DETROIT — Nick Nurse is on quite a run. He’s followed up winning an NBA title in his first year as an NBA head coach to being named one of two coaches for the upcoming NBA all-star game in Chicago. Nurse and his staff will helm Team Giannis — a foreshadowing, Raptors fans hope, of Giannis Antetokounmpo being directed by Nurse down the line as a Toronto player (even though that’s likely wishful thinking).
Nurse and Co. Got the gig because Toronto will have the Eastern Conference’s second-best record after games on Sunday, the cutoff date for these matters. Milwaukee’s Mike Budenholzer is ineligible, because coaches can’t go two seasons in a row.
“We get to be the beneficiaries I think of a kind of an organizational award,” Nurse said after Toronto beat the Pistons on Friday.
“You get to go coach that thing, it’s certainly a tremendous honour for us, but, there’s a lot that goes into it and it should be a really enjoyable experience for our guys. It’s neat,” Nurse said.
“It’s neat to be around that event, the greatest players in the world all under one roof. And I think it’s gonna be a good experience for the whole staff all the way down through.” Nurse remembers going previously to the NBA Development League all-star weekend with his friend and current staff member Nate Bjorkgen. This time he’ll get to bring Bjorkgren, Adrian Griffin, Sergio Scariolo, Brittni Donaldson (the first woman to coach at an all-star game), Alex McKechnie, Jim Sann, Patrick Mutombo, Jon Goodwillie and John Corbacio.
“We gotta give those guys credit,” said point guard Fred VanVleet.
“Coaches don’t really get a lot of credit in this league, they definitely do a good job putting us in good positions, they’re flexible, they listen to us and with as little amount of practice time that we have it’s very important that we have good communication, trust and I think that’s something that’s been building for the last year and a half,” he said. “Even when we lose and we play bad, we pretty much know exactly what it is. We’re never searching for answers and that’s something you like to hang your hat on.
“I think we have a special bond with those guys, obviously winning a championship together, it’s a just a really cool experience. They did it as assistants but for Nurse to win a championship in his first year and in his second year be head coach of the all-star team and really for the rest of the assistants to go, it’s a great honour.”
As VanVleet noted, two years ago Nurse went to Los Angeles as part of Dwane Casey’s staff. Then assistant Rex Kalamian got to coach the Rising Stars game and one of Nurse’s assistants will do the same in a couple of weeks.
Casey, now Detroit’s head coach, credited Nurse and his crew for their work and said they’ll love the experience.
“It’s gonna be great for their staff … There’s no feeling like that, to go out and spend time with other players. It means you’ve done something right,” said Casey, who also went twice as an assistant.
“They’re competing for the top. It’s great for their staff to get that. It’s a feather in their cap. It’s on their resumes that they were an all-star coach. It’s an honour for them to be able to do that. Even more so, it’s an honour for them to get two kids, Pascal (Siakam) and Kyle (Lowry), Kyle this stage of his career, back to the all-star game.”
Casey got to coach against his players Lowry and DeMar DeRozan as the coach of Team LeBron. Nurse hopes he doesn’t have to do the same.
“Uh, I would definitely want (Siakam and Lowry) on my team,” said a smiling Nurse.
“I don’t want to coach against them.”
In addition to having its staff at two of the last three all-star weekends, Toronto is also the only team to have a starting player six straight years.
Lowry, one of those players, said he thinks VanVleet will make the game too before long.
“He will be an all-star, simple as that. I’m serious. He will be an all-star at some point,” Lowry said.
That’s certainly what VanVleet is aiming for too. He had a chance before getting injured this year.
“Year 4. Undrafted, and to be in the conversation at least, that’s good progress,” VanVleet said. “We’ll keep plugging away and see what happens next year.
“I think that there’s light at the end of the tunnel. I can sleep at night knowing that I at least am close and I mean a lot to this team, this organization. And we won a championship. So I sleep pretty well at night,” VanVleet said.
POWELL OUT LONG-TERM AGAIN AFTER ANOTHER DETROIT MISHAP
DETROIT — Maybe the Raptors should stop playing games in Detroit.
The team learned Saturday that emerging guard Norman Powell will be on the shelf for an extended absence again after fracturing the fourth metacarpal on his left hand during Friday’s win over the Pistons. Powell, averaging career highs of 15.3 points, 3.9 rebounds and 28.2 minutes in 38 games (17 starts) has led Toronto’s bench in scoring 12 times. He is expected to miss at least a few weeks, based on similar past injuries for Raptors.
Powell, Marc Gasol and Pascal Siakam had all gotten injured in Toronto’s previous game at Detroit, on Dec. 18, costing each of them weeks.
Powell didn’t miss a beat when he returned after missing 11 games, scoring at least 20 points in five straight games.
OG Anunoby should get more time at shooting guard in his absence (Anunoby played well at guard earlier in the season) and Patrick McCaw and Matt Thomas should also see more minutes.
RYAN WOLSTAT’S TIPOFF
BULLS AT RAPTORS
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Chicago wasn’t very good at full strength, but the injury bug has taken a big bite out of some of the team’s better players. Promising big men Wendell Carter Jr. And Lauri Markkanen are both out long-term. Veteran forward Otto Porter Jr. Hasn’t played in ages and standout defender Kris Dunn isn’t expected to face the Raptors, per the Athletic’s Darnell Mayberry. Chicago has dropped two straight after winning 2-of-3. Toronto is looking to tie a franchise record with an 11th win in a row, previously done twice.
Zach LaVine vs. OG Anunoby
Anunoby will probably get the bulk of the LaVine assignment and it’s not an easy one. LaVine had a shot at his first all-star berth and is one of the most talented scorers in the NBA. LaVine averages 25 points per game and has scored at least 20 points in 17 straight games. Anunoby is not an easy player to light up though and Fred VanVleet’s quick hands and smart positional defence could also come into play on Sunday.
LaVine has shot just 10-for-31 against the Raptors this season, including 2-for-7 against VanVleet and 1-for-6 vs. Anunoby, per NBA.com.
DID YOU KNOW?
Veteran Chicago forward Thad Young has an AAU team that both Anunoby and Terence Davis played on … This is the third and final meeting between the two teams after Toronto won the first two … Serge Ibaka has scored at least 20 points in a career-high-tying three straight games … Kyle Lowry is likely two or three games away from passing Vince Carter for third place in Raptors all-time scoring (he needs 55 points to pass Carter, who trails only DeMar DeRozan and Chris Bosh).
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