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Lowry, Ibaka injuries magnify Raptors’ depth concerns

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NEW ORLEANS – A Friday night game against a young, losing team trying to find their way shouldn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things for a club defending an NBA title.

But the Toronto Raptors are in a strange middle ground trying to swim with the NBA’s big fish having lost their end-of-game shark to the Los Angeles Clippers.

But on the cusp of their most challenging road trip of the season, head coach Nick Nurse wasn’t going to buy into the idea that the next stretch of games would define anything, despite the high-profile match ups against old teammates on the powerhouse L.A. teams – Danny Green with the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday night and of course Kawhi Leonard with the Clippers on Monday.

Or that the Pelicans were the must-have game on a trip that includes stops at always tough Portland and emerging power Dallas.

“You know what? I think we got a good team with some special players and we’re trying to figure out how to play to the best of our abilities right now,” said Nurse before the game. “I don’t feel like we’re trying to make any statements whatsoever. Do we want to win? Yes. Do we want (to win) tonight? Yes. Do we want to win both in LA? Yes. I just think we’re a growing team with some really special players and we’re tough to beat. It takes a lot to beat us. That’s who we are.”

They certainly come to work like a professional outfit, where the effort and attention to detail is standard, even if the result can’t be guaranteed.

No matter what happens this season they won’t have cheated anyone and certainly not themselves.

But their margin for error is slim. Depth has been a concern all season and when Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka couldn’t finish the game it was even more evident.

But the Raptors managed to outlast the Pelicans 122-104 even if they had to sweat bit in the second half while short-handed.

The Raptors challenges are just getting started. After the game Lowry said he had suffered a small fracture to the tip of his left thumb and will be re-evaluated Saturday while Ibaka left the arena in a walking boot, his ankle swollen, though not broken.

They needed a career-high tying 44 points — along with 10 rebounds and four assists — from Pascal Siakam and another impressive outing from OG Anunoby ( who set a career-high with five threes on his way to 21 points, seven rebounds and four assists) to overcome the loss of Lowry and Ibaka.

They needed a career-high tying 44 points — along with 10 rebounds and four assists — from Pascal Siakam and another impressive outing from OG Anunoby — who set a career-high with five threes on his way to 21 points, seven rebounds and four assists — to get it done.

Shooting 19-of-43 from deep helped, as did forcing 18 Pelicans turnovers while limiting them to 40.4 per cent shooting. The Raptors 17 turnovers were an issue.

But there was plenty of evidence that the Raptors have the necessary habits to see them through some difficult times, even if the talent pool isn’t as deep as the past.

The Raptors played hard even if it seemed like barely half the arena was watching at the Smoothie King Center.

The defining play of what seemed like it was going to be the defining first half was Chris Boucher earning a hearty hand slap from Lowry early in the second quarter.

The rangy Montrealer trying to wedge himself into Nurse’s still evolving rotation sprinted back to make an unlikely contest on a solo fast break by Frank Jackson who was trying to take advantage of a Raptors turnover.

It didn’t look good when the ball was already over centre but Boucher got there, closing the gap in a few ground-eating strides and forcing the miss.

Jackson collected his rebound but by that time Ibaka had sprinted back and made him miss at the rim again.

The Raptors then sprinted back the other way and Norm Powell nailed an open corner three to complete the five-point turnaround and put the Raptors up 41-31.

The effort may have been expected, given this team’s track record, but a bonus was the best performance of a bench-heavy Raptors unit all season, arguably.

Powell’s triple was part of a 22-3 surge to start the second quarter that split open a game that was tied 30-30 after the first 12 minutes.

While Siakam scored 16 points in the first quarter and had 26 in the first half, it was the contributions from outside the Nurse’s starters — or at least their core scoring options — that was encouraging as Toronto put up a franchise-record 45 points in the second quarter on their way to a 75-53 first half lead. They led by 29 at one point.

Powell came off the bench with 18 — 15 in the first half. Boucher showed some life at both ends and Anunoby had 10 in the first half.

They needed all hands on deck.

Ibaka had eight points before leaving the game just before the half with a sprained right ankle joining Lowry who was ruled out at half after what was thought to be an injury to the thumbnail on his left hand.

