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Following back-to-back losses, Raptors feel road trip could be good timing


TORONTO — The Toronto Raptors hope a change of scenery will help turn around a rough stretch.

The Raptors dropped a 99-96 decision to the Charlotte Hornets on Friday for their second loss in as many games. It was only the fourth time this season Toronto had lost consecutive games, and marked the second straight night of shooting less than 36 per cent.

The Raptors then packed their bags and departed for a difficult five-game western road swing that coach Nick Nurse hopes can help them recharge.

"I think we've been home for a long time," Nurse said. "I think you guys understand that sometimes home is really busy. There's a lot of things going on. It seems like stuff everyday. It's almost like you get a chance to actually regroup on the road.

"I know we've got to get on a plane and fly somewhere, but that's not much of the day, usually. You get a chance to put your feet up and you get a chance to get some sleep and conserve some energy."

The Raptors (42-17) were nine games behind Milwaukee for first in the Eastern Conference, but just half a game ahead of third-place Boston heading into Saturday night's schedule.

The Raptors face a tough test Sunday against Canadian guard Jamal Murray and the Denver Nuggets, who are second in a jam-packed Western Conference. They'll then travel to Phoenix, Golden State, Sacramento and Utah before returning home.

"Those games are really important, test games, on the road, and we've got to go out there and stick together no matter what's happening, who's injured, who's out there, we've got to find a way to put a good game together, find a way to win," said Pascal Siakam. "I think that's the most important thing."

The Raptors have played through a litany of injuries for most of the season. In Friday's loss, they were missing Fred VanVleet (sore shoulder), Serge Ibaka (sore knee), and Marc Gasol (hamstring strain).

The bright spot on the night was the return of Norman Powell from a nine-game injury layoff. Powell, who had fractured a finger on his non-shooting hand, finished with 22 points. He was looking forward to hitting the road and hopefully rebounding from Friday's loss.  

"It's going to be a good test for us, we've got some good teams and we'll use this loss as motivation going into our game on Sunday and go from there," Powell said. "We always try to take a one game at a time approach and do what's needed on a day-to-day basis . . . That's one thing that's so good about this team is that no matter what type of loss we take or whatever win we get we're still focused and locked in to the next opponent and the next game."

Despite his solid return, Powell said he'll need to work himself back into top playing shape.  

"For me it's to continue to go out there and play and get my conditioning to a basketball level. I felt pretty good out there," he said in the post-game locker-room. "Playing the game is different than running on a treadmill and doing sprints and things like that, hopefully I can pick up my reaction times on defence."

Nurse said all three injured Raptors were making the trip west. He hopes to see VanVleet and Ibaka back soon. He didn't sound as certain about Gasol, who's missed 24 games this season with a hamstring injury.   

"We'll see," Nurse said of the Spanish big man. "I think it would probably be optimistic to get out there on the trip, but he's going so we'll see if we can't get him back at some point on this trip, hopefully sooner rather than later."

The Raptors boast the third best road record in league — 19-8 — behind Milwaukee and the Los Angeles Lakers.

"We've usually done pretty good out there," Nurse said.  

While the Raptors have won 17 of their last 19 outings, Lowry said dropping two games in a row "hurts."

He agreed with Nurse that this road trip could be perfect timing.

"We've got a couple breaks and we've got some good time between games," said the six-time all-star guard. "We've got a game every other day for two games and then we've got four days off and that'll help us to get some rhythm and get some rest and get dinner together — everyone just kind of getting away from home and focusing on just basketball."

The Raptors return to Toronto on March 14, when they take on the Detroit Pistons.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 29, 2020.

Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press

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