Fred VanVleet on Raptors' title defence: 'I like our chances'

·NBA reporter

Toronto Raptors point guard Fred VanVleet is eagerly awaiting the NBA’s return.

VanVleet and the Raptors have settled in at a private hotel at Fort Myers, Florida in anticipation of the NBA’s plans to continue the 2019-20 season at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex in Orlando. The team has not yet resumed group activities, but the full squad has reported and will be looking to defend their title.

“Really excited [about continuing the season]. I love the group that we have. We have a really talented group of guys, we have pretty much everything you need,” VanVleet told reporters on a conference call Monday.

“Everybody that I’ve talked to since I’ve been here is just looking forward to getting to Orlando and to start practising, and gearing up to win another one. We have a really good chance, and we’re going to be a tough team to beat four times, for anybody.”

The Raptors have flown under the radar despite being reigning champions. Expectations were dashed after Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green moved on Los Angeles, and yet the Raptors hold the third-best record in the league with a higher win percentage as compared to last season. The young core of VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby and Norman Powell each took a step forward in their development, while veteran leaders Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka have held steady as reliable contributors.

Fred VanVleet is as confident as ever. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
Fred VanVleet is as confident as ever. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

Toronto ranks second in defensive rating, and enter the restart with a three-game cushion over the Boston Celtics for second in the East. However, their remaining schedule is stacked. Toronto faces the second-hardest opposition in the eight seeding games leading up to the playoffs, including top contenders such as the Los Angeles Lakers and the Milwaukee Bucks. Meanwhile, the Celtics’ slate skews easier.

“I assume we’re gonna play them all to win. We didn’t really get the best luck of the draw in comparison to other teams, we got a tough schedule,” VanVleet said of the schedule.

The one silver lining with the COVID-19 shutdown is that the Raptors were able to finally regain their health. Every member of the rotation (outside of Anunoby) missed at least 10 games, and their full starting five were only available in 17 games. Head coach Nick Nurse did an excellent job of keeping the team afloat despite the injuries, and that’s one of the main reasons why he is favoured to win Coach of the Year. But there are more challenges ahead, as Nurse and his staff will need to work against the clock to get his team on the same page in time for the playoffs.

“There’s gonna be some time where we’re going to have to ease into things, and find our flow. Eight games is not really a great sample size to get hot or get cold. It’s going to be up and down, I’m sure. The biggest thing is that we start to find our rhythm, hopefully get out of those eight games unscathed health-wise, and then we’ll gear up for whatever series we have to gear up for,” VanVleet said.

“We’re going to have to beat great teams no matter what the situation is, no cupcakes getting into this thing. It’s going to be tough for anybody, but like I said, I think I like our chances.”

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