There were some nagging concerns going into the game – specifically the Raptors’ second match-up against the Pelicans, which was pushed to the limit by New Orleans in the season opener back in Toronto before closing it out late.

Would the Raptors get sucked into the Pelicans’ tendency to play fast and not defend at all?

Coming into the game the Zion Williamson-less Pelicans ranked last in points allowed in the NBA, giving up 124.3 a night while playing at the league’s sixth quickest pace.

“A little bit,” Nurse said on if he was concerned about getting lulled into a track meet, trading scores. “But sometimes you have to play different styles. Sometimes in you’re in a grind it out game and you have to grind it out, sometimes it’s a free-flowing game and you have to play free-flowing.

“I don’t know, I think you have to be able to win in different ways and not get too caught up in holding teams to 80 points every night. ”

The Raptors didn’t hold the Pelicans to 80, nor did they need to, but they never showed any mercy to the struggling home team and in the process got a challenging road trip off to a feel-good start with the hard part to come.

Even down Lowry and Ibaka the Raptors were able to maintain their halftime lead in the third quarter.

VanVleet, otherwise struggling, hit a pair of deep threes. Siakam scored nine to give him 34 before the fourth quarter even started.

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But the cracks showed at times. At one point the short-handed Raptors were playing with three undrafted free agents – Matt Thomas, Malcom Miller and Terrence Davis – alongside Marc Gasol and Siakam. As you might have guessed this didn’t go all that well.

The Pelicans crept back. Promising Canadian rookie Nickeil Alexander-Walker’s third triple in his seventh minute of floor time cut the Raptors lead to 100-88 with 8:53 left. He finished with 13 points in 15 second-half minutes and helped spark the Pelicans’ comeback.

But the Raptors held their ground. Consecutive threes by Anunoby late in the fourth – his fourth and fifth of the game – helped keep the Pelicans at bay.

They found away against an opponent with nothing to lose, down two key players and with the bright lights of LA looming.

It’s what good teams do.

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Sportsnet faces challenges after Don Cherry departure

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Sportsnet brass made the call to end Don Cherry’s nearly four-decade run on Hockey Night in Canada’s Coach’s Corner after his rant over the weekend. Their next big decision may be even tougher.

With his bombast, insight, experience and over-the-top delivery, Cherry created an institution with his appearances on the popular Saturday evening segment.

Love him or hate him, he’s hard to replace. Therein lies the challenge for Sportsnet president Bart Yabsley, Rogers Media president Jordan Banks and other company powerbrokers.

Oh to be a fly on the wall in the Rogers boardroom this week. Do they continue with the segment or rebrand for the future? If Cherry is replaced, who gets the nod? And should a successor move in right away or down the road?

Consistently a ratings hit, the first intermission this Saturday night will be appointment viewing.

Don Cherry sparked online backlash on Saturday night for his comments about immigrants not wanting to wear poppies ahead of Remembrance Day. 0:50

“It’s going to be very, very interesting to see what they do and I wouldn’t be surprised if they just let it slide for a while and put something else in there,” said David Shoalts, a former Globe and Mail sports reporter and author of Hockey Fight in Canada: The Big Media Face Off Over the NHL.

“It’s not as difficult as it would have been for them, because under Rogers they did cut [the segment] to five minutes. At the CBC, he had come to take up the whole first intermission, so that would have been a big problem.”

A spokesman said Sportsnet is “still considering options” for the first intermission segment and that company executives would not be doing interviews at this time. Segment co-host Ron MacLean did not immediately return a telephone message.

There were rumblings the network was considering moving on from Cherry during the off-season, but the 85-year-old wasn’t included in the recent wave of big-name on-air departures.

However, it’s likely Sportsnet already had ideas for the segment’s future post-Cherry.

A complete Coach’s Corner reboot is possible or there could be a shuffling of other segments. Extended highlight packages could help fill the gap. The segment could be dropped altogether, although that’s unlikely given its history and showcase status.

Cherry made comments on Hockey Night in Canada regarding new Toronto citizens not wearing poppies. 1:04

The network may choose to recognize the massive impact Cherry had as a commentator, but it would be tricky to balance that with his rather ignominious exit.

