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How shorthanded Raptors can cover for missing players vs. Pistons –



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:

• Aaron Baynes
• DeAndre’ Bembry
Chris Boucher
Terence Davis
• Donta Hall
• Jalen Harris
Stanley Johnson
Kyle Lowry
Norman Powell
Matt Thomas
Yuta Watanabe
Paul Watson

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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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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