TORONTO – Few do Valentine’s Day heartbreak quite like the Toronto Raptors.
Long-time fans of the team will remember a Feb. 14 date with the Jeremy Lin-led New York Knicks back in the winter of 2012.
At 9-19, Toronto was off to a rough start, but even in the midst of a lost campaign, there was a buzz in the building formerly known as Air Canada Centre that day. A sell-out crowd showed up – before sell-outs became routine at the ACC – and most of it was there to see the Knicks’ electric new point guard.
Coming to town at the height of the Linsanity spectacle, and seven years before he would end up winning a championship ring as a member of the Raptors, Lin did not disappoint. Although the home team led for most of the night, and by as many as seven points inside of the final five minutes, Lin capped off New York’s improbable comeback with a game winning buzzer-beating dagger over Jose Calderon.
As far as memorably deflating defeats go, that one remains an all-timer. However, with Toronto’s most recent setback – an upset 116-112 loss at the hands of the Minnesota Timberwolves, the worst team in the NBA, on Sunday – we have a new contender.
Despite their 6-20 record and 28th-ranked offence, the Wolves took an early lead and built on it with a 37-point third quarter. As poorly as the Raptors played, particularly on defence, an inspired fourth-quarter run – sparked by Kyle Lowry – kept them in it and gave them a chance at the end.
After Lowry cut the deficit to two points, and the defence of Fred VanVleet and DeAndre’ Bembry forced a Minnesota turnover, Pascal Siakam missed what would have been the game-tying layup with eight seconds remaining, as the ball rolled all the way around the rim and out.
It was a well-designed play from Nick Nurse coming out of the timeout, and a good look for Siakam – exactly what they wanted in that situation. Maybe it was a little bit of bad luck. Maybe the all-star forward should have finished stronger and gone in for the dunk. Both of those things can be true, but regardless, most would agree that it shouldn’t have come down to that.
“It sucks,” said Lowry, who led the Raptors with 24 points but couldn’t hide his frustration after his team fell to 12-15 on the season. “Like, it really sucks. We had an opportunity and we had to make a push at the end. We understand that we can’t give those games away. We’re three games under .500 and we could be six games over .500. It’s that small of a difference. You’ve just got to continue to work and continue to just push and push and hopefully roll off some more wins in a row.”
“I think there’s a lot of different areas that we lost the game tonight,” said Fred VanVleet. “That’s part of the problem, but we’ve gotta fix it.”
“It’s pretty frustrating knowing that we can do it but here we are. Here we are again.”
You can understand the source of that frustration for two of the team’s leaders, and arguably its most consistent players during what’s been a disappointing start to the season.
The Raptors have dropped far too many winnable games – back-to-back one-point losses to Golden State and Portland last month come to mind, as do a series of defeats to undermanned or underwhelming clubs. Each time they take a step forward and appear to be turning the corner, they’re knocked back a step or two in the opposite direction. In short spurts they continue to show that they’re capable of reaching another level, but – for whatever reason – they haven’t been able to sustain it for any significant length of time.
Sunday’s game had it all.
Late in the fourth, when they flipped the switch and went on their run, they began to resemble that resilient hard-nosed team that would find ways to win games like this a year ago, but with that came the obvious question – why couldn’t they have played that way the rest of the evening?
The Raptors’ defence, which was ranked second in the league a year ago but has fallen to 19th this season, was on its heels all night. They were often a step slow rotating and closing out on shooters – Malik Beasley and Ricky Rubio, the beneficiaries of many clean looks, knocked down 10 of their 18 three-point attempts. They had little success keeping Minnesota out of the paint or away from the rim – all-star big man Karl-Anthony Towns had 20 points and shot 8-for-11 in his second game back after recovering from COVID-19. Their compete level and attention to detail was nowhere near what’s expected of them, especially after a couple off days and a rare practice session on Saturday.
It was yet another setback, coming off an encouraging road trip in which they won four of six games and felt like they were finally starting to find themselves. But above all else, it was a missed opportunity – a chance to beat up on a struggling team in their home gym and bank a much-needed win ahead of another difficult stretch in the schedule.
Four of their next five games will come against the Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers, with a rematch against these Wolves sandwiched in between. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see them rise to the occasion when they visit the reigning two-time MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and the 16-11 Bucks in consecutive contests beginning on Tuesday, or show up for a couple of games against the rival and Eastern Conference-leading 76ers next week. That’s part of the problem, though. They can’t just play like they’re playing elite competition when they play elite competition.
