TORONTO — The league’s hottest team versus the two-time reigning NBA champion.
If Thursday’s Raptors’ game versus Golden State in Toronto wasn’t already the most eagerly anticipated matchup north of the border this season, Klay Thompson cranked up the hype machine, suggesting it might be a “preview of June.”
“Right now they’re the best, and I expect them to be there throughout the whole season,” the Warriors shooting guard told reporters. “They’ve got something really special up there in Canada right now.”
And so much of the talk at Wednesday’s optional practice in Toronto was about not getting caught up in all the fuss.
“I think Klay is being very gracious, and we thank him for that,” said Raptors coach Nick Nurse. “He’s going out of his way to not give us any ammunition to be excited about.
“I don’t really give a darn who we are playing or what our record is or what their record is. I want us to go out and keep getting better. Fight. Fight through some adversity. Keep looking for some more connections, looking for some more options, more rotations, growing. I think there’s still tons of growth for this team to perform.”
The Raptors are coming off their sixth consecutive victory, a come-from-behind 122-114 victory in Memphis, while the Warriors have won three straight despite missing Steph Curry. The two-time MVP suffered an adductor (groin) strain strain on Nov. 8 and hasn’t played since. The Warriors initially suggested Curry might return against Toronto, although coach Steve Kerr said Tuesday his “best guess” was he wouldn’t be back until Saturday’s game versus Detroit.
Raptors guard Fred VanVleet, who was a perfect 6-for-6 for 18 points in Memphis, wasn’t buying into the pre-game hype.
“I’m not at that stage of my career yet where I can look down on anybody or look up to anybody. I’m going out there and I’m trying to cut everybody’s throat, I don’t really care who it is,” he said.
He grinned when queried about Thompson’s pro-Raptors comments.
“That’s nice of him to say that. Klay is probably one of the deadliest guys in the league, so it’s funny when guys who are that cold-blooded on the court make nice comments,” VanVleet said. “But who knows? We have a lot of work to do. They are established as champions, and it’s our job to knock them down, but we have a lot of work to do between now (and the playoffs).”
Raptors star Kawhi Leonard also wouldn’t bite on the potential NBA finals preview hubbub.
“It’s still early, it’s just another game to build off of and get better, go out and challenge those guys, to score, also to defend, same thing we do every night. It’s a long road,” Leonard said.
The Warriors have won the last eight meetings between the two teams, but the Raptors didn’t have Leonard, whose defensive intensity will be particularly valuable in guarding Kevin Durant.
Nurse noted he hadn’t thought ahead to who’s guarding who, but pointed out that, in the aim of being versatile and flexible, he threw the proverbial kitchen sink at Marc Gasol and Mike Conley on Tuesday night.
“Kyle (Lowry), Fred, Danny (Green), Kawhi, OG (Anunoby), Pascal (Siakam) — I wanted them all to guard him some just to eat into him some, because those two guys are so good,” Nurse said. “That’s some of the versatility we’re talking about, and that’s really where we’re trying to grow defensively, to where we can take a number of people and put them on the go-to guys.
“I imagine there will be several people guarding the main guys (Thursday).”
While the Warriors have looked vulnerable at times this season, largely due to injuries and uncharacteristic infighting, they arrive in Toronto on a roll.
“Listen … their last three (games) obviously Klay and KD are playing unbelievable, but the rest of those guys they’re playing hard,” Nurse said. “They’ve got a chemistry and a rhythm with this group now, playing their butts off.”
Thursday’s game is the second in a gruelling stretch of the schedule for Toronto. The Raptors were blessed with a charmed early-season schedule, but the Grizzlies game was the first of 14 games in which 11 are against teams with high winning percentages. They face Philadelphia twice, Milwaukee, Indiana, Denver twice, the Western Conference-leading L.A. Clippers, and the Warriors again on Dec. 12 at Oracle Arena.