Rough start for young Raptors in their return to Toronto


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It looked good from the opening tip, a set play that got Fred VanVleet an open three-pointer that he calmly drained.


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Goran Dragic followed with a runner from 16 feet, but after that it was a whole lot of the visiting Washington Wizards and little much else from the home side.

The fanbase at Scotiabank Arena could not be blamed for wondering if this were truly what they’d been waiting for the past 600 days as they watched the Wizards dominate the season opener for three quarters and coast to a 98-83 win.

The long absence meant a bigger than usual pre-game welcome back and that may have played into the Raptors looking more than a little uncertain once the game finally began.

“I think so,” Raptors head coach Nick Nurse said. “It seemed to me we weren’t fully engaged and something was there and it probably was that it was a pretty big moment.

“You’re playing against some experienced guys there that know how to play. They’re playing well on top of that and a bunch of new guys are wondering where they are out there and running around and stuff,” Nurse said. “We’ll make some strides and get better.”


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This version of the Raptors — as young and as long and versatile as it is ­— is going to hang its hat on its defence and opening night wasn’t terribly inspiring in that regard.

The Wizards have a bonafide all-star in Bradley Beal, but they aren’t exactly an offensive juggernaut. They’ve added some veteran pieces who know what to do in Kyle Kuzma, Spencer Dinwiddie and Montrezl Harrell, but this is not a team that is going to torch you.

Still, the Wizards were able to shoot almost 50% against Toronto’s defence for the first three quarters.

While an early struggle was not unexpected, nobody can say they foresaw the Raptors getting dominated as much as they were at both ends of the floor.

And, yes the Raptors are young. The average age on the team is 25.6, making them the seventh youngest team in the NBA. Take 14-year vet Goran Dragic out of the equation — which could happen by the trade deadline — and Toronto is the fourth youngest team in the league.


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Starting your youngsters such as Scottie Barnes and Precious Achiuwa is obviously the right thing to do, given where this team is in its development arc, but there are going to be moments when those decisions come with a cost and there were plenty of those on Wednesday night.

Barnes, who finished with 12 points and nine rebounds, is going to be an excellent player in this league, but that is going to come with time. The same applies to Achiuwa.

As exciting a player as Barnes is right now, though, this was his first experience in a regular-season pro game and nothing in the five exhibitions he played in was close to it.

Barnes guarded Beal in the final pre-season tuneup. But as head coach Nick Nurse pointed out before Wednesday’s opening tip, the energy level from Beal was going to be substantially higher now that the games actually count.


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The only real highlight of the night for the home side came just before the end of the third quarter when Rexdale rookie Dalano Banton checked in — just the 10th player Nurse used.

With the clock running down, Banton stepped over centre court and let fly with a heave that found the mark just as the buzzer sounded.

Suddenly, a nearly sombre announced sellout crowd was re-engaged and

Banton had his first of what should be many memories in a Raptors uniform.
Still, it got the Raptors back to only within 21 with a quarter to play and while the deficit did get down to 10 with just over two minutes left, the crawl back was just too big.

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Banton, whom the entire arena seemed to be cheering for, wound up with seven points in his NBA debut playing just 12 minutes.


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By halftime the Wizards already had a 20-point lead as Beal, Kuzma and Harrell all got into double digits.

The Raptors turned the Wizards over 10 times, but the visitors returned the favour, taking back 12 from Toronto in a rather sloppy first half from both teams.

The difference was that the Wizards were making their shots and the Raptors simply weren’t.

OG Anunoby pulled down nine boards in that first half but he couldn’t buy a bucket going 1-for-10 in the half, the frustration clearly visible as the half wore on. He finished the night with just three baskets in his 16 attempts and he wasn’t alone in his inability to find the mark.

As a team, the Raptors finished the first half shooting less than 30% and made just two of 16 from deep.


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They ended the game shooting just more than 31% and added five more in the second half from deep giving them a 7-for-32 night.

Before the game, Nurse talked about the extensive workload he had put on this young team and how he felt they deserved a good result for all that hard work they had put in.

That didn’t quite work out.

Now there are some factors that did contribute to this. Two of the 10 Raptors that Nurse ran out there on Wednesday night — Chris Boucher and Khem Birch — missed almost all of the pre-season and large chunks of training camp.

But the greatest contributor was simply age and that isn’t going to change right away.

There’s plenty of growth to come and while it does, there are going to be more nights such as this disappointing opener.

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