TORONTO — The Toronto Raptors have seemingly spent all season scrambling to survive while dealing with one injury after another to their core rotation of players.
That, however, is finally starting to change.
Pascal Siakam (groin) and Norman Powell (shoulder) both returned from injury Sunday against the San Antonio Spurs. Both are playing for the first time since suffering the injuries in the same game Dec. 18 in Detroit. Marc Gasol — who suffered a hamstring strain in the same game — didn’t return Sunday, but is close after being initially listed as questionable to play.
Gasol could be back as soon as Wednesday in Oklahoma City.
“Well, I think it’ll be a challenge, to be honest with you,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said pregame. “I think we’ve got to be careful with guys that haven’t played in, what, a dozen games? So let’s hope that, I could see it quickly in and out with a bunch of different guys just to see.
“I don’t want to put them under too much duress. I’d probably like to have one rusty guy on the floor at a time.”
Nurse’s thinking is partially impacted by the last time Toronto had to integrate multiple injured players back into the lineup. When Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka returned from injuries in early December, the Raptors lost four of five games.
“Well, let’s find out,” Nurse said with a smile, when asked if he learned anything from that experience. “We’ll see as I get another chance at it this time, of reintegrating some guys, let’s see if I learned anything or not.”
Siakam, who is likely to make his first All-Star appearance next month, will be on a minutes limit Sunday. Nurse didn’t indicate whether Powell would be limited.
Nurse said he expects both players to try to ease themselves back, rather than hoping to instantly be back to the same level of performance they were at before their injuries sidelined them for the past few weeks.
“I mean, I think the challenge for [Pascal] and for Norm or any of those guys is you’ve got to maybe ease into it a little bit,” Nurse said. “But it’s hard to do in an NBA game because the intensity and the speed at which it’s moving and all that stuff.
“I just think that there’s levels of easing into it. I don’t think you’re coming down trying to take on the world right off the bat. Get your feet under you a little bit, wait for some open shots, take some rhythm shots, and then see how you feel before you start trying to get back to some of your volume stuff.”
In addition to Siakam and Powell, Sunday also saw the return — for a second time — of franchise stalwart DeMar DeRozan. And while the man for whom he was traded, Kawhi Leonard, is no longer in Toronto — taking some of the vigor out these matchups — he admitted it will always feel weird to return to Scotiabank Arena as a member of the opposing team after spending his first nine NBA seasons playing with the Raptors.
“It’ll always be strange,” DeRozan said. “The amount of time that I was here. Coming back will always bring back old memories. So it’ll always be strange.”