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Restrictions in Canada send Raptors to Tampa

TORONTO — The Toronto Raptors will start the NBA season next month in Tampa, Florida, because of travel restrictions by the Canadian government stemming from the pandemic.

The Raptors had been looking at other sites for several weeks, including Sunrise, Florida, the home of the NHL’s Florida Panthers. But with NBA training camp less than two weeks away and a season starting Dec. 22, the Raptors were pressed to make a final decision.

Instead, they will play home games at Amalie Arena, home of the Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning.

“Ultimately, the current public health situation facing Canadians, combined with the urgent need to determine where we will play means that we will begin our 2020-21 season in Tampa, Florida,” Raptors President Masai Ujiri said in a statement Friday.

An official familiar with the Canadian government’s decision told The Associated Press there is too much COVID-19 circulating in the United States to allow for cross-border travel that is not essential.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity and not authorized to talk publicly about the matter, said there’s a chance that the decision could be reviewed next year.

The Raptors, the NBA’s lone Canadian team, and the league needed an exemption to a requirement that anyone entering Canada for nonessential reasons must isolate for 14 days. The U.S.-Canada border remains closed to nonessential travel.

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