Thomas expected to be in, but VanVleet out as Raptors injury woes continue

The Canadian Press

TORONTO — Matt Thomas's frustration might have hit an all-time high during last week's unsightly 84-76 loss in Miami.

The Toronto Raptors launched wide open three-pointers all night. Only six of them fell. And Thomas, a shooting specialist, was on the bench in street clothes, nursing a finger injury to his non-shooting hand.

"Obviously that Miami game was tough," Thomas said Monday. "It's hard to sit out, it's hard to sit out as a shooter when we're struggling like that. That will never happen again . . . We were getting good looks, it just was one of those nights shots didn't fall."

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The Raptors shot a woeful 6-for-42 from long distance in that game, becoming just the third team in NBA history to make six or less threes on 40 or more attempts.

The good news is Thomas should finally be back in the lineup when the Raptors host the Portland Trail Blazers. The bad news: In the Raptors' revolving door of injuries this season, Fred VanVleet is doubtful with a hamstring injury. He'll join Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol and Norman Powell on the sidelines, all key players Toronto could sorely use. There's no definite timeline for their return.

"We're low on bodies, as you know, and we could use a little shooting help," coach Nick Nurse said. "(Thomas) is a body that can shoot, so that should be good. It's just a matter of how much can he go and is he ready to go and is he going to be able to step right in after a long layoff and knock them down. But there's certainly opportunity there, that's for sure."

The 25-year-old guard was considered the best shooter outside the NBA when the Raptors signed him in the off-season. Thomas broke a finger however on Nov. 23 versus Altanta and has missed the past 21 games.

Thomas, who shot 48 per cent from three-point range for Valencia Basket in Spain last season, was expected to play with Raptors 905 — Toronto's G League affiliate — on Monday, and if all went well, be in the Raptors lineup versus Portland (15-22) on Tuesday.

"It's hard (to sit out)," Thomas said. "This one specifically, with just a finger on my non-shooting hand, it was tough. Because there was a point a few weeks ago where I could start doing things with a pretty heavy splint on. And you feel like you can play. But obviously the risk of it getting re-injured and potentially needing surgery if it got aggravated again, it just wasn't worth it."

Despite their long injury list, the Raptors (24-12) have managed to hold onto fourth in the Eastern Conference. They're 5-4 since losing Siakam (groin), Gasol (hamstring) and Powell (shoulder). Nurse has said Powell will likely be the first to return. While Gasol was walking without a limp after Monday's practice, Siakam was moving slowly.

Those key injuries came after the Raptors finally got Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka back. Lowry missed 11 games early in the season with a fractured thumb, while Ibaka missed 10 games with an ankle injury.

"We got hit kind of with the injury bug so far this season," Thomas said. "But it's something that comes with the game. We can't feel sorry for ourselves. No other team's going to. They're going to come in here and try to beat us. They don't care what product we have on the court. So, we have to be ready."

Nurse was happy just to be back practising on Monday. Coming off their busiest month of the season in terms of games, it's a rare week with three Raptors practices schedule.

"Yup. Friday, Saturday, today. It's good. We need it, coming off a three-practice month," Nurse laughed. "Seriously, just about. So we need it."

Practice is key to getting organized, Nurse said.

"You've got to get through some stuff, you've got to move positions with some guys because that's what seems to end up happening in the games," Nurse said. "You've just got to run through your basic five-on-0 stuff and then on top of that you've got to do some of your foundational habit building. When you're never practising, that stuff’ll slip, so just basic get in the stance, shot challenge, block out, all those things, set screens, those things need to be reviewed as well."

The Raptors beat the Trail Blazers 114-106 on Nov. 13 in Portland.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 6, 2020.

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Follow @Ewingsports on Twitter.

Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press

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