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10 things: Raptors lose another close game in Norman Powell's return – Yahoo Canada Sports



Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors’ 122-117 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers.

One — Repeat: This game was a microcosm of the entire season. The Raptors were competing, went toe-to-toe with a superior opponent, but they ran into a wicked cold stretch, and tried desperately to catch up but it wasn’t enough. That is the most frustrating part of this entire season, because you’re always watching with bated breath to see where the Raptors drop the ball. They have enough ability and talent to compete against most opponents, but they can’t seem to string together 48 consistent minutes to close out the game. The big picture lesson of the season is that there is a very thin line between winning and losing, and the Raptors have been tripping on that line ever since they touched down in Tampa Bay.

Two — Nasty: The Raptors fell apart in the third quarter where they managed just 10 points while conceding 23 to Portland. Pascal Siakam was strong early and got to the basket but it all fell apart once he subbed out. Fred VanVleet and OG Anunoby weren’t able to carry the offense, and it didn’t help that the entire team fell into a cold streak. The Raptors were 0-for-13 from three in the quarter with Anunoby and VanVleet combining to miss eight, and it took Stanley Johnson of all people to snap them out of it. VanVleet said it came down to dead legs, but also took accountability for not getting his team better shots.

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Three — Aggressive: Siakam was determined to attack the Blazers on every trip down and it got him 26 points with 11 trips to the free-throw line. Siakam liked the matchup against Robert Covington, who is a diligent defender that was able to meet the challenge a few times, but Siakam wore him out and got whatever he wanted in the paint. The only time Siakam wasn’t able to get downhill was when the Blazers camped out in the lane with one of their bulky centers, which was made possible when Aron Baynes was on the floor. That has to factor into the Raptors’ thinking in how they approach signing future centers. Siakam’s life becomes so much easier alongside a floor spacing five because one player alone isn’t keeping him out of the paint.

Four — Force: There was a lot to like about Anunoby’s night. First, the Raptors only ever looked solid when Anunoby was involved in the play defensively, and he took shifts against just about every player on the Blazers. Second, it was great to see Anunoby demand the ball in the post and his general activity around the basket. The Blazers stashed their weaker guards on Anunoby, and it’s important for him to be able to punish the mismatch, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be through post-ups or isolations. Anunoby scored three putbacks by getting after the offensive glass because he’s too big and strong to be boxed out by guards on a regular basis.

Five — Measured: The key for Anunoby is learning to channel his strength in a productive way. As he looks to become more of a focal point of the offense, the onus is on Anunoby to pick his spots. Seven of the Raptors’ 12 turnovers were made by Anunoby, and most of his mistakes are avoidable. Anunoby tried to take Nurkic off the dribble on back-to-back plays, which just isn’t smart especially when the jumper is available because the big is sagging back. There was another mistake where Anunoby muscled to his spot, but wasn’t strong with the ball as he went up and got stripped. Then there was a post-up against Damian Lillard where the defender just flopped, which happens often when guards are on him. These reps are important learning moments for Anunoby, who is already making good strides in his ability to get to create shots at the rim.

Six — Muscle: Chris Boucher is a very capable bench contributor who plays like a starter half the time, but his physical limitations make him a target on defense almost every time down. In order to hide Boucher from Enes Kanter’s brute strength, the Raptors had Anunoby or Johnson guarding the center, while Boucher took a wing player, but that’s still a mismatch. The Blazers made Kanter a main focal point of the offense for the second unit, and the Raptors just couldn’t secure defensive rebounds or keep Kanter out despite sending multiple bodies at the play. Again, this circles back to the main problem all season, which is that the Raptors just have no capable centers and it costs them every single game.

Seven — Intriguing: Rodney Hood gave the Raptors a much-needed spark off the bench, scoring eight points in his first four minutes before finishing with 13 on the night. Hood’s play doesn’t exactly jump off the page, but he is clearly NBA-caliber, which can’t really be said about most of the Raptors’ bench players. Hood knocked down open threes, got to the paint a few times, and while he isn’t close to being acclimated to the Raptors’ system, it’s already clear that he is one of the Raptors’ best bench pieces. Don’t take competence for granted.

Eight — Short: If there is one more glaring weakness on the team, it’s that the Raptors don’t have a closer to finish games. You can clearly see the difference in how the Blazers operate in crunch time, as compared to the Raptors. Portland had two guards who could get their shots in Lillard and C.J. McCollum, while the Raptors have to still run their offense to create something. The best teams marry the two, combining talent with team play, but having that shot maker is the most important ingredient. The Raptors have clutch play finishers, but not clutch shot creators, and that’s an important distinction.

Nine — Odd: It felt so strange to see Norman Powell in a Blazers jersey after playing his whole career with the Raptors. Powell himself even felt the dissonance, as he accidentally lined up on the Raptors’ side of the floor to start before realizing his mistake. Powell wasn’t at his best and he finished the game with a ripped jersey, but he got the win, and saw plenty of love before and after the game from his former team. Powell’s fit with the Blazers figures to be a seamless one, as he will just be asked to hit open shots, attack gaps that form, and get out in transition, all of which he was already prolific in with the Raptors.

