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Toronto Raptors feel NHL players' pain as shortened hockey season about to begin

TORONTO - The Toronto Raptors have some sympathy for their NHL peers.

With the hockey season about to begin after the league's 113-day lockout, NHL players find themselves in the same position that faced the NBA around this time last season—shorter training camp, condensed schedule, likely some crazy travel and a heightened concern about injuries.

"Hopefully most of those guys were working out, and they kept their bodies and their training up to par," Raptors forward Ed Davis said Tuesday.

"I feel their pain," added DeMar DeRozan. "It's definitely tough, especially not being to do what you love to do."

The NBA's lockout lasted 161 days, delaying the start of the 2011-12 season from Nov. 1 to Christmas Day, and reducing the regular season from 82 to 66 games. The Raptors played just two pre-season contests as part of their abbreviated training camp.

The difficulties NBA teams faced due to the lockout became a theme that lasted all season.

"It's huge because when you first come in, most of the guys probably didn't believe there was going to be a season—at least that's how it was in the NBA," said Raptors coach Dwane Casey, whose team hosts the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday. "If the guys that relaxed come into camp not in condition, you're susceptible to injuries and not being able to go.

"I don't know where the hockey players are as far as conditioning-wise, but some NBA players came into camp really not ready, not thinking there was going to be a season and it was sprung on them. It depends on where they are in their workout process, as far as whether they're susceptible to injury."

More than 200 NHL players signed with European teams during the lockout while many others spent time in the American Hockey League. That number is far greater than the amount of players who took basketball jobs elsewhere during the NBA lockout.

The NHL is targeting a 48-game season beginning Jan. 19, with training camps expected to open Sunday. Training camps, which normally run about three weeks, have been cut to just five days.

"It's definitely tough getting everything together, trying to get back in game shape," DeRozan said. "In my opinion, I think it's tougher for hockey players, getting used to the physicality so fast."

The Raptors were forced to learn on the fly under Casey, who had the added challenge of being brand new to the team, and trying to implement a new playing system in a huge hurry.

"We were talking about that the whole season last year," said veteran guard Jose Calderon. "It was like we don't have time to practise, every game you've got to adjust to all the new things you're going to put in, it's kind of like a game-time decision."

The abbreviated NBA season forced teams to play gruelling stretches of three games in three nights.

Practise time was at a minimum.

"It was tough for sure. I cannot really express, sadly, how tired (NHL players) might be in those back-to-back-to-backs," Calderon said. "I know hockey is an intense game, it's going to be tough, there's going to a lot of games.

"I don't know how to explain it—you go to work every day and concentrate for games."

Davis said basketball's condensed campaign might have led to an increase in injuries in the NBA last season.

"I was fortunate enough to be one of the guys who played every game, and practised every practice, but it's going to be brutal, hockey is more contact and basketball is more physical," said the 23-year-old forward "Hopefully the guys can make it through.

"I'm glad the country gets hockey back though," he added. "Hockey is the No. 1 sport here so I'm happy for (Canadian fans)."

Casey said the condensed season will feel "cramped" and will blow by at a rapid pace.

"It's going to be a challenge," the coach said. "But it should be fun, because 48 games, everybody has an opportunity."

NOTES: The Raptors (12-22) look to end a two-game losing streak when they host the Sixers (15-20). Terrence Ross didn't practise Tuesday as he recovers from an ankle sprain suffered Sunday. Casey said he wasn't sure whether the rookie would play Wednesday. Aaron Gray returned to practice after missing Sunday's loss to Oklahoma City with a stomach bug. Casey said there remains no timeline for the return of forwards Andrea Bargnani and Jonas Valanciunas.

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