A career overview could buy some time since the seat might be a little too hot for an immediate replacement. Of course, it’s possible the page gets completely turned and Cherry’s name is not mentioned at all.

Just like when he was on the air, there will be no shortage of critics and plaudits.

Several candidates would be qualified to replace Cherry. Former hockey executive and current Sportsnet analyst Brian Burke is the early betting favourite.

Burke is a 3-2 pick to replace Cherry this Saturday and a 5-4 pick to fill the role next season, according to odds released Tuesday by SportsBettingDime.com. Sportsnet hockey commentators Kelly Hrudey, Colby Armstrong and Craig Simpson were listed among the other early favourites.

HNIC was a longtime CBC Saturday night staple, but the show and its games moved to Sportsnet when Rogers landed a 12-year, $5.2-billion US national broadcast rights deal with the NHL that began in 2014. Coach’s Corner and HNIC are still broadcast on CBC in a sub-licencing deal with Rogers Media, which owns Sportsnet.

Former CBC Sports host and current Not The Public Broadcaster podcaster Bruce Dowbiggin weighs in on Sportsnet’s decision to cut ties with the controversial longtime Hockey Night in Canada commentator. 8:51

Sportsnet apologized Sunday for Cherry’s comments about his belief that new immigrants don’t wear poppies, and in turn, don’t support veterans.

On Monday, Cherry was shown the door. In a statement, Yabsley said the comments were “divisive.”

Cherry prefaced his on-air remarks Saturday night with the phrase, ‘You people’ — drawing criticism from all quarters – but denied in interviews after his departure that he was singling out visible minorities. He has not publicly apologized for his comments.

“If I had to do it over again, I probably would have said ‘Everybody,”‘ Cherry said Tuesday in an interview on Sirius XM Canada’s “Canada Talks” channel. “But I didn’t and there’s no sense of whining about it and I paid the price.”

Given his long tenure, how — or if — his departure is addressed this weekend will be fascinating, as will MacLean’s thoughts. The veteran HNIC anchor apologized last Sunday.

“I had a good time,” Cherry said. “I’m 85 years old and I’m still having a good time. As I have always said, ‘I’m glad I’m going out on my shield. I’m not going out with a whimper.”‘

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Don Cherry defends Hockey Night in Canada comments but says he would have ‘used different words’

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Don Cherry says he won’t apologize for his divisive comments about new immigrants not wearing poppies, but the former co-host of “Coach’s Corner” says if he could do it again, he would have chosen different words.

“I think the closest I’ll come to apologizing is I wish I had used different words,” Cherry told Global News.

“I should have said everybody. If I had to do it over again, I would have said everybody.”

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Cherry, 85, was fired from the Hockey Night in Canada segment by Sportsnet Monday, following televised comments Saturday night in which he singled out “you people that come here” in Toronto and Mississauga, where he lives, for not wearing poppies, implying they don’t support Canada’s soldiers.

“You people that come here… whatever it is, you love our way of life, you love our milk and honey, at least you could pay a couple of bucks for a poppy,” he said on Saturday.

In an interview with Global News, Cherry refused to back down from his comments and said that everyone should wear a poppy to honour Canada’s fallen soldiers.

“I do believe to this day that everybody in Canada should have a poppy on, out of honour and respect of the fallen soldiers that have fallen in the Second World War, Korea and the whole deal,” Cherry said.

“Those people who gave their lives, at least we can buy a poppy.”

Pressed on whether his comments were racist, Cherry said his comments weren’t directed at minorities, and that what he said applies to anyone.

“It could have been Irish, it could have been Scottish, it could have been anybody,” he said, adding that the “silent majority” supported him.

“It was picked up the way it was picked up.”

Cherry said he was planning to apologize on this week’s upcoming Hockey Night in Canada, but was never given the chance.

“I was ready to apologize,” Cherry said. “I was gonna put out a tweet, or whatever they do, saying I was wrong and I think it could have smoothed over pretty good. But that’s the way they wanted it and that’s the way it goes.”

Global News has contacted Sportsnet about whether Cherry would have apologized, but they said they had nothing further to add.

