Raptors having fun in London, but focused on game
Several players attending Premier League match
A mid-season trip to Europe hasn't provided a whole lot of sightseeing opportunities for Toronto Raptors coach Dwane Casey.
"I know the families have gone to different places," Casey said Wednesday, one day before his team faces the Orlando Magic at a sold-out O2 Arena in London. "I've watched a lot of basketball the last couple of days, our team and also Orlando.
"It's great to be in another city in another country but we're professionals. We're here to do a job. We're here to play a game tomorrow night. That's our number one goal. Our families are enjoying the city and everything but our guys are professional enough and mature enough to understand we're here for a game."
While Casey is keeping his focus on the court, several Raptors players have found ways to mix a little bit of pleasure into this trans-Atlantic business trip.
"Yesterday we got to do pictures in front of Big Ben," guard Kyle Lowry said before the Raptors practiced on the O2 court. "It's always good to do those type of things."
<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/WeTheNorth?src=hash">#WeTheNorth</a> 🇨🇦🇬🇧 <a href="https://t.co/tp2ovqxG0r">pic.twitter.com/tp2ovqxG0r</a>—@Raptors
Lowry initially planned to hop a Eurostar train through the Channel Tunnel and squeeze in a visit to Paris, but jetlag got the better of that idea.
"I wanted to but my sleep pattern is all off right now," Lowry said. "I'm super tired."
Despite disrupted bedtimes, several Raptors players and family members have arranged to attend Wednesday night's Premier League soccer match between Chelsea and West Bromwich Albion. That outing will be led by forward Patrick Patterson, who said he attends Toronto FC matches "as often as possible" and also caught multiple games in Brazil during World Cup 2014.
"It was my idea to make sure that we see a soccer match while we're out here," Patterson said. "You've got to see a Premier League match, you've got to. I've always wanted to see a Premier League match."
Canadian guard Cory Joseph was also hoping to catch the soccer game.
"I've been a Chelsea fan since I was young," Joseph said. "My guy was [Montreal Impact striker Didier] Drogba. When he was here, he was my guy."
Raps on the tube. 🇬🇧 <a href="https://t.co/3S4CBytA3D">pic.twitter.com/3S4CBytA3D</a>—@Raptors
Guard DeMar DeRozan and forward James Johnson are the only current Raptors left from the team that played two games in London in March, 2011, when Toronto lost twice to the then New Jersey Nets. The second defeat on that trip was a wild 137-136 triple-overtime game in which DeRozan and former Raptors centre Andrea Bargnani both missed last-second shots.
The 2011 trip marked the first NBA regular season contests to be played in Europe. Toronto also participated in NBA Europe Live 2007, playing pre-season games in Rome and Madrid.
Raptors president and general manager Masai Ujiri, who played professionally in England, said he was happy to have the team return to London for what will be the league's sixth regular season game in the British capital.
"It's vital for us that we're a global team," Ujiri said. "We want to be relevant. We are the only international team in the NBA and this appeals to us because we feel like we have a huge audience, whether it's Canadian or global."
Being in London a second time brings a welcome dose of familiarity, DeRozan said.
"You've got a sense of comfort with what to expect where before you kind of had those butterflies, you didn't know how it was going to be, how the game was going to turn out. Now, just going out here, you feel like you're just on another court back in the States. We feel like we're playing in their arena in Orlando."
Thursday's game offers a chance for redemption, DeRozan said, after the Magic spoiled Toronto's franchise-best 5-0 start this season with a 92-87 win in Florida on Nov. 6.
"They've got a lot of weapons, they play hard, they're a defensive-minded team," Casey said of Orlando. "We've got to make sure we come out and play with force on both ends of the floor."