• NBA: so goes the classification

As soon as he learned that the Raptors were going to close their facilities, shortly after the NBA suspended the season, Marc Gasol called his trusted people to draw up a plan. After 12 months without respite, in which he linked the conquest of the ring with the World Cup in China (115 matches, not counting friendlies), the body of the Catalan was paying the bills. Gasol was signing the worst season of his career and was carrying an injury to the hamstrings that had made him miss 28 of his team's 64 games. A new Gasol came out of the break.

The first photos came out in mid-June, shortly before the Raptors traveled to Florida - they flew two weeks before the rest to avoid trouble at the border. Along with Nacho Martín, Álex Llorca, Yankuba Sima or Mike Torres , players with whom he shares pachangas when he is in Spain, a visibly thinner Marc Gasol appeared . His teammate Norman Powell jokes that he looks more like a Barça footballer than the Raptors' center.

"On a personal level, I was being very frustrating because I was unable to pick up the pace and help the team as I should," he acknowledged. At the end of 2019 he missed a dozen games with a problem in the ischium and a few weeks later he relapsed. When the NBA suspended the season, he had played only one of Toronto's last 16 games.

"[The ring and the World Cup] were two very demanding efforts. If you are going to use so much energy, you have to dedicate time and work to it. If you do nothing but take money out of the bank and you do not enter, in the end you end up ruining yourself," he explained.

Thinner, more mobile

It is not his first major physical change. The teenage Marc Gasol who played in a Tennessee high school was not the same one who won the first World Cup in Spain. In 2014, after a knee injury, he appeared with more than 20 kilos less and ended up voted best NBA center in the Ideal Quintet of the season. Now 35, with a growing history of lower-gear problems (and a new contract to sign in the fall), he needed to lighten the load again.

Although Marc Gasol has always compensated for some physical limitation with an extraordinary game reading (from rotations to how to orient the body), the physical change will allow him to remove stress from already punished knees and gain mobility, key in both baskets.

These weeks there have been voices that feared that he had lost too much weight , that he could miss all those kilos when he had to defend the post, but these first games of the Raptors are clearing those doubts. This Wednesday, against the Orlando Magic ( 13 points, 6 rebounds ), he again turned off Nik Vucevic, one of his favorite victims, in defense. Among the three times they have faced this course, the Montenegrin (almost 20 points on average) has only scored 3 of the 17 shots he has attempted against the Catalan.

In attack Gasol was more aggressive from the start (five shots in the first six minutes), perhaps making Nick Nurse's idea good, that this season he wanted to involve him more in attack. Marc attacked Vucevic from outside, he won spaces for Van Vleet far from the rim and, when he had to fight in the paint, he did not seem to miss the kilos that have been left.

With no games every other day, without continuous travel, almost always at dawn, without that life from hotel to hotel that sometimes complicates maintaining the most adequate work and food, the break gave him the opportunity to renew himself just before the playoffs . Because yes, the Raptors have lost Kawhi Leonard , not a day goes by that they don't listen to him, but the goal is the same.

Toronto is one rung below the Lakers, Clippers and Bucks , but based on amazing reliability they have the third-best record in the league (49-18). "From the moment we all promised to play [in Orlando], we are here for one reason only: to win."

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