Heat’s Kyle Lowry on his return to Toronto, against the Raptors

With barely a week or so left in the regular season, it looks like the wait is finally over for Kyle Lowry.

After missing the first three games of the four-game series against the Toronto Raptors for personal reasons, the veteran point guard is on track to play his former team for the first time on Sunday (7 p.m., Bally Sports Sun and NBA TV) since joining the Miami Heat last summer. The game will be played at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, a place Lowry has called home for nearly a decade.

“I tried to avoid thinking about it for a long time, but it’s here,” Lowry said before the Heat hit the road on Saturday night against the Chicago Bulls before heading to Toronto for their return to the game. House. . “I can’t wait to be there, just to be able to go to a place that I’ve called home for so long and a place that I still call home, that has a dear and special place in my heart. It’s okay be emotional.

“I’m sure they’ll cheer me on for a while, then if we start winning, boo me. It’s all love and it’s just being able to show the appreciation I want and I’m sure they’ll appreciate me for what I’ve been able to do.

Lowry, who spent the previous nine seasons in Toronto and is considered one of the greatest players in Raptors history, was a key part of the Kawhi Leonard-led Raptors team that won the NBA championship in 2019.

Sunday will not only represent Lowry’s first game in Toronto since moving to Miami, he said it will also be his first time spending more than a few hours in Toronto since February 2020. Lowry’s final season with the Raptors in 2020 -21 came with the team playing its home games in Tampa due to COVID-19 restrictions in Canada.

“It’s like coming home,” said Lowry, who wrote a letter of thanks to Toronto that was published Friday by The Players’ Tribune. “I did a lot of things for the city, the organization. The city embraced me, and the organization embraced me, and we created a lifelong bond that will always be there. It’s going to be a great day and I’m looking forward to it. »

The Heat’s first visit to Toronto this season, a 110-106 loss to the Raptors on Feb. 1, came with very limited attendance due to COVID-19 restrictions still in place. Lowry said he wouldn’t have played in that match under those circumstances, even if personal reasons hadn’t stopped him from coming in, because that’s not how he envisioned his comeback.

“I wouldn’t have done it,” he said. “I honestly wouldn’t have played in the game just for the serious fact that I want to be able to play in front of our fans and I want to play in front of their fans.”

But those restrictions have since been lifted and Scotiabank Arena is now operating at full capacity of around 19,800 fans.

Even with Sunday’s game coming up as the second night of a straight streak for the Heat, a full arena is enough to get Lowry excited for what’s to come in Toronto.

“I don’t care,” Lowry said as the Heat were scheduled to touch down in Toronto early Sunday morning after playing in Chicago on Saturday night. “Honestly, I’m just happy to be able to be up there playing in front of fans.”

The two players the Heat dealt to the Raptors to acquire Lowry via sign-and-trade: Goran Dragic and Precious Achiuwa. Dragic only played five games with the Raptors this season before being traded and eventually joining the Brooklyn Nets, and Achiuwa is still with the Raptors.

While the Heat sit first in the Eastern Conference, the Raptors have won five straight and 11 of their last 13 to enter sixth in the Eastern standings on Saturday.

“I’m really excited,” Lowry said of the Raptors’ play this season. “I’m happy for these guys, because of the close relationships I have with them, the personal relationships I’ve built around the organization. Also, it’s a team, a franchise that I’ve helped rebuild to a point where it’s a contending team, it’s a competitive team in the playoffs every year. So I’m happy and I’m just proud to have been part of it.

But Lowry is on the other side now, and he knows Raptors coach Nick Nurse will welcome him to Toronto with a game plan designed to slow him down.

“Let me be real,” he said with a laugh. “Nick won’t let me play at all. … Everyone we’ve played against hasn’t had a good game. So I know what I expect.”

“THROVED” FOR HARDAWAY

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra was pleased to learn that former Heat point guard Tim Hardaway would be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as a member of the Class of 2022.

“Really thrilled for him,” Spoelstra said. “It’s been a long process for him. We talked about how it made so much sense for him to be a Hall of Famer. [Golden State’s] TMC, you can’t leave it out. And everything he did for the Heat organization, all about him was a Hall of Fame career.

“It took a while. But nonetheless, I know he’s really excited about it, we’re really happy for him and we can spend another weekend celebrating that our family member can have an honor too. incredible.

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Anthony Chiang covers the Miami Heat for the Miami Herald. He attended the University of Florida and was born and raised in Miami.

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