TORONTO - April 13.
That was the last time professional basketball was played at the Air Canada Centre.
The NBA finally returns on Sunday afternoon as the Dwane Casey-era kicks off against the four-time defending Atlantic Division champion Boston Celtics.
Though it is just a pre-season contest, Casey and his Raptors are eagerly anticipating the start of a new season.
Ed Davis, in particular.
“Man. It’s been a long wait, especially for a lot of guys, we didn’t think we were going to play this year, maybe miss two years,” Davis said of the NBA lockout which stretched from July 1 to Nov. 26.
“It felt like everybody was saying that.”
But saner heads eventually prevailed and Davis — who missed training camp last season because of a knee injury before returning to play in 65 games as a rookie — is revved up.
“I just took it for granted just being around basketball. My whole life I was around AAU, high school,” Davis said.
“Just to be back in front of the fans, back home, it’s going to be good.”
Casey agreed and said his charges were champing at the bit to face a real opponent.
“They’re tired of listening to me and they’re tired of beating up on each other,” Casey said.
“You need to see different faces, different bodies to go against … whether it’s a YMCA team or a college team, whatever.”
Casey said he won’t be going with a regular rotation (aside from Andrea Bargnani and his guards getting their time) and instead will be looking to spread the minutes around.
He wants the Raptors to push the tempo as they have in recent years on offence, but is okay with them slowing down a bit more than has been the norm of late in order to properly set up on defence.
Guard Leandro Barbosa believes the new defensive system Casey and his staff are implementing will be a success.
“The defence he has brought for us is totally different,” Barbosa said.
“Everyone helps each other, so whoever was bad on defence last year, it looks really good this year. I think it makes it easier for us, to help ourselves and do what we have to do to get the ball and fast-break and score.”
At this point, Casey is far more concerned about how his team performs rather than the end result.
“I want to see hard play. Execution. Whether it comes out into a win is irrelevant,” said the coach.
“Are there going to be mistakes? Yes. Are there going to turnovers throwing the ball up into the stands? Probably, yes.
“But I want to see hard mistakes, hard play, razor-like focus, that’s what we’re looking for and everything else will take care of itself.”
The last time the hardcourt was laid down at the ACC, Jamaal Magloire grabbed 19 rebounds against the Raptors in a Miami win.
Magloire is now onboard in part to help make sure opponents don’t go off against the Raptors as often.
Barbosa thinks the big man will help, whether he is on the court or not.
“Magloire is the main guy and everyone is following him and respects him,” said the Brazilian.
“We didn’t have that last year and I think we missed that.”
Magloire has helped set the tone at practice and Casey believes Toronto is about where it should be at this point.
“We feel like we’re where we need to be going into the first exhibition game.”
Finally, he’ll get a chance to find out for sure.