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Experienced Raptors ready for NBA restart

Defense, experience, and depth be be the difference maker for the Raptors as the NBA gets set to return

With the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors at home preparing for next season, the Toronto Raptors entered the NBA's Orlando bubble as the only team to have won an NBA championship in the last five years. Even with the reigning Final MVP Kawhi Leonard playing elsewhere, Toronto returns an experienced group that has been to the NBA mountaintop.

Now, as the NBA season returns and Toronto prepares for its seeding game opener against the Los Angeles Lakers, the Raptors are refocused on getting back to where the 2018-19 season ended.

So what will it take to repeat?

"If you play the best defense and make the most shots you are going to win," Raptors center Marc Gasol said half-jokingly.

He's right and the Raptors do both those things particularly well. They rank in the top half of the NBA in Offensive Rating and rank second to only the Milwaukee Bucks in Defensive Rating, per NBA stats. To Raptors coach Nick Nurse, it's the defensive side of that equation that makes Toronto such a tough team to knock off.

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"I think we’ve already showed we can play about as good defense as any team in this league before the break. I think if we get back to playing that way, that can take us about as far as we want to go," Nurse said. "If we can get to that point, and play it at a playoff level, which we’ve already kind of done, too, then we oughta have a chance to figure everything else out."

If the Raptors repeat as championships this year, they'll likely do it without a truly elite superstar. The parallels to the 2004 Detroit Pistons have already been drawn as a team that was able to win it all with high-end depth as opposed to superstar talent.

It's a comparison Gasol said he doesn't really think about.

"You just have to find a way to be the best team possible because at the end of the day it doesn’t matter how good of a player you have on your side. At the end of the day you have to win as a team and it takes a whole team to win a championship or even any playoff series," Gasol said. "So let’s focus on that and what we can control and be the best team we can be. ... Everyone has a lot of players and stuff but at the end of the day, to me, I always believe the best team wins regardless of who they have on their roster."

Now, with the scrimmage games behind them, Nurse said there's nothing else he wants to see from his group. Once the games start, things should fall into place.

"When the stakes go up, the intensity should go up and we’ve got to be able to do that," Nurse said. "It’s not like we haven’t been through it."