Slumping Toronto Raptors hope upcoming six-game homestand can turn season around

TORONTO – A day after Precious Achiuwa returned from injury, he lamented a couple of alley-oops thrown to him from Scottie Barnes.

Achiuwa had 11 points and three blocks in an energetic 12 minutes in the Toronto Raptors’ 122-114 loss in Indiana. It was his first game after missing 24 with torn ankle ligaments, and his return is one of the bright spots in a frustrating stretch for Toronto.

But those alley-oops, he joked, definitely tested his fitness.

“The first one was good. The second one, he could have just dumped it off to me,” Achiuwa said Tuesday. “Can’t have me jumping out here like this. I just came back after over 20 games.”

“I was very tired,” he added about his first shift. “It was crazy. I was so tired I couldn’t even drink water. It felt like I was going to pass out. After that, I kind of started feeling better.”

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Achiuwa’s return came not a moment too soon, with the Raptors mired in a slump of only three wins in 10 games. They open a six-game homestand on Wednesday when they host Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks, and would love to see the same type of turnaround they saw a year ago at this time.

The Raptors opened 2022 with a five-game winning streak, with four of those victories coming at Scotiabank Arena. Guard Fred VanVleet scored 32-plus points in the four home wins. The streak proved to be last season’s reversal of fortune — they opened the month 15-17 and ended January at 25-23.

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“For sure,” Pascal Siakam said, on the importance of the upcoming homestand. “Every game’s been important. It feels like every single game we’re at that time where it’s like we want to turn the page, and this is a good opportunity, a great opportunity.

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“I think that’s the thing about the league. You get opportunities and there are games where you play bad and then the next day you’ve got to come and play. Like, what are you going to do?”

Monday’s loss saw the Raptors fall to 16-21 and 12th in the Eastern Conference.

After the Bucks, the Raptors host the New York Knicks, the Portland Trail Blazers, the Charlotte Hornets, twice, and the Atlanta Hawks. The Bucks, Knicks and Blazers are all above .500.

“I think that this is a perfect opportunity in front of our home crowd,” Siakam said. “I just want us to continue to stay together. Hoping that the atmosphere in the arena is great and we come in with a lot of energy as players. This is an important stretch.”

Achiuwa, who has averaged career highs of 8.3 points and 6.5 rebounds this season, was asked what he observed while sitting injured on the bench during Toronto’s slump.

“We’ve just got to be more locked in defensively,” he said. “I think if we play defence how we know we can play defence, it will be really tough to beat us. (Monday) it was just a couple of defensive mishaps here and there. Those are the things that I saw during the time I was out.

“If we’re going to fix the little defensive mistakes we’re making, that would really, really help. It would be really, really good.”

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Tip-ins: Injured guard Otto Porter Jr. isn’t expected to return any time soon. Porter hasn’t played since sustaining a dislocated toe on Nov. 14. Asked if he’s making any progress, coach Nick Nurse said: “He’s not. He’s not.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 3, 2023.

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