Smith & Jones
Jameer Nelson can see upsets in this year’s NBA playoffs, but only three real contenders
July 07 2020
The Washington Capitals will have a bye into the Stanley Cup Playoffs as part of the NHL’s Return to Play Plan, but they expect a difficult challenge in the Eastern Conference Seeding Round Robin with the Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning and Philadelphia Flyers.
The top four teams in points percentage in each conference will play against each other once in the round-robin to determine seeding against the four teams in each conference that advance from best-of-5 series in the Qualifying Round.
“I think it’s very interesting how it could play out,” Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan said Friday. “It could be great to watch on TV.”
The Bruins had the highest points percentage in the NHL (.714) when the season was paused March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus. The Lightning (.657) were tied with the Colorado Avalanche for third in the League in points percentage, the Capitals (.652) were fifth, and the Flyers (.645) were sixth.
Philadelphia was also one of the hottest teams before the pause, going 9-1-0 in its final 10 games and 18-5-1 for an NHL-best .771 points percentage since Jan. 13.
“I still think those games are going to be competitive against good teams,” MacLellan said. “You’re playing Tampa [Bay], you’re playing Boston, you’re playing Philly, all real good teams. … I think it’s a fairly level playing field. It’s not perfect, but I think reasonably well, it’s good.”
With the games to be played in two hub cities to be determined — one for the 12 Eastern Conference teams and the other for the 12 Western Conference teams — earning home-ice advantage might not be as big of a factor as it normally is, but there will be something at stake.
“You get last shift. You get your last change,” MacLellan said. “I’m assuming that is a competitive advantage, so seeding could become important. You would want that advantage throughout the playoffs. You look at Boston, and Boston has probably earned to be a home-ice, last-change team throughout the playoffs, but they have to go through a mini-series to determine their seed … so it’s important to a certain extent.”
Before the season was paused, the Capitals believed they were well positioned for making another run at the Stanley Cup after winning it for the first time in 2018. With forward Alex Ovechkin tying Bruins forward David Pastrnak for the League lead with 48 goals and John Carlson first among NHL defensemen with 75 points (15 goals, 60 assists), Washington finished first in the Metropolitan Division for the fifth straight season.
The Capitals also felt good about their depth after acquiring defenseman Brenden Dillon in a trade from the San Jose Sharks on Feb. 18 and forward Ilya Kovalchuk in a trade from the Montreal Canadiens on Feb. 23.
“I feel like we have as good a chance as anybody of winning a Cup,” center Lars Eller said last week. “That’s a bigger incentive and reason for us to want to play again. That window won’t last forever.”
Though the path to the Cup this season will be different because of the circumstances, MacLellan doesn’t believe that will make winning it less meaningful. If anything, it might be more difficult to win.
“Realistically, I think the championship is up for grabs with the format the way it is right now,” MacLellan said. “A lot of teams could upset other teams, and anything could happen, basically. And I think it would be entertaining, it would be compelling, and it’d be fun to watch. If you’re one of the teams that gets upset, it might not be as fun. But it could be wildly entertaining.”
Edited BY Harry Miller
The Chicago Blackhawks have no intention of putting their team name on ice.
As the NFL’s Washington Redskins and MLB’s Cleveland Indians consider changes to their names and logos, which critics say demean Native Americans, the Blackhawks issued a statement to the Chicago Sun-Times on Tuesday night defending their name and intent.
“The Chicago Blackhawks name and logo symbolizes an important and historic person, Black Hawk of Illinois’ Sac & Fox Nation, whose leadership and life has inspired generations of Native Americans, veterans and the public,” the team’s statement began, according to the Sun-Times.
“We celebrate Black Hawk’s legacy by offering ongoing reverent examples of Native American culture, traditions and contributions, providing a platform for genuine dialogue with local and national Native American groups. As the team’s popularity grew over the past decade, so did that platform and our work with these important organizations.”
In recent years, the franchise has invited Native American groups to games for pregame ovations and in-game performances. A section on the team’s official website is devoted to the “legacy of Black Hawk.”
Yet some Native American groups consistently have criticized the Blackhawks, whose mascot is named Tommy Hawk.
“We recognize there is a fine line between respect and disrespect, and we commend other teams for their willingness to engage in that conversation,” the team’s statement continued. “Moving forward, we are committed to raising the bar even higher to expand awareness of Black Hawk and the important contributions of all Native American people.
“We will continue to serve as stewards of our name and identity, and will do so with a commitment to evolve. Our endeavours in this area have been sincere and multi-faceted, and the path forward will draw on that experience to grow as an organization and expand our efforts.”
Washington’s NFL team announced Friday it was conducting a “thorough review” of its name, with expectations of a change perhaps before the regular season starts in September. Cleveland’s MLB team announced later that day that it would “determine the best path forward with regard to our team name.”
WATCH | Rob Pizzo joins CBC News Network to discuss NHL-NHLPA agreement:
As his team heads to the great unknown to defend their NBA championship, Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse has given up trying to plot and plan and micromanage his way through a pandemic.
Instead he’s keeping an open mind and planning to roll with punches no one may see coming as the NBA gathers at the Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando to complete the 2019-20 regular season and start the playoffs.