“I don’t think you’re gonna play all the games the sharpest,” Nurse said. “It’s what happens, I don’t know, back off a road trip, sometimes these are tough. I don’t make any excuses for any of that stuff but you gotta play your way out of it. Somewhere during the game you’ve got to play your way out of it and get to some consistency, and we didn’t do it until it was really late.”
Report: Raptors’ COVID-19 outbreak caused by coaches’ improper mask-wearing – Yahoo Canada Sports
The Canadian Press
Legislators in more than 20 states have introduced bills this year that would ban transgender girls from competing on girls’ sports teams in public high schools. Yet in almost every case, sponsors cannot cite a single instance in their own state or region where such participation has caused problems. The Associated Press reached out to two dozen state lawmakers sponsoring such measures around the country as well as the conservative groups supporting them and found only a few times it’s been an issue among the hundreds of thousands of American teenagers who play high school sports. In South Carolina, for example, Rep. Ashley Trantham said she knew of no transgender athletes competing in the state and was proposing a ban to prevent possible problems in the future. Otherwise, she said during a recent hearing, “the next generation of female athletes in South Carolina may not have a chance to excel.” In Tennessee, House Speaker Cameron Sexton conceded there may not actually be transgender students now participating in middle and high school sports; he said a bill was necessary so the state could be “proactive.” Some lawmakers didn’t respond to AP’s queries. Others in places like Mississippi and Montana largely brushed aside the question or pointed to a pair of runners in Connecticut. Between 2017 and 2019, transgender sprinters Terry Miller and Andraya Yearwood combined to win 15 championship races, prompting a lawsuit. Supporters of transgender rights say the Connecticut case gets so much attention from conservatives because it’s the only example of its kind. “It’s their Exhibit A, and there’s no Exhibit B — absolutely none,” said Shannon Minter, legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights and a prominent trans-rights attorney. The multiple sports bills, he says, address a threat that doesn’t exist. There’s no authoritative count of how many trans athletes have competed recently in high school or college sports. Neither the NCAA nor most state high school athletic associations collect that data; in the states that do collect it, the numbers are minimal: No more than five students currently in Kansas, nine in Ohio over five years. Transgender adults make up a small portion of the U.S. population, about 1.3 million as of 2016, according to the Williams Institute, a think-tank at the UCLA School of Law that specializes in research on LGBTQ issues. The two dozen bills making their way through state legislatures this year could be devastating for transgender teens who usually get little attention as they compete. In Utah, a 12-year-old transgender girl cried when she heard about the proposal, which would separate her from her friends. She’s far from the tallest girl on her club team and has worked hard to improve her times but is not a dominant swimmer in her age group, her coach said. “Other than body parts, I’ve been a girl my whole life,” she said. The girl and her family spoke with The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity to avoid outing her publicly. Those who object to the growing visibility and rights for transgender people, though, argue new laws are needed to keep the playing field fair for cisgender girls. “When the law does not recognize differences between men and women, we’ve seen that women lose,” said Christiana Holcomb, an attorney for the Alliance Defending Freedom, which filed the Connecticut lawsuit on behalf of four cisgender girls. One of those girls, Chelsea Mitchell, defeated Terry Miller — the faster of the two trans sprinters — in their final two races in February 2020. The ADF and others like it are the behind-the-scenes backers of the campaign, offering model legislation and a playbook to promote the bills, most of them with common features and even titles, like the Save Women’s Sports Act. When asked for other examples of complaints about middle or high school transgender athletes, ADF and the Family Policy Alliance, cited two: One involved a Hawaii woman who coaches track and filed a complaint last year over a trans girl competing in girls’ volleyball and track. The other involved a cisgender girl in Alaska who defeated a trans sprinter in 2016, then appeared in a Family Policy Alliance video saying the trans girl’s third-place finish was unfair to runners who were further behind. Only one state, Idaho, has enacted a law curtailing trans students’ sports participation, and that 2020 measure is blocked by a court ruling. Chase Strangio, a transgender-rights attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, notes that in several states with proposed sports bans, lawmakers also are seeking to ban certain gender affirming health care for transgender young people. “This is not about sports,” he said. “It’s a way to attack trans people.” Some states’ school athletic organizations already have rules about trans participation in sports: 19 states allow full inclusion of trans athletes; 16 have no clear-cut statewide policy; seven emulate the NCAA’s rule by requiring hormone therapy for trans girls; and