The NBA playoffs are more than two months away, and there are many things good and bad that will go on between now and then. Nothing can be assured.

But it’s always best to prepare as early as possible. The Raptors — in subtle and blatant ways — are taking steps to be as ready as they can be when the post-season arrives.

Forget for a minute how they’ve cut back the rotation to a playoff-level seven or eight, and just the way they are conducting themselves. Think about the things they are asking of their top players, the way they are training them for that cauldron of the physical post-season. That’s the most significant part of the long-range plan.

“It goes to more than just playing through hits. It’s things like just getting the ball,” coach Nick Nurse said Sunday, as the Raptors prepared to take on the Hornets in Charlotte on Monday night. “All of a sudden just getting open at different areas and getting the ball, that becomes a physical, lower-body, upper-body kind of battle.

“You’re battling for position, you’re battling to get open, you’re using your legs, you’re using your wide base, you’re using your strength, all those kinds of things. So just stronger and more physical always helps.”

The Raptors spend what little practice time they have on dealing with the physical nature of the game. Nurse said he was working with OG Anunoby on Sunday about handling the swarming double-teams, the swatting hands, the crowding that make playoff games so hard and so special. It’s impossible to completely replicate that in practice, but realizing it’s coming and being forceful in games will pay off in the long run.

“We’re trying to sharpen our tool box a little bit,” all-star guard Fred VanVleet said Sunday. “I think that helps a lot because we’ve been in some really physical games. A lot of times we’re dictating the physicality in games.

“There are not many calls being made. You’ve got to be able to adapt and adjust. Just having a whole lot of scenarios and different circumstances and adversity to go through as a team, I think it makes you better in the long run. We’ve seen our share of it so far this year.”

Specifically, Nurse and the staff are asking more of Pascal Siakam and Anunoby, the team’s most significant post threats. They don’t want either of them to take the contact and complain about it; that does nothing for anyone. What Nurse wants is for both of them to fight through it, to finish plays despite getting clobbered and move on to the next possession.

They want them to play playoff basketball now.

Fred VanVleet and the Raptors, who beat DeMar DeRozan's Bulls on Thursday, are playing and practicing with one eye on the demands of the post-season, though the mix could change by Thursday's trade deadline.

“I believe in the playoffs the hits come pretty consistently, and they don’t get called,” Nurse said. “I think it’s more of a case of, yeah, we’d love to figure out and learn a few little techniques… there is some stuff to work on there. But at this moment I’m just trying to say (to him): stay on balance and stay composed, and try to power up through some of that stuff.”

The shortening of the rotation to a playoff level — and with the trade deadline Thursday, it’s possible things will change — is another way the Raptors seem to be priming themselves. It’d be great for the baying hordes, who don’t think playing eight guys is sustainable, if they were to expand the rotation to 10 or even 11. But if the idea is to win, create chemistry and be ready when it’s time , the recent spell is going to help greatly in late April and May.

“We haven’t had that experience together,” VanVleet said. “We have some experienced guys that have played in the playoffs a bit. We have some guys who haven’t played at all. We have a mixture of the two.

“One thing I can say that is a plus (is that) even with all the injuries we’ve had, our core guys of five, six, seven have played a lot of minutes together.

“You can feel the growth and the way things have come together, and anymore communication and certain sets and reads that we don’t have to think about as much.”

All of which will be vitally important when the games are.


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