Cherry, a former player and NHL coach, had worked as a broadcaster for more than 37 years on Hockey Night in Canada, drawing attention for a number of controversial statements including calling progressives “left-wing pinkos,” describing Quebecers as “whiners,” and making derogatory comments about European hockey players.

Sportsnet president Bart Yabsley said in a statement Monday that it was “the right time for him to immediately step down.”

“During the broadcast, he made divisive remarks that do not represent our values or what we stand for,” Yabsley said.

Coach’s Corner co-host Ron MacLean also apologized Sunday for Cherry’s remarks. During Cherry’s rant, MacLean could be seen nodding and giving a thumbs-up.

‘We were wrong:’ Ron MacLean apologizes for Don Cherry’s comments on Hockey Night in Canada

MacLean issued a televised apology that Cherry’s remarks were “hurtful, discriminatory” and that he wished he had responded differently on air.

“Don Cherry made remarks which were hurtful, discriminatory, which were flat out wrong,” MacLean said. “I owe you an apology, too. I sat there, did not catch it, did not respond.

“Last night was a really great lesson to Don and me. We were wrong, and I sincerely apologize. I wanted to thank you for calling me and Don on that last night.”

Cherry told Global News that he was “disappointed” in his co-host Ron MacLean, but that the two were still friends.

“He buried me. I was very disappointed the way he handled [it],” Cherry said. “I don’t want to condemn him but I was very disappointed.”

Cherry’s remarks were roundly criticized by politicians across Canada including Toronto Mayor John Tory and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh. The National Hockey League also weighed in, saying the comments “made last night were offensive and contrary to the values we believe in.”

Steven Purewal, a historian on the contribution of Indian soldiers during the First World War, told Global News on Monday it was wrong for Cherry to suggest immigrants don’t support Canadian veterans, noting the broadcaster has no way of knowing who’s an immigrant and who was born in Canada.

“It endorses a stereotype that the immigrant is somehow unpatriotic, is thankless about the sacrifices it took to build the country,” he said.

“What we need to be telling Canadians is that many, many diverse communities fought in the Great War and the Second World War. Without their contributions, we wouldn’t have the freedoms we have today.”

Meanwhile, some have been calling for the hockey host’s return. A Change.org petition called ‘Bring Back Don Cherry!’ has amassed over 108,000 signatures.

As for the long-time hockey pundit, Cherry said he is still processing being fired.

“I don’t think it’s hit yet,” he said. “It will be a little different Saturday when I sit down and watch where I was for 38 years.”

“I have no idea and I don’t think Ron Maclean has any idea what they’re going to run after the first period… It’ll be watched that’s for sure because everybody will want to see what goes on at the end of the first period.”

— With a file from Sean Boyton

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Brian Burke considered favourite to replace Don Cherry

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The Canadian Press


Published Tuesday, November 12, 2019 10:56AM EST


Last Updated Tuesday, November 12, 2019 11:09AM EST

TORONTO – Former NHL executive Brian Burke is listed as the heavy favourite to be Don Cherry‘s successor on “Hockey Night in Canada” on one sports betting site.

SportsBettingDime.com has released odds on candidates to replace Cherry after the commentator was sacked by Sportsnet yesterday for a rant about immigrants not wearing poppies on his “Coach’s Corner” segment on Saturday.

Burke, who currently works as an analyst at Sportsnet, is listed as the 3-2 favourite (must bet $2 to win $3) to appear on Cherry‘s longtime “Coach’s Corner” segment on Saturday.

Burke is the 5-4 pick to be the full-time replacement next season.

Sportsnet has not said whether it plans to keep the “Coach’s Corner” segment, which has been a first-intermission staple on HNIC.

Sportsnet hockey commentators Kelly Hrudey, Colby Armstrong and Craig Simpson are among the other betting favourites for Cherry’s job.

The site also is taking odds on what Cherry does next, with working for another media organization the favourite.

If he goes into politics, the odds consider Cherry’s most likely destination to be under Ontario Premier Doug Ford and the Conservative party.

Cherry is listed as a 2,000-1 pick to join the NDP.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 12, 2019.

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