A handful of photos on social media plus praise from his teammates suggest Toronto Raptors big man Marc Gasol will restart the NBA season in much better shape than he was in four months ago.
The Spaniard hasn't talked to reporters since COVID-19 shut down the season on March 11, but Raptors coach Nick Nurse picked Gasol's brain recently about his physical transformation.
"I did ask him about what was the key, 'What'd you do?' and he just said 'Man, it was consistency,'" Nurse said after Sunday's practice at Walt Disney World in the Orlando area
"It was just with the situation we've all been in in the last four months, you take out the games and all the long road trips and the late night flights, and all the things that factor in making fitness and nutrition a little harder, take all those out and he just said it was a consistent rhythm, eating at the same time every day, and eating very healthy obviously."
Gasol, who helped Spain win the FIBA World Cup in September, has missed 28 games this season with a hamstring injury, but Nurse said he's fully healed.
"His skills look fantastic as well. He looks like he's in good shape. I don't see any issues," Nurse said.
The 35-year-old was originally scheduled to speak to reporters Sunday, but Nurse has asked his players to carefully monitor how they feel in practice and to pull themselves out when feeling fatigued. And so, Gasol left practice early on Sunday, hopping on the early bus back to the hotel rather than staying for the daily Zoom video interviews with media.
The Raptors face their first competition in more than four months when they play the Houston Rockets in a scrimmage on July 24. They open the eight-game seeding round Aug. 1 versus the Los Angeles Lakers.
A healthy Gasol should make a big difference to Toronto, which had a revolving door of a roster before the shutdown due to injuries, missing 219 man games total — fifth worst in the NBA.
"I love it, he's in playoff mode right now," rookie Terence Davis said of Gasol. "He'll probably tell you that himself . . . He looks really, really good, he's moving really well. He looks like prime Marc to me ... it's scary."
Sunday was the Raptors' second practice at Disney World, which is hosting 22 teams in the NBA's restart despite Florida being a global hot spot for the coronavirus.
On Sunday, the state reported 15,299 positive tests, the largest single-day increase in positive COVID-19 cases in any state. Florida now has nearly 270,000 cases.
Another appearance in the Finals would see the defending NBA champions stay at Disney World until early October. Since families can't join players on the NBA campus until the second round of the playoffs, the Raptors tried to create a feeling of home for the players. They arrived in their hotel rooms to framed family photos.
Waiting in Davis's room was a photo of him and his son Hasaan, who recently turned one, and another of his family at a college game.
"(The photos) meant a lot, man. It felt like they really care," Davis said. "Obviously I miss my son every day, just being without him, but one day he'll understand what daddy does for a living."
While there's videos of players fishing and playing cornhole at Disney World on social media, the Raptors have apparently stuck close to their hotel so far.
"Getting out on campus, it's not really ideal right now. I'm just trying to get the hang of things and how things are going, like breakfast is sometimes in my room and sometimes it's in the meal room," Davis said. "Maybe I'll venture out but right now it's really about business."
Nurse concurred. The farthest he's ventured beyond the hotel and the court was taking an alternate outdoor path to the meal room.
"I'm not planning on doing much looking around, to be honest with you," he said. "I'm good with working and getting back to the room."
There've been complaints about the food in the Disney bubble, but Nurse would only say "it has been a great help for me trying to cut a few (pounds), it's been fitting right in with that plan, so all good, all good."
The Raptors' days are scheduled around a hodge-podge of practice times scheduled within a three-hour block.
Nurse said being ready to go at a different time each day is part of the new normal.
"You can't expect there to be all the structure you may want. You kinda accept that, I think all of us for four months have lost the rhythm of our lives, the ways we probably want them to set up," Nurse said. "You've just kind of gotta be open-minded and adaptable and just kind of take it."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 12, 2020.
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press