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Atlantic Division Preview: Nets remain title contender despite Irving drama – Sportsnet.ca

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The NBA is back, and Sportsnet is breaking down everything you need to know about each of the 30 teams in the lead-up to tipoff on Tuesday, Oct. 19.

Today, we look at best- and worst-case scenarios for the Eastern Conference’s Atlantic Division. (Teams are listed in the order in which we believe they’ll finish in the 2021–22 standings.)

Brooklyn Nets

2020–21 finish: 48-24, second in the Atlantic, lost in the second round.

Major additions: DeAndre’ Bembry, James Johnson, Patty Mills, Paul Millsap.

Major subtractions: Jeff Green, Mike James.

Best-case scenario: Don’t let the Kyrie Irving drama distract you from the fact that the Nets should be an elite title contender. Even if Irving doesn’t play this season – choosing to sit out on his ill-intentioned anti-vaccine stance – the Nets should still be alright because this is a team that still features James Harden and probably the best player in the world today Kevin Durant, along with a star-studded supporting cast including Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge, plus sharpshooters Joe Harris and newcomer Patty Mills. So even without Irving, the Nets should be considered a legitimate contender and their goal of a championship shouldn’t change.

Worst-case scenario: The talent is there, and hopefully so will the health to allow this team to make a playoff run proper. But outside bad injury luck, the worst thing that could happen to this Nets team is if Irving proves to be too much of a distraction this season and it begins to impact his teammates on the floor. For as talented as Irving is, he doesn’t exactly have a reputation for being a great locker room presence and there’s bound to be a time when the constant questions about him will grate on his teammates. How the Nets themselves deal with it will be interesting to witness.

2021–22 season prediction: 56-26, first in the East.

Philadelphia 76ers

2020–21 finish: 49-23, first in the Atlantic, lost in the second round.

Major additions: Andre Drummond.

Major subtractions: George Hill.

Best-case scenario: The best thing that the 76ers can do for themselves is to find an amicable end to this saga they’ve had going with Ben Simmons dating back to the off-season. Even if it means that the Sixers will need to get pennies on the dollar for Simmons he can’t be with the team anymore. Philly is a legitimate power in the Eastern Conference with realistic championship expectations that can’t be met if Simmons remains with the team.

Worst-case scenario: It feels like the Sixers are going to try to re-integrate Simmons back into the team, which, on one hand does kind of make sense given his talents, but to do so feels like a major mistake and will result in tempers eventually boiling over later in the season that could de-rail everything for the 76ers.

2021–22 season prediction: 49-33, third in the East.

Boston Celtics

2020–21 finish: 36-36, fourth in the Atlantic, lost in the first round.

Major additions: Al Horford, Enes Kanter, Josh Richardson, Dennis Schroder, new head coach Ime Udoka.

Major subtractions: Evan Fournier, Tristan Thompson, Kemba Walker.

Best-case scenario: The Celtics shook up their front office with Brad Stevens succeeding Danny Ainge as the president of basketball operations and then removing himself as head coach, opting to hire long-time NBA assistant Ime Udoka as the new bench boss. Under Udoka, the Celtics are going to want to play a more modern, ball-movement-focused offence which could prove beneficial for the team’s two stars of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Boston looks like good team, but compared to the likes of Brooklyn and Milwaukee it feels like there’s still some more left to be desired, even given how good Tatum and Brown are.

Worst-case scenario: The Celtics need to keep their house in order. During the pre-season both Brown and Al Horford have been forced into health and safety protocols. Given the fact the season is just getting underway this won’t impact Boston all that much, but it can’t be allowed to happen again.

2021–22 season prediction: 44-38, sixth in the East.

New York Knicks

2020–21 finish: 41-31, third in the Atlantic, lost in the first round.

Major additions: Kemba Walker.

Major subtractions: Reggie Bullock, Frank Ntilikina, Elfrid Payton.

Best-case scenario: The Knicks finally returned to the playoffs last season, and it wasn’t by fluke. The addition of Tom Thibodeau as head coach, the emergence of Julius Randle becoming an all-star and the step forward that R.J. Barrett took, not to mention the steady play of Derrick Rose coming off the bench all played significant factors in a good 2020-21 campaign for New York and now with the addition of Kemba Walker, who has had many memorable moments in Madison Square Garden dating back to his time in college, the Knicks added another dangerous offensive weapon to the mix. They didn’t get much better, but they also didn’t get much worse, either, meaning they should have a very similar season to their last one.

Worst-case scenario: The end of Walker’s tenure in Boston wasn’t the greatest as injuries robbed him of his signature quickness, plus his fit with Tatum and Brown wasn’t the best as all three needed the ball in their hands to be most effective. A similar situation could shape up in New York with Walker sharing the ball with Randle and Barrett. Hopefully, Walker will take a bit of a step back to let the Knicks’ true stars take over, but that’s not a guarantee.

