Six-time NBA champion Scottie Pippen feels that the defending champions Toronto Raptors could ride a wave of confidence all the way to the NBA Finals again this season after the Covid-19 lockdown. The former Chicago Bulls, Houston Rockets and Portland Trailblazers small forward spoke to ESPN’s Rachel Nichols and Brian Windhorst earlier on the matter.
The NBA has been on hold since mid-March as the Covid-19 pandemic left basketball fans to indulge in documentaries and old highlights while they waited for the on-court action to return. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver’s plan to have basketball return at the end of July was something many players and fans jointly looked forward to. None less than the Raptors, who have already reached Florida to prepare for the NBA restart in Orlando’s Disney World Complex on July 30th.
NBA legend Scottie Pippen speaks on the Raptors' confidence
Pippen feels that last season’s champions the Toronto Raptors, who did lose their Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard to the Los Angeles Clippers, could make some noise in the Eastern Conference and find themselves within touching distance of the Larry O’Brien trophy yet again. This is what he said:
“I think if any team has the confidence to even win a championship, it probably will be the Toronto Raptors. They’ve been playing good basketball before the break. I’m sure they will be feeling confident that they can get out of the Eastern Conference. So they’re still pretty much on a high horse.”
The 2018-2019 NBA defending champions have been in fine form despite Leonard’s departure and currently sit 2nd in the East and top the Atlantic division with a 46-18 record. Pippen then went to address the departure of Leonard, saying:
“I’m not going to knock them for losing Kawhi (Leonard) but I think this team still has a lot of confidence and believe they can get back to the (NBA) Finals.”
While many expected the Raptors to crash and burn after Leonard left for California, the Raptors have shown that they are and always have been more than just one man team in the NBA.
Last NBA season’s Most Improved Player, Pascal Siakam has flourished in the star role vacated by Leonard with the forward averaging 23.6 PPG with Kyle Lowry and Fred VanFleet following close behind with 19.7 and 17.6, respectively. Lowry has also been averaging 7.7 APG while VanFleet is hot on his heels with 6.6.
The Raptors have also yet to be ensnared by the complications that come with the Covid-19 pandemic as they are yet to report a positive test in the two weeks since they joined the NBA bubble in Orlando. This bodes well for the side that will want to be at full strength when NBA Playoffs begin.
Having a healthy core will be key with matches coming thick and fast due to scarcity of time. Some teams have already seens stars opt out of the restart after having tested postive or for personal reasons and incidents like this could have a major impact in decidng who claims the NBA title this season.
Forward Serge Ibaka has gone on to say that his side is “locked in” to try and bring the trophy back to Toronto for back-to-back titles. He said:
"We know it's going to be hard, it's going to be a challenge, and everyone is going to come for us because we are the champs, so we have to be ready."
The Raptors restart their campaign on August 1st when they take on a Los Angeles Lakers that seem ready to take the NBA restart by storm. Can Nick Nurse’s side actually defend their title in the NBA bubble in Orlando? Let us know what you think.
Published 07 Jul 2020, 19:27 IST