Practice? We talkin’ ‘bout practice? Well, Pascal Siakam and the Toronto Raptors certainly are, with the team putting in more work at the OVO Athletic Centre this season than is typical for most NBA teams.

Often, rest days wind up taking the place of practices due to the arduous nature of the league schedule, but the Raptors are a young team full of new pieces, and that means squad-wide chemistry hasn’t been spontaneously available.

“We’re getting reps. I mean, we practice every day,” Siakam said. “I don’t think I’ve practiced that much since I’ve been in the NBA. We get the reps in and we try to get better and every single day we’re out there on the floor.”

Evidently, the work has been paying off. The Raptors have a 109.2 defensive rating on the season, which places them 21st in the league. But over the last three games, they’ve dug in their heels and posted a mark of 99.6, good for second-best during that span. Their primary defensive scheme relies heavily on all five guys being locked in, and that finally looks to be starting to gel.

“I think (practicing) helps for sure,” Siakam said. “We’re a new group and we have to get familiar with each other, understanding what we need to do, learning what we need to do on defense, how do we play as a team—sometimes there’s people who come from other teams—you have to learn how it’s different and the things that we do as a team.”

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Entering the season, the Raptors were billed as a defensive monolith—understandably so, considering their individual defensive talents—but have failed to meet those expectations due to a combination of injuries, a difficult scheme, and a lack of cohesiveness. But as the year rumbles on and those issues begin to ease somewhat, the potential on that end of the floor is starting to froth and bubble, burgeoning into something promising, something potent. 

“We know we have the personnel,” Siakam said. “I mean, obviously we don’t have a seven-footer out there, but we have guys that can do multiple things and are great on defense.”

The former Most Improved Player of the Year also acknowledged their need to embrace their identity.

“I think we just gotta bring the effort every single night because in the league, every game that you play, someone is coming at you. We just gotta be consistent and stick to the game plan and follow it. Be serious, knowing the potential that we have as a defensive team and taking pride in that,” Siakam added.