Ten — Mean: But there was also a fair bit of friendly back-and-forth with Powell. The Raptors made a point to attack Powell off the dribble, which put him in early foul trouble as the Raptors were fully aware of his defensive shortcomings. Aron Baynes even put Powell on a poster in the second quarter while also swatting him at the rim. Powell had his revenge too as he anticipated a play by his former team, got free for the breakaway dunk, before staring down the Raptors coaching staff. Powell also had the two free throws at the end to ice it.

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Boston Bruins Add Offense With Solid Taylor Hall Trade – Boston Hockey Now



The Boston Bruins clearly understood they had serious deficiencies on their NHL roster this season and credit them for going and doing something about it.

The B’s finished off their Sunday night fireworks ahead of the NHL trade deadline by sending a second round pick and Anders Bjork to the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for top-6 winger Taylor Hall and bottom-6 forward Curtis Lazar. TSN’s Darren Dreger, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman and ESPN’s John Buccigross were the first to report about the completed deal between the Bruins and Buffalo Sabres in the hours following the B’s getting stomped by the Washington Capitals, 8-1, at TD Garden.

The Buffalo Sabres retained half of the $8 million salary that Hall signed for prior to the start of the 2021 hockey season.

The 29-year-old Hall is having a terrible season in Buffalo with just two goals and 19 points in 37 games along with a minus-21 rating after he chose to sign a one-year deal with the Sabres during the offseason. But he brings legitimate offensive talent as a former No. 1 overall pick and Hart Trophy winner to a Boston Bruins team that’s ranked in the bottom third of the NHL offensively all season.

The Bruins were one of the suitors for Hall prior to him choosing the Sabres months ago, and now they get him for a deep discount while keeping their own first round picks after making their deadline deals.

Holding onto their own first round pick was a priority for Boston Bruins GM Don Sweeney after spending first rounders at the deadline in two of the last three deadlines in trades for damaged goods Rick Nash and Ondrej Kase.

The 26-year-old Lazar has five goals and 11 points in 33 games as a bottom-6 forward for the Sabres this season and is signed for $800,000 for next season. It seemed clear that something was going on with the 24-year-old Anders Bjork over the last couple of weeks as he was a healthy scratch for five straight games, including Sunday night against Washington, and heads to Buffalo hoping to further develop a game built on speed and skill level that hasn’t translated into offense as of yet.

Hall should fit right into the top-6 with the Bruins as a skilled winger for playmaking center David Krejci, but it remains to be seen how he’s going to fit as another left winger on a team with Nick Ritchie and Jake DeBrusk.

Either Ritchie or DeBrusk is going to have to play the off wing with a Krejci/Hall combo, but that’s a problem that Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy will gladly figure out after being forced to piece together lineups all season due to injuries and offensive inconsistency. With the acquisition of Hall, Lazar and left-handed defenseman Mike Reilly on Sunday night, it would appear the Boston Bruins are largely done with deals ahead of Monday’s NHL trade deadline.

Interestingly enough, the Boston Bruins are set to play the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday night at TD Garden.

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Drouin must return to mentality that’s led to success this season –



It was something Dominique Ducharme said after his Montreal Canadiens played an abysmal game against the Ottawa Senators last week, something that only truly resonated after they lost 3-2 to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday — a game that emboldened the struggle Jonathan Drouin’s currently enduring.

“Ninety per cent of the mistakes we made were mental, and the rest of it was above our shoulders.” the coach said after the 6-3 loss to Ottawa last Saturday, somewhat channelling New York Yankees legend Yogi Berra with this bit of wit and wisdom.

It was hard not to think of those words watching Drouin play the way he did on Wednesday. For much of this season, the talented left winger has played a primary role in Montreal’s success. He’s led them with 19 assists, been tenacious on the forecheck, physically engaged all over the ice, cerebral as always in his execution and, as he’s said on several occasions, relatively unconcerned by whether or not his name has been featured on the scoresheet.

But it seemed clear, after watching Drouin dump a breakaway into Jack Campbell’s chest with one of 32 shots the Maple Leafs goaltender turned aside to set a franchise record with his 10th consecutive win, he had diverted from that. And that affected the way he played the rest of the game.

It was Drouin’s fifth in a row without a point, his 18th without a goal, and he’d have to be a robot not to be suffering the mental wear of not seeing the puck go in more than twice since the season started, the torment of seeing only three per cent of his shots hit the back of the net through 36 games after 10 per cent of them resulted in goals through the first 348 games of his career.

“It is weighing on me where, when I have a chance and miss the goal, I might be trying to score too much,” Drouin said. “It’s something I obviously think about — every player would — and I’ve just gotta put it past me and just keep shooting pucks.”