eight effectively ban trans girls from girls’ teams, according to attorney Asaf Orr of the National Center for Lesbian Rights. Texas is among those with a ban, limiting transgender athletes to teams conforming with the gender on their birth certificate. That policy came under criticism in 2017 and 2018, when trans male Mack Beggs won state titles in girls’ wrestling competitions after he was told he could not compete as a boy. While Beggs, Miller and Yearwood were the focus of news coverage and controversy, trans athletes more commonly compete without any furor — and with broad acceptance from teammates and competitors. In New Jersey’s Camden County, trans 14-year-old Rebekah Bruesehoff competes on her middle school field hockey team and hopes to keep playing in high school. “It’s all been positive,” she said. “The coaches have been really helpful.” While New Jersey has a trans-inclusive sports policy, Rebekah is distressed by the proposed bans elsewhere — notably measures that might require girls to verify their gender. “I know what it’s like to have my gender questioned,” Rebekah said. “It’s invasive, embarrassing. I don’t want others to go through that.” The possibility that any athlete could have to undergo tests or examinations to prove their gender was among the reasons that Truman Hamburger, a 17-year-old high school student in North Dakota, showed up at the statehouse to protest a proposed ban. “Once you open up that door on gender policing, that’s not a door you can easily shut,” he said. Sarah Huckman, a 20-year-old sophomore at the University of New Hampshire, ran track and cross country for three years at Kingswood Regional High School in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, after coming out as trans in seventh grade. Huckman showed great talent in the sprints and hurdles but was not dominant on a statewide level. In her senior year, she won several events in small and mid-size meets, and had sixth place and 10th place finishes in the Division II indoor state championships. The proposed bans appall her. “It’s so demeaning toward my group of people,” she said. “We’re all human beings. We do sports for the love of it.” ___ Associated Press reporters covering statehouses across the U.S. contributed to this report. ___ This story has been corrected to show that the Bruesehoff family lives in New Jersey’s Camden County, not Sussex County. David Crary And Lindsay Whitehurst, The Associated Press
Canadiens’ Bergevin fired goalie coach midgame Tuesday
Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin revamped his coaching staff last week, firing head coach Claude Julien and associate Kirk Muller while promoting assistant Dominique Ducharme to interim bench boss. Goalie coach Stephane Waite initially appeared to be safe, but Bergevin wasn’t done tinkering.
Waite was informed during the second intermission of Tuesday’s game against the Ottawa Senators that he was being let go, Bergevin said Wednesday, according to The Athletic’s Arpon Basu.
“This decision was not based only on this season,” Bergevin said. “I had seen a bit of a pattern.”
Starting netminder Carey Price has struggled this season. Even after stopping 26 of 27 shots Tuesday night, his .893 save percentage and 2.96 goals-against average are both worse than the league average. Price’s $10.5-million cap hit makes him the NHL’s highest-paid goalie, and there’s still an additional five years left on his contract.
Bergevin insisted the 33-year-old remains elite and might just need a different voice in the form of new director of goaltending Sean Burke.
“Carey is still an excellent goalie, one of the best in the league, but he needs help,” Bergevin said.
The Canadiens hired Burke as a scout in 2016, but he’ll need to quarantine for 14 days before he can join the team. Bergevin believes Burke’s experience going through the “ups and downs” through his 18 years as an NHL goaltender will help Price.
Bergevin added he did not consult Price before making the change.
“The day I decide to do that, it will mean I’m not the right guy for the job,” he said.
Bergevin didn’t dive into what Burke’s role will entail or whether there will be a goaltending department in the future similar to the Florida Panthers’ recent innovative approach. Burke’s contract still expires at the end of the season.
Waite had been Montreal’s goalie coach since 2013-14, meaning he oversaw Price’s career year in 2014-15 when he won the Vezina and Hart trophies.
Source: – theScore
How shorthanded Raptors can cover for missing players vs. Pistons – Sportsnet.ca
Thanks to COVID-19 finally deciding to pay its unwelcome visit to the team, the Toronto Raptors will be shorthanded during their game Wednesday evening against the Detroit Pistons.
To be precise, six members of the coaching staff (including head coach Nick Nurse), one additional team staff member and players OG Anunoby, Malachi Flynn, Patrick McCaw, Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet will all miss Wednesday’s contest due to the league’s health and safety protocols.
In order to help mitigate this loss of available players, the Raptors recalled rookie Jalen Harris and recent 10-day signee Donta Hall from the Raptors 905, giving the team 12 available players for acting head coach Sergio Scariolo and his skeleton staff Wednesday:
Outside of Lowry and Powell there isn’t much experience to go around on this available Raptors roster, not to mention — in all fairness to these players — the vast majority of these guys are NBA reserves at best.
