Kyle Lowry walked out of the practice gym in his stocking feet Friday — minus the protective boot and any noticeable limp.
That’s good news for the Toronto Raptors, who have already fallen to 1-4 on this young NBA season and sorely need their new point guard and most consistent player back in the lineup.
The Raptors host the Philadelphia 76ers (2-2) on Saturday and Lowry — who grew up in Philly and went to Villanova — is listed as a game-time decision.
The team’s new guard didn’t practise Friday, nor speak with reporters, heading straight to the treatment room to work on the right ankle he sprained Tuesday night at Oklahoma City.
“I’m sure he does (want to play the Sixers),” said Raptors coach Dwane Casey. “He’s had some of his best games against Philly. If he can go, he’s going to be able to go. We’ll see how he feels (Saturday).”
His prognosis should be more clear after Saturday’s shootaround, when Lowry is expected to talk to the media.
The off-season acquisition went into Tuesday’s game averaging more than 23 points and seven assists a game. Just before halftime in Oklahoma City, he fell to the floor in pain after stepping on the foot of the Thunder’s Serge Ibaka. The two had got tangled up under the Raptors net.
Lowry has been a big bright spot on Toronto’s young NBA season, running the team with hustle and intensity. He’s also sixth in the league in efficiency rating — behind LeBron James, Anderson Varejao, Marc Gasol, James Harden, and Rajon Rondo — and is the only Raptor in the top 50.
“Kyle was playing really good, he runs the court. . . looking forward to having Kyle back,” said veteran centre Andrea Bargnani.
Regardless of whether the Raptors have Lowry back in the lineup on Saturday at the Air Canada Centre, Bargnani said there are couple of glaring deficiencies the team needs to fix now.
The Raptors have dug themselves first-quarter holes in every game this season. They’ve also dropped off defensively a season after turning their woeful defence into something respectable.
“As a team we cannot afford to have such bad starts, that’s from the first game of the season,” Bargnani said.
The Raptors trailed by 11 points at halftime Wednesday at Dallas but outscored the Mavericks — too little too late — by six in the second half.
“I think the main thing was guys decided to come out and compete, that was the difference between the first half and the second half,” Casey said. “That was the difference between the first quarter and rest of the game at OKC. Our starts have been horrendous.
“It’s about competing, this league is about competing and when teams see you not competing, they try to attack. That’s what they did. We turned the table in the second half, but we can’t wait and then dig ourselves such a hole and then try to dig ourselves out of that hole after we’ve built an eight-point deficit or 10-point deficit.”
The Raptors have also plummeted in defensive stats from last season, when Casey implemented a defence-first philosophy in his first campaign in Toronto.
“We’re not playing very good defence, it’s pretty bad, so we’ve got to get better, to what we were doing last year,” Bargnani said. “All our numbers are worse than last year defensively, so we’ve got to get back to that.
“That’s on us, that’s on every player on the floor... we’ve got to pick it up.”
Casey argued that it was on him.
“That is our major problem, we’ve got to hang our hat on our defence. Sometimes we get caught up in: we’ve got to play fast, we’ve got to play up-tempo. And we lose our identity. We’ve lost our identity, it was happening in exhibition, we got away from our core which is our defensive base,” said the coach.
“We’ve got to get back to that, we’ve got to get those numbers down.”
Casey said the team’s major defensive weaknesses are not controlling the paint and not getting back in transition.
NOTE: The Raptors will wear camouflage uniforms Saturday night in a salute to Canada’s veterans.