’s still forming, still trying to find an identity,” head coach Steve Nash said, as relayed by Brian Lewis of the New York Post. “This [Suns] team has a clear identity, a clear understanding of what they’re trying to do offensively and defensively — something we’re still in the very early stages of. 

“We get away from our game when we go behind. Those are signs of a new team, a team trying to understand each other and find some clarity and identity.”

Here are more notes from around the Atlantic:

Raptors Notes: Birch, Anunoby, Watanabe, Boucher, Banton

Raptors center Khem Birch has already been ruled out for Friday’s game in Indiana, tweets Josh Lewenberg of TSN.ca. It’ll be the fifth game in a row that Birch has missed, but head coach Nick Nurse doesn’t view the swelling in the big man’s right knee as a serious issue.

“There seems to be nothing really wrong with it other than it’s not handling some wear and tear, I guess, and it’s going up and down a little bit in the last couple weeks,” Nurse said before Wednesday’s game, per Eric Koreen of The Athletic.

The only other player on Toronto’s injury report for Friday is OG Anunoby, who is once again listed as questionable due to his left hip pointer. Anunoby was also listed as questionable for Wednesday’s contest but was ultimately held out of his fourth straight game.

Let’s round up a few more Raptors-related items…

  • Yuta Watanabe made his season debut on Wednesday after missing more than a month due to a calf injury. While his offensive numbers were modest (three points on 0-of-3 shooting), Watanabe made a strong impression on Nurse and the Raptors with his performance, which included two steals and two blocks in 14 minutes. “I thought (Watanabe’s play) was awesome,” Nurse said after the game, per Koreen. “I just think he ran down some loose balls — and we were really having some trouble doing that — he kept a few of them alive on the offensive end, got a great block. Just some really good, hard play.”
  • If Watanabe hangs onto a regular rotation role, it’ll put Chris Boucher in danger of losing minutes, Koreen observes. Boucher averaged 24.2 minutes per game last season, but has played just 13.9 MPG this season and logged only seven minutes on Wednesday. Boucher is at his best when he’s blocking shots on defense and hitting threes on offense, but his numbers in both categories have dropped off this season, making it hard to justify playing him much, Koreen writes.
  • The Raptors are getting all they expected and more from second-round pick Dalano Banton, says Doug Smith of The Toronto Star. The rookie is one of just three players on the roster who has appeared in all 19 games so far, and he’s earning praise from team leaders like Fred VanVleet. “The kid is really talented,” VanVleet said of Banton. “He doesn’t make a ton of mistakes and he plays really hard. He’s fearless and I like him.”

Injury Notes: Okongwu, Embiid, Raptors, Harris, B. Brown

Hawks big man Onyeka Okongwu played some 3-on-3 this week and “came out OK,” head coach Nate McMillan said on Tuesday (Twitter link via Sarah K. Spencer of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution). McMillan added that the Hawks will continue to be cautious with Okongwu and that there’s no set timeline for his return from shoulder surgery. Atlanta initially estimated a recovery period of about six months when Okongwu went under the knife in July.

Here are a few more injury updates from around the NBA:

  • After ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said on Tuesday that the Sixers are hopeful Joel Embiid will be able to return as soon as Saturday, Shams Charania of The Athletic (Twitter link) reiterated today that there’s growing optimism about Embiid’s ability to play on Saturday. The star center hasn’t suited up since November 6 due to a case of COVID-19.
  • For the first time this season, the Raptors may have a fully healthy roster later this week, per Doug Smith of The Toronto Star. As Smith writes, Yuta Watanabe (calf) and OG Anunoby (hip) are both close to returning, while Khem Birch (knee) and Precious Achiuwa (shoulder) are day-to-day. All four players are currently listed as questionable for Wednesday’s game vs. Memphis.
  • Nets head coach Steve Nash doesn’t expect Joe Harris (ankle) to be back for Saturday’s game vs. Phoenix, but is optimistic Bruce Brown (hamstring) will be available by that point, tweets Brian Lewis of The New York Post. Nash said Brown wanted to play tonight, but the team is opting to give him a little more recovery time.