Ideally, the 26-year-old wouldn’t be thinking about any of this. These are thoughts that weigh a player down and right now the Canadiens are in tough without Brendan Gallagher for the rest of the season and Drouin needs to be light and free to help account for that loss. And in order for him to do that, he needs to focus on what he does best.

Because the reality is that even though Drouin can score more, scoring isn’t what he needs to do in order to be at his best and really help this team.

“When his feet are moving and he’s making plays, Drou’s a pass-first guy,” explained Jake Allen, who made 29 saves in Carey Price’s absence. “When his feet are moving, his head’s always in it. When his feet are moving, he’s controlling the play, controlling the puck. He’s a guy who really can control the play for a whole line. You want the puck on that guy’s stick and let the other guys do the dirty work and he’ll find them.”

But when Drouin’s feet aren’t moving, there just isn’t enough of that other stuff happening.

When Drouin’s feet weren’t moving, he lost a battle for the puck in the offensive zone and allowed the NHL’s leading goal scorer to start the rush that resulted in the winning play of Wednesday’s game.

Auston Matthews to Mitch Marner, back to Matthews, off Allen and slammed into Montreal’s net by Zach Hyman with 9:39 remaining in the third period, with Drouin watching from just inside his own blue line.

“You give a 3-on-2 to the Matthews line and it’s the kind of play they’re going to make you pay on,” said Ducharme.

Was Drouin still thinking about that shot he didn’t bury in the second period?

It’s understandable if he was, but those are the kind of thoughts he needs to shake right now.

“He wants to do well, and I’m sure it’s getting a little bit in his head,” said Ducharme. “I think the best remedy for him is to be scoring that goal or making that big play, and I think he’s going to be energized by that and less thinking, more acting.

“It is a fine line. Those kind of thoughts is not something that you want to happen. But when you receive that puck and you see the opening and stuff, (the slump) comes back to (your mind). That’s why the mental part of the game is something that’s very tricky. It’s not his will to be thinking that way. Every player who’s going through a time like that will have that thought and scoring that goal will take him to a different level. At those kind of times you need to make it even simpler and being even more inside going at the net and finding a garbage (goal) right there and you put it in and sometimes you go on a little run. It might be that kind of goal that he needs to get that monkey off his back.”

It’s the kind of goal Corey Perry scored twice to give the Canadiens a chance in this game.

But Drouin isn’t Perry, who rightly pointed out after the game he’s made a career of scoring goals that way. And even if Drouin can borrow from what Perry does next time he has a chance like the one Brett Kulak set him up with for that breakaway, there are other ways he can positively impact the game.

You can appreciate that Drouin said he’s putting pressure on himself to score more and help make up for the goals the team will be missing with Gallagher sidelined, but that might not get him to where he needs to be mentally to contribute as much as he already has this season.

What would, though, is a sharp turn towards the mentality he described just days ago. The one that’s enabled him to be a much more consistent player this season than he has in seasons past.

“When I was younger, I’d stay on one game or stay on one play for too long and wouldn’t be able to let it go for a bit or a couple of days,” Drouin said. “But I think for me now it’s can I look at myself in the mirror after a game and did I give my good effort? Was I a part of this game? Was I doing something right in a lot of areas?

“That’s what I do now. I think points are there, goals are there, assists are there, but it’s just about playing that real game and playing to help your team win.”

Drouin’s done a lot of that this season and has a chance to get right back to it when the Winnipeg Jets visit the Bell Centre Thursday.

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Scioscia to lead U.S. baseball bid for spot at Tokyo Olympics



(Reuters) – Mike Scioscia, who won World Series both as a player and manager, was named manager of the U.S. men’s national baseball team on Tuesday, as they seek a spot at the Tokyo Olympics.

After 19 seasons as manager of the Anaheim Angels, guiding them to their only World Series win in 2002, Scioscia will make his international coaching debut in June when the United States hosts the Baseball Americas Qualifier in Florida.

For the tournament the U.S. will be grouped with the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Nicaragua in Pool A while Canada, Colombia, Cuba, and Venezuela will make up Pool B.

The top two teams from each pool will advance to the Super Round, where the country with the best overall record will earn a spot in the Tokyo Olympic tournament.

Second and third-place finishers will advance to a final qualifier, joining Australia, China, Taiwan, and the Netherlands.

“Mike’s tenure with the Angels’ franchise was nothing short of spectacular, creating and celebrating a culture of success with six division titles, an American League pennant, and its first-ever World Series title,” said USA Baseball Executive Director/CEO Paul Seiler in a statement. “More impactfully, his leadership, integrity, and character are unparalleled in our game, making him the perfect fit for the USA Baseball family.”

The Olympic tournament will take place from July 28-Aug. 7 in Fukushima City and Yokohama.

Hosts Japan, Israel, South Korea, and Mexico have already secured a berth in the six-team field.


(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto. Editing by Toby Davis)

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