Raptors remaining in Tampa through end of NBA season

With Canadian travel restrictions still in place, the NBA team won’t return to its home in Toronto just yet.
Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet (23) gestures after shooting a 3-pointer during a game against the New York Knicks in December at Amalie Arena.
Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet (23) gestures after shooting a 3-pointer during a game against the New York Knicks in December at Amalie Arena. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published Feb. 11, 2021|Updated Feb. 12, 2021

TAMPA — The Toronto Raptors will continue to call Tampa their temporary home through the remainder of the NBA season, the team announced Thursday.

The coronavirus pandemic has not improved enough for the Raptors to be able to play their home games in Toronto due to Canadian travel restrictions that force non-essential personnel to quarantine when traveling from the U.S.

“Because of ongoing border restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic and mindful of public safety measures in Canada, the team has decided they will continue to play their home games at Amalie Arena,” the team announced on Thursday.

That means that the Raptors will play the home part of their second-half schedule, which runs from March 11 to May 16, at Amalie Arena. They will play 19 games at home and 16 on the road in the second half. The NBA season will also have a new play-in tournament from May 18-21, and the playoffs run from May 22-July 22.

“Florida has been really welcoming to us, and we’re so grateful for the hospitality we’ve found in Tampa and at Amalie — we’re living in a city of champions, and we intend to carry on the tradition of winning for our new friends and fans here,” Raptors president Masai Ujiri said.

“But home is where the heart is, and our hearts are in Toronto. We think often of our fans, of our Scotiabank Arena family, and all those we are missing back home, and we can’t wait until we can all be together again.”

The Raptors have been one of the NBA’s most consistent teams, advancing to the postseason seven straight years and winning the NBA championship in 2019. They entered Thursday’s game in Boston having won 10 of their last 15 games after starting the season 2-8.

“I think that it took us a while to get settled in (in Tampa),” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said before Thursday’s game in Boston. “I think to pick up shop and go back and settle in, kind of like you would at the start of the fall...we might as well finish it out now. We hope we can get back there to start next season from Day 1 for sure.”

When the Raptors made the decision to relocate to Tampa in November, it was just for the first half of the season, which ends the first week of March. The team planned to re-evaluate the possibility of returning to Toronto before the release of the second-half schedule, though the Raptors have availability to Amalie Arena through the end of the NBA postseason in July.

Ideally, the Raptors wanted to play in Canada, and they made an 11th-hour petition for permission to travel in and out of the country. But the government didn’t grant it, and with training camp days away, the Raptors selected Tampa as their temporary home over Fort Lauderdale and Nashville.

The Raptors trained at Saint Leo University in Pasco County and constructed a training facility out of the fourth floor of the new J.W. Marriott hotel across from Amalie Arena. They played one preseason and their first three regular-season games in front of a limited-capacity crowd of about 3,800 fans. But on Jan. 9, Amalie Arena closed to fans amid rising coronavirus cases and positivity rates.

The arena is planning to gradually reopen to spectators starting next week, initially to about 500 family and friends, and then about 3,800 fans in March provided there’s not another spike in the Tampa Bay region.

With coronavirus cases still active and new variants emerging, the Canadian government is keeping its travel restrictions in place. The Toronto Blue Jays, who played last year’s abbreviated Major League Baseball season south of the Canadian border in Buffalo, NY., are considering Dunedin as a potential 2021 home.

Contact Eduardo A. Encina at Follow @EddieInTheYard.