2021–22 season prediction: 43-39, seventh in the East.

Toronto Raptors

2020–21 finish: 27-45, fifth in the Atlantic, didn’t qualify for the post-season.

Major additions: Precious Achiuwa, Dalano Banton (R), Scottie Barnes (R), Goran Dragic.

Major subtractions: Aron Baynes, DeAndre’ Bembry, Kyle Lowry.

Best-case scenario: The Raptors are, perhaps, the hardest team to figure out this season. They appear to be a club that’s trying to thread the needle by simultaneously keeping a small competitive window open while also trying to re-tool and shoot back up to the top of the Eastern Conference standings. Given the championship-calibre talent on the roster, it’s feasible to think they’ll be able to do it, and No. 4 overall pick Scottie Barnes looks like the kind of high-ceiling talent who’ll be able to help push the Raptors towards that inevitable goal. For this season, if Toronto can reach the play-in tournament and even the post-season, proper it’ll be a successful season.

Worst-case scenario: Unfortunately, what the Raptors appear to be attempting is incredibly difficult and for all the optimism you can point to in regards to the roster, you can also find some worrying flaws and difficulties, such as how this team will score consistently – particularly with Pascal Siakam not expected to be in the lineup until closer to U.S. Thanksgiving – and whether this experiment of going all-in on “position-less” basketball will actually work. If things go awry it could lead to Toronto stuck in a no-man’s land position where they won’t be good enough to compete for a post-season spot, but not bad enough to get a high draft pick again – that is, unless Lady Luck decides to smile on them once again.

2021–22 season prediction: 38-44, 11th in the East.

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Flames open road trip with win for Sutter against his former team – Sportsnet.ca

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LOS ANGELES — Sitting in the bowels of a Staples Center arena in which he raised two Stanley Cups, Darryl Sutter was asked about the drive to win another one.

“It’s, like, all that matters to me,” said the Flames’ singularly-focused coach. “You’re trying to translate that to the players, to get to that level that it takes. And the difference it makes in a career and their lives.”

The difference Sutter helped make in Los Angeles was recognized seven minutes into Thursday’s Flames win when he and Trevor Lewis were saluted in a Jumbotron video that drew a standing ovation from a sparse crowd of 13,241.

Guiding the Kings to the franchise’s first Cup win in his first season as their head coach in 2012, Sutter became just the 19th coach in NHL lore to win multiple titles when he won again in 2014.

He’s had a similar, early impact in Calgary where his Flames continue to be the talk of the league, improving their record to a best-in-the-west 14-4-5 with a 3-2 win over his former team.

He wouldn’t say it afterward, but you can bet it meant just a little bit more for him to see his club win one at Staples.

“Some of the players that went through here before told me they probably would,” shrugged Sutter of the video. “It’s good. Good for Trevor, and good for my family.”

Although he did his best to downplay it before and afterwards, this game was important to Sutter.

And the players knew it.

“We wanted to win it for our coach, we wanted to win it for Lewis and his return, and we wanted to get our first win in our division,” said Milan Lucic, whose second power play unit played a big role in the win, with two first period goals.

“Those are all important things for us tonight. It’s always nice to start a four-game trip off in the win column.”

Lucic went five-hole for the fourth time this season to put the Flames up 2-1 in a first period that also saw Andrew Mangiapane score with the man advantage.

“I looked up and saw defence and went back to it — it’s a high percentage shot,” said a smiling Lucic of the between-the-wickets shot that has helped him score the majority of his seven goals.

“If it misses it hits the pads and stays alive, as opposed to a shot in the glove. It seems to be working out. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. I’d love to tell you how I set it up, but I don’t want the goalies to know what my thought process is. So we’ll just leave it at that.”

Not surprisingly, Lucic got the starting nod alongside fellow Kings alumni Lewis and Brad Richardson as part of Sutter’s gritty All the King’s Men Line.

“My buddies call us the Full Pension Line, which I thought was funny,” laughed Lewis of a nickname offered up by childhood friend and former Flame, Shane O’Brien.

“But whatever you guys want to call it.”

An Alex Iafallo redirection gave the opposition the opening goal for just the fifth time in 23 games — and first on the road — five minutes in.

Mangiapane responded with his 16th before Lucic struck.

Minutes after taking the lead Matthew Tkachuk did his best to resurrect his feud with Drew Doughty with a gritty shift on which he knocked the Kings defender down with a reverse hit before punctuating the whistle with a pair of net-side punches to Doughty’s face.

The second poke drew a penalty the Flames killed off as part of yet another perfect night that saw the unit stop both of L.A.’s man advantages.

Even scoreboard urging from Snoop Dogg couldn’t spur on the Kings.

