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Gasol adds insult to injury for Raptors with inspired performance –



The team that is supposed to be the Los Angeles Lakers was no match for the team that’s supposed to be the Toronto Raptors in a game played in Tampa – the Raptors’ supposed home court – on Tuesday night.

The defending champion Lakers were without superstars Anthony Davis (calf) and LeBron James (ankle) as they try to keep from sliding to the bottom of the playoff picture in the highly competitive Western Conference.

The Raptors were without a third of their lineup, including Fred VanVleet (hip); Kyle Lowry (foot injection); Paul Watson (health and safety protocols); Patrick McCaw (knee) and Jalen Harris (hip pointer) and are trying to crawl their way back into the Eastern Conference playoff picture from 11th place.

And having OG Anunoby ejected didn’t help, either.

Let’s just say that on this night, the Lakers depth won out and Los Angeles won in what was largely a rout but ended up 110-101. The outcome was never in question, although – to their credit – the Raptors kept battling and cut the lead to nine with 12 seconds to play thanks to a gritty fourth quarter.

But overall, the shorthanded Raptors were short of bright spots. Rookie Malachi Flynn, coming off two outstanding games as he soaks up minutes with fellow point guards Lowry and VanVleet out, couldn’t make magic three times in a row, although he did finish with a respectable 11 points, eight rebounds and four assists in 33 minutes. Pascal Siakam, playing well of late, was just 7-of-21 from the floor, though is season-high 13 free throws made helped him to a Raptors-leading 27.

The Lakers had seven players in double-figures and 49 bench points. The Raptors played most of the game with eight players, total.

Former Raptor Marc Gasol set the tone with a season-high 13 points, nine rebounds and five assists in his best game of the season in L.A.

The loss snapped the Raptors’ two-game winning streak after Toronto had set a franchise record with a 53-point win over Golden State on Friday and their buzzer-beater over the Wizards on Monday.

Toronto falls to 20-31 on the season and 1-10 on the second night of a back-to-back and remains two games behind the 10th place Chicago Bulls – who they host on Thursday night – for the final spot for the play-in tournament.

This remains the Raptors beacon:

“Listen, I’m still hopeful,” said Raptors head coach Nick Nurse after the game. “I think we’re gonna need some of our bodies back. We’re missing a good chunk of our lineup and scoring and experience but … we’ve got to go out there with what we have available and I’m pleased with the way these guys are playing and we’ll just keep fighting and pick any win off we can anyway we can and then see if we can just stay in contention.

“There’s 20-plus games to go, still a lot of basketball to be played.”

The Lakers’ goals are different: they’re just trying to keep afloat until James and Davis are back and healthy for the playoffs so they can get on with the business of defending their championship.

The win improved Los Angeles to 4-4 since James left the lineup and 11-12 since Davis was hurt. They remain in 5th place and could easily slide down to the play-in tournament (for teams finishing seventh-to-10th) depending on when James and Davis return.

“If they are able to comeback healthy, with this rest during the mid-season due to injury that could benefit us going into the playoffs as well,” said Lakers head coach Frank Vogel. “We just got to win some games along the way.”

The Raptors served one up. They trailed by double figures in the first quarter and were down by 34 in the second. They cut the Lakers’ lead to 19 with five minutes left in the third but their fourth-quarter rally was too little, too late.

“I think they jumped on us pretty quick,” said Chris Boucher, who finished with 19 points and eight rebounds. “They’re a really good transition team, so off our miss they were just running it back. They shot the ball extremely well, too. That really put us in a hole. And then we started getting into their bodies a little bit more, and then that’s how we made a comeback, but it was far too late to win the game.

The Raptors are optimistic they can build some momentum after starting April with a pair of wins following a 1-13 March.

But with 22 games left, it’s hard not to see how the Raptors might be better served by simply fading into the good night and taking their chances in the draft.

They don’t see it that way, but they play that way at times.

The first quarter had all kinds of action, most of it inexplicable – like former Raptor Gasol scoring nine points, grabbing six rebounds (including three on the offensive glass) and adding three assists as the Lakers sprinted out to a 40-28 lead.