The Raptors will be one of the last of 22 teams to move into what the league hopes will be a relatively antiseptic bubble, free from the coronavirus when they take a bus from where they’ve been training in Naples, Fla.
Normally coaches have a working script for almost every minute of pre-season training so as not to waste a precious moment and to set the right tone for what’s to follow.
These aren’t normal times. The Raptors have had their typical pre-season, back on October (and even that involved a side trip to Japan); they’ve had a month of individual workouts after the play was stopped March 11 due to the pandemic and they’ve just completed two weeks in their own mini-bubble in Naples where they’ve been doing individual work but together. Now they have three weeks at Disney World before they play eight so-called seeding games beginning Aug. 1.
“I would say my planning is very lean or [fluid], to be honest with you,” Nurse said on a conference call Tuesday. “I want to see kind of where we are at the first day or so before I kind of say ‘I see where we are at, I see where we are going and now I’m going to have to get down and chart the next week or 10 days out’. And I don’t really know where we are at. I mean I can see individually. I think we look really good, but what will that translate to when we get back to calling plays and running defences and doing some things? Where are we going to need to go from there?”
Nurse is already prepared for some diversions.
Several of his players — not to mention the team’s coaching and support staff — are parents and in the early stages of what could be a minimum of seven weeks away from their families. Nurse himself has two little ones three and under.
So, while a typical training camp environment is designed to leave the outside world behind for a little bit and become immersed in all things basketball, when hoops are all there is going on in the ‘bubble’ some outside world distractions will be welcomed and encouraged.
“For me, I would say that it starts with conversation, when you’re bumping into Fred [VanVleet] or Kyle [Lowry], and you’re asking ’em how are the wife and kids, and what are they doing, and when was the last time you talked to them,” said Nurse. “There’s a lot more of that going on than I would say normally would happen.
“It’s not like we don’t do it normally but there’s a lot more now because we’re all showing pictures and whatever. I just think from my standpoint, it’s another one of those things you’d be more lenient on.
“Like, I don’t know, what’s an example? Well, we’re getting ready to start a meeting and right as that happens, somebody says ‘oh, man, my kid’s FaceTiming me, and you say take it, go out in the hall and take it and we’ll wait for you’ or whatever.
“I think sometimes hooking up with schedules and kids, sometimes when those FaceTime calls come, you’ve gotta take ’em and drop everything you’re doing.”
Nurse can relate.
“Like, when I left, I have a three-year-old kid… he didn’t quite understand how long I’m gonna be gone. I told him I’m gonna coach some games, and he said well I’m gonna wait right here for ya.
“I hope he’s moved from that spot because it’s gonna be a while.”
As far as basketball is concerned Nurse remains bullish on his team, which will carry a 46-18 record into the restart — second-best in the East and third in the NBA — even though it will be four months since his team has played a game or even practised 5-on-5.
Nurse has been in the gym watching his charges go through solo workouts with the aid of the Raptors coaching and development staff and likes what he sees.
“I would imagine with everybody there’ll be a little bit of rhythm adjustment from the game,” he said. “Conditioning, rhythm and remembering sets and all that kind of stuff, that’ll take some time as well.
“But I look, if you walked in the gym this morning and watched them workout you wouldn’t have known they missed two months without touching a ball, I don’t think.”
Smith & Jones
Jameer Nelson can see upsets in this year’s NBA playoffs, but only three real contenders
July 07 2020
Leading the way has been Raptors engine Kyle Lowry, the veteran point guard who sets the culture for a team that refuses to take a step back.
“He is looking awesome. I mean like really awesome,” said Nurse. “He is really working hard. He is going at it. He comes into camp always in great shape, full of energy and feisty and all that stuff and he is. He’s going at it. He’s working extremely hard very early in the morning in all facets — his conditioning, his shooting. He’s good. He looks good and his workouts have been excellent.”
Those are the knowns, the things Nurse can rely on as the strangest season in NBA history hits another milestone moment. His team is healthy, his players are prepared and his floor leader looks ready to rock, even as they navigate a new normal without the familiarity of home or family.
Nurse does have one plan in mind when the Raptors take the practice floor for the first time — likely on Saturday.
He’s going to let’em play. It’s been a while.
“I know that I’m sensing they really want to play basketball. I don’t think they want to do drills. So it may be a little different where you drill short, scrimmage long early just to get that feel and then go back and drill longer on things you think you need to do.”
And if there’s a FaceTime call from a wee one? Everyone will adjust.
The NBA is confident they can secure the bubble from positive COVID-19 cases, but Adam Silver said on Tuesday that any significant number of positive tests inside the protected campus could result in a second shut down of the season.
“I think we do have the ability to trace, of course to try to understand where that positive case came from,” Silver said of any positive cases inside the Walt Disney World campus. “We can actually analyze the virus itself and try to track whether if there is more than one case, if it’s in essence the same virus and same genetic variation of the virus that is passed from one player to another or two people have gotten it on the campus independently. So those are all things that we are looking at.”
“Certainly if we had any sort of significant spread within our campus, we would be shut down again.”
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