Tkachuk wound up with the last laugh as he used Doughty as a screen to score his 11th of the season — a top-shelf beauty that stood as the winner early in the second.

“Whoever the defenceman was on that side I just tried to shoot it through him, and it worked out,” said Tkachuk. “I’m sure if you asked (Sutter) he wouldn’t want us to be extra motivated for him. He’d say he wanted us to come in here and get off on this road trip on the right foot and don’t worry about his homecoming. But it was big to get them the win.”

Alexander Edler’s first as a King narrowed the gap late in the second, setting up a third period push that saw Lewis make a key block after Jacob Markstrom made a stunning glove save on Victor Arvidsson’s point blast — one of 40 saves on the night.

The Flames play in Anaheim Friday as part of a four-game road trip that takes them through Vegas and San Jose.

“I think it’s really good for our team, and it’s another measuring stick to see where you are at when you get into the division part of it,” said Sutter before the game when asked about the trip against division rivals.

“This trip there are two we haven’t played and two we haven’t beaten.”

Make that one they haven’t beaten.

NOTES: The Flames sent Juuso Valimaki to Stockton to get some much-needed playing time, as the 23-year-old first-rounder has only been used in eight of the team’s 23 games this season.

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Prediction Time: CFL.ca writers' Div Finals picks – CFL.ca

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TORONTO — The anticipation is building by the day as we get closer to our Eastern and Western Division Finals on Sunday.

A pair of longtime rivals are the final four teams standing and on Sunday we’ll find out which of those two make it to the 108th Grey Cup next week in Hamilton.

If you’re looking for sound, stable and successful advice, look no further than our Jamie Nye. Tied for first-place with Pat Steinberg with a 39-26 record, Jamie was the only one of the six CFL.ca writers that went 2-0 last week, wisely taking the Ticats and Riders to hold court at home. This week they’re both on the road, heading into Toronto and Winnipeg, respectively, to take on the first place Argos and Bombers.

Home field didn’t carry quite as much weight in the East with the pick-makers as it did in the West this week, despite the Argos’ 6-1 record at BMO Field. Just about everyone is on board with the Bombers hosting at IG Field, a place where they haven’t had the taste of defeat all season. The last time the Bombers lost at home was Sept. 27, 2019. That Week 16 loss to Hamilton came a couple of weeks before the Bombers traded for Zach Collaros.

The Riders have a hill to climb this week and they seem to recognize that. The Ticats have a hill of their own, having dropped three of their four meetings with the Argos this season, including their Week 15 encounter that clinched first in the East for the Double Blue.

We’re just days away from having answers and knowing who will be playing for the Grey Cup, setting up a true Sunday Funday.

RELATED
» Head to Head: Who has the edge in the Eastern and Western Finals?
» CFL Pick ‘Em: Make your picks for the divisional finals!
» Weekly Predictor: Betting on the Ticats

HAM at TOR

The Argos might have one of the most underappreciated home field records in recent league history. Standing at an impressive 6-1 — the blemish coming in a meaningless end-of-season tilt with Edmonton — they won’t be an easy out at BMO Field. There’s pressure on each side to win of course, but there’s a little more on the Ticats, who beat the Argos in their first meeting on Labour Day, then dropped their next three meetings, with encounters No. 2 and 3 being one-point losses. Still, the majority of our pick makers think the Ticats can do it, coming off of a convincing win over Montreal last week. A traveling pack of supporters making the trip up the QEW might help pack the stands on Sunday and will try to even out that home field advantage.

PICK

Writers 66% Hamilton

SSK at WPG

The Riders get one last crack at the blue and gold riddle they haven’t been able to solve on Sunday afternoon. This edition of the Bombers might stand as one of the franchise’s all-time great teams, led by a defence that feasts on turnovers and miscues, and is steered on offence by Zach Collaros‘ calm and deliberate style of play. The defending Grey Cup champs come into this game as rested as can be, will have the support of a packed IG Field and have been focused on the next game in front of them since we kicked the season off back in August. The Riders will likely have to be close to perfect to take them down. Going into the game, it feels like a very tall order.

PICK

Writers 83% Winnipeg

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Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo misses game vs. Raptors for undisclosed reason – Sportsnet.ca

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Giannis Antetokounmpo was scratched from the Milwaukee Bucks‘ lineup against the Toronto Raptors for an undisclosed reason.

Antetokounmpo was not among the Bucks’ starters ahead of tipoff. Pat Connaughton was moved into his place in the starting lineup against the Raptors.

The 26-year-old is coming off a dominant performance against the Charlotte Hornets where he had 40 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists in a 127-125 victory. Antetokounmpo is averaging 27.6 points, 11.8 rebounds, and 6.0 assists through 21 games this season.

Milwaukee’s next game is on Saturday against the Miami Heat.

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