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Raptors rookies Barnes, Banton taking first long NBA road trip in stride

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Thirteen days, six cities, three times zones, multiple micro-climates and … 10 pairs of underwear.

Scottie Barnes is on his first long NBA road trip – if not his first long basketball trip – and so far, he’s taking it all in stride.

The Toronto Raptors rookie’s strategy is to roll with the punches, and pack accordingly.

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“I didn’t check the weather but I know it’s gonna be cold,” said Barnes as the Raptors finished practice in temperate Portland before flying out to chilly Salt Lake City where Toronto will face the Utah Jazz Thursday night. “It’s getting to that wintertime.”

But then …. the Raptors head back to Sacramento, which is more spring-like, before heading to San Francisco, Memphis and Indiana. But the time the Raptors play at Scotiabank Arena again on November 28th, it will be winter. Barnes will be prepared, here, there, and everywhere.

“I didn’t really bring that many outfits,” said the man who wore the white suit on draft night. “[But] I just tried to bring some warm clothes to keep warm. I bring some fleeces of course.”

For fun I asked Barnes if he could name the cities the Raptors would be playing in on their long trip.

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He couldn’t.

“I just know the first three: Sacramento, Utah and the Warriors, Golden State. I don’t know after that.”

We’ll spot him Portland and won’t get fixated on the order (Utah and Sacramento should be flip-flopped), but what about the week after that?

“Wherever I go, I go, bro.”

In fairness, he’s not the only rookie with his head spinning a little bit. I asked Dalano Banton the same thing and he was even more willing to get on the plane and let it land where it may than Barnes.

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The Toronto-raised Raptor didn’t even try to name the six cities on the trip.

“Game by game,” he said.

But he’s adjusting. His longest basketball trip before this might have been a week, he figured.

“With COVID in college as well, we had quick turnarounds, we were playing back-to-back, we had to cram a lot of games into our schedule after missing a couple of weeks due to COVID,” he said. “[But] I’m not gonna say I’m used to it; it’s a new experience, but you know, with COVID last year, we kind of had to squish a lot of games in and play on the road a lot. So, you know, COVID kind of, I guess, helped out (in terms of adjusting to this year’s schedule) but no, it’s still new, it’s still, you know, a great experience.”

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Both of them are playing well. Banton has earned himself a spot in the rotation and Barnes in particular continues to manage his rookie season with no signs of stress or strain as he’s averaging 16.3 points and 8.3 rebounds on 51.2 per cent shooting.

But you’d think it might be coming. After his 40-minute outing against the Trail Blazers on Monday night, Barnes is 12th in the NBA in minutes played and first among rookies. He only played 595 minutes all season at Florida State last year, a total he should pass at some point on this road trip; likely before he runs out of underwear.

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Not an issue, he says, even as he’s logged minutes wrestling with 290-pound Blazers centre Joseph Nurkic one night or trying to keep track of the league’s best wings like Utah’s Donovan Mitchell the next.

“I wouldn’t say it’s difficult or challenging,” said Barnes of the load he’s shouldered. “If I could try to play more. I just like playing. I like playing basketball and being in the game, trying to contribute to winning any way I can. I love it.

“A big night if it’s a close game in college, I played 38, 37.”

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He’s been producing and has proven himself so capable of making plays, finishing plays and keeping plays alive – not to mention break them up on the other end – that Raptors head coach Nick Nurse has been loath to take Barnes off the floor.

The closest Barnes will come to acknowledging that the NBA does stress him differently than in college is that he’s had to pick his spots more than he did when he was playing 25 minutes a game in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

“It’s just a different way than we played. At Florida State we had a lot of guys who could play, and we wanted to get those rotations in. It was come in play two, two and a half, three minutes as hard as you can until I was exhausted,” he said. “Then I get subbed out for someone else. We played full court, 94 feet, a lot of switching, a lot of ball pressure. But we also wanted to try to play those rotations. So we tried to play all out for three minutes and then make subs.”

Now?

“I still play hard, but you’ve got to be smart with the way you play. I will say that. I was just going really hard, running, doing things on the floor. Now you’ve got to play really smart. You could play hard, but you also have to play smart in this league.”

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There are all kind of lessons. Against the Trail Blazers. Barnes picked up a technical foul for what appeared to be the sin of clapping too hard.

“I don’t know why I got the tech. I guess it was for clapping. I didn’t say anything. I was just clapping because I was trying to get my teammates hyped, he said. “The ref had other thoughts in mind.”

Lesson?

“…I’m just a rook. They’re not going for that, bro.”

It’s all part of the process. Have suitcase, will travel. Barnes said his longest trips were with USA Basketball: Argentina one summer for a month and another month in Greece.

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So Portland, Salt Lake, Sacramento, San Francisco, Memphis and Indiana is no sweat. He says he spent most of his time either in the gym or in his hotel room, playing Call of Duty or NBA 2K online with friends.

And he’s decidedly not stressed about his underwear to days-on-the-road ratio.

“You’ve just gotta wash ‘em,” he said.

Anything else?

“You need a lot of socks.”

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