Suspensions leave Raptors short again but help on the way

The Toronto Raptors have been dealt another blow.

Guard Fred VanVleet and guard/forward DeAndre Bembry have been suspended one game after a recent on-court altercation -- more bad news for the reeling Raptors, who plummeted down the Eastern Conference standings amid a COVID-19 outbreak.

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Suspensions and injuries left Toronto with just eight players -- the league minimum -- against the visiting Chicago Bulls on Thursday night.

"It's a little tricky as you might imagine with eight. We just try to keep guys from going too long extended," coach Nick Nurse said before tipoff.

Forward OG Anunoby was fined US$30,000 for the altercation that occurred late in the first quarter of the Los Angeles Lakers' 110-101 win over Toronto on Tuesday at Amalie Arena. Anunoby received a technical foul and was ejected after grabbing Dennis Schroder by the leg and "recklessly flipping him to the ground after the two became entangled following a common foul committed by Schroder," the NBA said in a statement.

Bembry and VanVleet were suspended for leaving the bench. Bembry was scheduled to serve his suspension Thursday night, while VanVleet, who's missed the past two games with a hip injury, must serve his suspension in the next regular-season game for which he's eligible and physically able to play.

There is some help on the way. The Raptors signed forward Freddie Gillespie to a 10-day contract. The six-foot-nine Gillespie averaged 10.5 points, 10.3 rebounds and 2.3 blocks in 15 games with the Memphis Hustle in the NBA G League bubble. He shot 57 per cent from the field and recorded six double-doubles.

Nurse wasn't sure when the newcomer would be available.

"It's just a matter of getting him through the testing and the protocols. As soon as he does that, we get him in and go to work and see what we can teach him before a game comes so he can go out there and function a little bit," Nurse said.

Canadian forward Khem Birch is also expected to sign with the Raptors according to multiple reports after being waived by Orlando.

The Montreal native is averaging 5.3 points and 5.1 rebounds in 20 minutes per game this season. Birch played for Nurse with Canada's national team at the 2019 FIBA World Cup in China.

The Raptors went into Thursday's meeting with Chicago having lost seven of their 10 games, and sitting two games behind the Bulls for 10th in the Eastern Conference. The freefall came in March after an outbreak of COVID-19 sidelined three starters, among others.

Starting guard Kyle Lowry also missed his sixth game on Thursday with a foot infection.

Lakers guard Talen Horton-Tucker received a one-game suspension for the altercation, while Montrezl Harrell was fined US$20,000 for entering the altercation and shoving Raptors guard Gary Trent Jr.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 8, 2021.

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