During the 2020-21 season, the Toronto Raptors were forced to call Amalie Arena in Tampa, FL. their temporary home due to ongoing border restrictions stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic and safety measures in Canada.
While Nick Nurse’s side was no pushover that year, it didn’t surprise anyone they stumbled to their worst finish since 2011-12 and missed the playoffs.
After the one-year hiatus, the Raptors returned to Scotiabank Arena last campaign and took the NBA by storm with Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, Gary Trent Jr., and rookie phenom Scottie Barnes leading the charge.
The Raptors ironically finished 24-17 both at home and on the road, but they clearly benefitted by returning north of the border and playing home games in front of their ever-supporting fan base. In rare circumstances, they had the advantage of facing teams without a key player due to their vaccination status.
Last season, the NBA required players to be vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to play in Toronto, and they’ll set a similar precedent this year.
NBA players need to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to play against the Raptors this season.
The NBA doesn’t require players to get vaccinated, but teams are forced to acquiesce to local, regional and national laws when traveling, and Canada still requires travelers entering the country to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
Thanks to Adam Silver and the players’ association, the NBA has an impressively high vaccination rate among players; 97% as of Dec. 2021.
While these restrictions likely won’t be a huge problem for visiting teams, there will be the occasional circumstance (looking at you, Kyrie Irving) where players don’t travel with their respective teams.
This is currently a major storyline in MLB. Some of baseball’s most recognizable stars have been unable to play the Blue Jays at the Rogers Centre. In some instances, visiting teams’ rosters have been decimated due to their low vaccination rate.
To the best of our knowledge, Irving and 76ers guard Mattise Thybulle are the only players who were prevented from playing on the road vs the Raptors in 2021-22. Thybulle missed four road games in Toronto, three of which came in the playoffs, though Philly still won the first-round series in six games.
Had the Raptors been more healthy (and experienced) they would’ve done more to take advantage of Thybulle’s absence.
Again, the NBA’s memo might not be a huge factor during the regular season. Once the playoffs start, however, you’re talking about players missing more than half of a series depending on home court.
Advantage Raptors in that scenario.