What prompted Gasol’s explosion is hard to know.

Before the game, Nurse was saying all the right things about Gasol, who was pivotal in the Raptors title run in 2019.

But he was a shadow of that player a season ago and has been even less impactful this season after signing a two-year deal for $5 million to join the Lakers and LeBron James on an apparent ring hunt.

But Gasol turned back the clock for one night at least.

Was it because he was playing against his old team for the first time since Toronto refused to guarantee a second year on a new contract after the 36-year-old was coming off the worst season of his career and a compete no-show in the playoffs?

Or was it because the Lakers signed free-agent big man Andre Drummond – who missed the game with an injured toe — after he was bought out from Cleveland and pledged to make him a starter, nudging Gasol aside?

Either way, Gasol was great against Toronto, starting the game off by ripping an offensive rebound out of the hands of Boucher, who he has 100 pounds on, and then hitting a three and later rolling through the lane — the full package and one that he’s shown only occasionally since he helped lead Toronto to a title in 2018-19.

Those who’ve gone to battle with him believe that Gasol will make his presence felt on the Lakers as the NBA Finals round into view.

“If you know Marc, he is going to make the best out of the situation. I don’t know what they’re doing over there with the Lakers or what they are going with, whatever, but Marc Gasol is a great player and I don’t think he’s somebody you can’t play,” said Boucher. “I think he’s going to bring you something, facilitating, he’s a big body inside. To me, I don’t think that should be the situation [where he’s fighting for playing time], but I don’t make the decision, right? I’m not on his team either, but I do think Marc Gasol still has it at his age and he can bring a lot to that team.”

But Gasol raising his game from the dead – he’s averaging 4.9 points a game on 41 per cent shooting for the year – wasn’t even the most unexpected thing that happened.

With 2:24 left in the quarter, Anunoby – all six-foot-seven, 230-plus pounds of him — was getting set to finish a fastbreak with a dunk when six-foot-two Lakers point guard Dennis Schroder wrapped him up hard to prevent takeoff – nothing reckless, but a firm, professional foul.

Anunoby grabbed Schroder in an apparent attempt to keep his balance, but at the end casually wrapped his left arm around Schroder’s thigh, and then his right hand around his calf, stood up and gently body slammed the Lakers point guard.

A scrum ensued and Anunoby was ejected, along with Lakers forward Montrezl Harrell, who came to Schroder’s defense.

Lucky for Anunoby in the end. He didn’t have stick around.

The game continued to unravel in the second quarter as the Lakers ramped up their defensive intensity and continued to move the ball at a pace two steps ahead of the Raptors depleted defence. They outscored Toronto 28-14 as the Raptors short just 4-of-21 from the floor and 0-of-7 from three.

The Lakers used a 26-4 run to open up a 34-point lead and eventually take 68-42 lead into the locker room, where Anunoby was waiting for them, unable to help, fortunate not to have to watch.

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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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Masters 2021: Tiger Woods says he'll miss Champions Dinner, running up DJ's bill – Golf Channel



AUGUSTA, Ga. – Dustin Johnson will host his first Champions Dinner on Tuesday night in the Augusta National clubhouse, and he’ll be joined by several past Masters champions.

One former winner who won’t be there is five-time champ Tiger Woods, who is still home in South Florida recovering from a serious car accident in February near Los Angeles. Justin Thomas, who is still working toward his invite to the prestigious dinner, said Woods texted him Friday night and was “bummed” to not be at the Masters this year.

Woods then tweeted Tuesday afternoon that he’ll miss one of his favorite nights of the year.

“I’ll miss running up @DJohnsonPGA’s bill at the Champions Dinner tonight,” Woods said. “It’s still one of my favorite nights of the year.”

Johnson responded to Woods’ tweet, saying: “Will miss having you here. This week isn’t the same without you.”

The PGA Tour announced that the club would leave a seat open for Woods at the dinner, though the tweet has since been taken down.

Johnson will serve a menu including filet mignon, sea bass and peach cobbler.

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