This presents Scariolo and Co. with a unique challenge to figure out who’s going to start and what a reasonable rotation might look like. Getting this locked in will be important for the Raptors not just for Wednesday’s game but also for Thursday’s tilt with the Boston Celtics as well, and maybe beyond if matters are unable to clear up in time after the coming all-star break.
So, with that in mind, here are a few lineup and rotation ideas we may end up seeing.
The starting five
In our estimation, the best starting five would look something like Lowry at point guard, Powell at shooting guard, Bembry playing small forward, Boucher at power forward and Baynes playing centre.
The rationale for this is simple, all of these players have started at some point this season and looking purely positionally, they’re probably the best options at each spot.
There’s a chance Davis could get the start in place of Bembry as he’s an option that’s often turned to start in a pinch for the Raptors, but Bembry provides better defence and could act as a secondary initiator on offence, traits that may be more valuable as a more conservative approach would like be the wiser course of action with Toronto being as shorthanded as it is.
Lowry, Powell will be leaned on heavily
As you no doubt have already noticed, of the usual Raptors core players the only guys available to them are Lowry and Powell, so expect to see a lot of these guys stepping up not only from a productivity standpoint offensively and defensively on the floor, but off it as leaders, too.
“Kyle’s been great,” said Scariolo Tuesday evening. “Even tonight he was excellent leading by voice, leading by example. He’s the most veteran player, he’s a franchise player. We know him, I personally admired him during these three years — his commitment, his competitiveness. And this is what he tries to do, make everyone understand that whatever the circumstance is we have to go on the floor and compete and try to get the boat into the harbour.
“We got a little damage but we have to try to stay floating and bring it to the harbour, and then we’ll have a few days to repair it and to start over, obviously with the break and renewed energy and trying to continue what we’ve been doing the last few weeks.”
And Scariolo added about Powell: “He was talking with young players. He was chatting at the end of practice with a couple of them. He was trying to find a couple of concepts, a couple of mistakes they did during a rotation or during a set play. So he was there with the vocal leadership, as well.”
Expect big games from Lowry and Powell and for the rest of the Raptors to follow the example they’ll set.
Backup point guard?
A big question for the Raptors without VanVleet or Flynn will be who will step in to backup Lowry at point guard when he needs to sit?
Scariolo alluded that he might lean on Bembry to pick up those responsibilities, and maybe even Harris, who’s had a fairly strong G League season so far, averaging 17.6 points per game while shooting 45.7 per cent from the field and 50 per cent from three-point range.
Scariolo also mentioned that in the Raptors’ offensive system having a dedicated point guard may also not be completely necessary because of the quick pace the team wants to play at, meaning offence can be generated from the squad’s defence.
“We have basically DeAndre’ Bembry who has been playing pretty well at the point for us this year,” said Scariolo. “And then Jalen Harris came back from the G League bubble and is gonna be ready if need him.
“And in our system, we have many players who can handle the ball, bring it up, push it in transition. Our basketball is pretty high-tempo basketball. We have many players who can bring it up, push it and get into our structure without always needing a designated point guard.”
Everything on the table for the rotation
Strange as it may be to say, the Raptors’ 2-8 start to the season and the subsequent probing all over the roster Nurse did is now playing to something of an advantage for the Raptors to weather this storm without so many key players.
Because Nurse was constantly searching and experimenting, many players have got a chance to play some key rotational minutes meaning whoever Scariolo turns to will figure to be ready to make an impact.
If the team needs to tighten the screws on defence and/or some rebounding help, Johnson and Watanabe have proven their ability to do so already. If shooting/spacing or a greater offensive punch might be required then Davis and Thomas can be called upon.
The only players available who we don’t know much about are Watson, Harris and Hall. However, as mentioned before, Harris has played well with the 905, Hall has looked like a dangerous and athletic roll guy in the G League and Watson has performed well in the past when given more opportunity, most notably during last summer’s NBA bubble.
There are plenty of options for Scariolo to turn to and he’s confident they’ll do their job well.
“My experience is good in this kind of situation,” Scariolo said. “Normally people understand, professional people, serious people, committed people understand that the team can’t afford anybody to take a day off or to be not really 100 per cent focused on the task on the floor or ready to give a contribution, help the team, give their best.
“Nobody in this kind of situation, good players and good persons alike, I feel we have good players, good persons, all of them in our team normally react in the right way.”
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