Raptors’ Anunoby To Miss Time Due To Hip Pointer

Raptors forward OG Anunoby has been ruled out for Thursday’s game vs. Utah due to a hip pointer, tweets Michael Grange of Sportsnet.ca. Head coach Nick Nurse said today that the injury could keep Anunoby out for “a while,” Grange adds.

Nurse’s wording is vague and the club hasn’t announced a more concrete recovery timeline, but a hip pointer can be a week-to-week injury, depending on the severity. Anunoby apparently injured his hip during a Raptors practice earlier this week, according to Doug Smith of The Toronto Star (Twitter link).

Anunoby, 24, has been the Raptors’ leading scorer through 15 games (37.3 MPG), averaging 20.1 PPG and 5.4 RPG on .430/.366/.825 shooting while providing his usual excellent defense.

Toronto figures to run out a more traditional starting five as long as Anunoby remains on the shelf. The team has been experimenting with Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, and Scottie Barnes in the starting lineup together alongside guards Fred VanVleet and Gary Trent Jr. Without Anunoby available, Siakam and Barnes will likely start at forward alongside a big man such as Khem Birch or Chris Boucher.

Atlantic Notes: Horford, Knox, Boucher, Barnes, Anunoby

Offseason re-acquisition Al Horford has been a bright spot for the Celtics, writes Chris Forsberg of NBC Sports Boston.

At age 35, Horford says he’s used to people labeling him an elder statesman, but he’s not surprised by his strong play.

For me, honestly, I’m kind of used to it because when I was 30 here, I feel like people were bringing it up like, ‘Oh, he’s 30!’ and all this stuff. I play how I play, I’ve kind of been kind — I feel really good, physically. I feel really good. I know where I’m at. I know what I can do. And, yeah, I’m 35, but I feel as long as I’m putting in the work — I am putting in the work — I’m doing everything that I need to do and I feel like I can keep playing at a high level,” Horford said.

Forberg writes that Horford has arguably been the team’s best two-way player to start the season, despite missing the first game after battling COVID-19. He’s averaging a career high 2.4 blocks per game, and his 9.0 rebounds are his highest mark in nine seasons.

Hoford is grateful for the time he spent with the Thunder last season, saying they have impressive medical and performance staffs who helped him get healthy.

[The Thunder medical staff was] great. They just had great support systems, kind of like what we have here now, but they really — looking at my nutrition, helping me with treatments before or after practice, the lift, or the performance stuff, kind of mapping the schedule out and kind of making the player involved in everything that goes into playing the games, which is something that we’re doing here as well,” Horford said.

And that, for me, that year was very beneficial, for me to feel good again, get healthy, and things like that. They have a great program over there. I was really impressed. And they really helped me be in this position, from a basketball standpoint, health-wise.”

Here’s more from the Atlantic Division:

  • In his latest mailbag, Fred Katz of The Athletic says there’s no clear path to Kevin Knox getting minutes for the Knicks anytime soon. Katz notes that Knox is behind Obi Toppin on the team’s depth chart, and even if they wanted to utilize Knox’s three-point shooting, the Knicks would probably be more inclined to play rookie Quentin Grimes, who Katz says is a superior defender. Knox will be a restricted free agent at the end of the season if the Knicks tender him a qualifying offer, which seems pretty unlikely at this point. If they choose not to, he’ll become unrestricted.
  • Chris Boucher has had a poor start to the season for the Raptors, but he’s starting to turn things around, according to Michael Grange of Sportsnet.ca. Boucher says it’s been tough to get acclimated with his new teammates after undergoing hand surgery in the preseason. “I was doing so good in training camp, and then you get hurt in preseason (and) the team gets chemistry (when) you’re out of it,” said Boucher, “you’ve got to find a way to introduce yourself to the team. … I’m sure a lot of people were disappointed in the way that I’ve been playing and what I’ve been giving this year. I have a good circle and they help me stay within myself and focus on the right things, knowing every day is a new day and coming in with the same energy and being ready to change some games.” Boucher was one of the most improved players in the league last season and will be an unrestricted free agent in 2022.
  • Strong play from Scottie Barnes and OG Anunoby suggests a bright future for the Raptors, according to Dan Devine of The Ringer. Devine provides stats and video breakdowns of the two Toronto forwards with enormous wingspans.