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Is Westbrook for Wall a lose-lose deal for all involved? – theScore

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In a blockbuster akin to a couple teams rearranging expensive deck chairs on a sinking ship, the Houston Rockets traded Russell Westbrook to the Washington Wizards for John Wall and a future first-round draft pick. Here’s what the deal means for the parties involved:

Rockets take another step back

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Westbrook’s on-court value may not match the monetary value of his contract, and he’s two years older than Wall, but Wall arrives in Houston on an equally burdensome deal, and with far more questions to answer about his current standing in the league.

Opening week of the coming season will mark two full years since Wall last appeared in an NBA game. The five-time All-Star underwent left heel surgery in January 2019, which led to an infection. While dealing with that already complicated recovery, a slip and fall at his home resulted in a ruptured Achilles. Wall’s also had surgery on both knees in the past, and missed 41 games the season before his heel and Achilles injuries.

It’s fair to say no one was lining up to take on the $131.5 million remaining on Wall’s contract, which includes a player option worth more than $46.8 million in 2022-23.

Westbrook’s contract also has three years and $131.5 million remaining, with the only difference being Wall will make about $200,000 less this season, while Westbrook’s 2022-23 player option is $200,000 cheaper. If the Rockets believe they can eventually flip Wall before his option season, then owner Tilman Fertitta – whose earned a reputation for penny-pinching – will save a couple hundred grand in this deal, with Houston also recouping a (protected) first-rounder in the process.

That’s fine if you assume this is a precursor to a James Harden trade that will fully launch the Rockets into a rebuild, but if the team remains committed to competing in the short term in order to keep Harden in Houston, which appears the case, this trade makes a lot less sense.

Wall’s no more of an off-ball threat than Westbrook was. Of the 263 players in NBA history who’ve attempted as many 3-pointers as Wall, Westbrook’s 3-point percentage of 30.5 ranks 259th. Wall’s 32.4% conversion rate ranks 247th. In addition, the last time Wall was healthy, he was logging more time with the ball in his hands than any player besides Harden.

Over a five-year run of All-Star campaigns from 2013 through 2018, Wall averaged roughly 20 points, 10 assists, four rebounds, and two steals, and was a more consistent defensive player than Westbrook’s ever been. But expecting a high-usage point guard – whose greatest attribute is his speed – to be the same player at 30 after an Achilles rupture seems like wishful thinking.

Best-case scenario: Wall remains an explosive star who can replace some of what Westbrook brought to the table last season during a three-month stretch when Westbrook got back to being the rim-rampaging guard he was at his peak. If Wall can do that while offering a tiny bit more shooting, more off-ball movement, and a greater defensive focus, this feels like a wash for Houston.

The realistic scenario: The Rockets simply swapped a bad contract (Westbrook) for a terrible contract (Wall), and will still pair Harden with an ill-fitting backcourt mate who’s a worse player than Westbrook is. The only win here is the future draft pick.

The sting of that reality is more excruciating when you consider that just last year, Houston surrendered two first-rounders and two more pick swaps to turn Chris Paul – a better player, on a shorter contract, who actually fit beside Harden – into Westbrook.

That’s the kind of backwards asset management that turns contenders into pretenders.

Wizards move up a tier

Ned Dishman / NBA / Getty Images

Speaking of asset management: Washington trading Wall means the club got zero games played from its former franchise player since Wall’s lucrative extension kicked in last year.

Still, in a deal with no clear winner, the Wizards are certainly the lesser loser.

Westbrook was the better player when both stars were at their peak, and he’s certainly the safer bet now that Wall’s become such an injured and uncertain commodity.

After contracting COVID and dealing with a quad injury, Westbrook was a shell of himself during the summer restart. But with the Rockets going small and a clearer runway to attack in the paint, Westbrook averaged 30.7 points, eight rebounds, 6.8 assists, and 1.7 steals on nearly 51% shooting over a span of 34 games between early December and early March last season.

While Westbrook’s off-ball issues are well documented, and even though his taking the ball out of Bradley Beal’s hands will be detrimental for Washington when Westbrook falls in love with his nonexistent jumper, he and Beal will immediately become one of the NBA’s most dynamic backcourts should Westbrook play to his strengths, as he did for a sizeable chunk of last season.

Beal, as a better shooter and more willing off-ball threat than Harden, also presents a much more seamless fit for Westbrook. In reuniting with Westbrook, head coach Scott Brooks could stagger his star backcourt’s minutes to ensure one of Russ or Beal is on the court at all times (though Brooks has often been criticized for failing to stagger stars).

The Wizards will likely remain a defensive disaster, but with plenty of shooting around Beal and Westbrook, an offense that played at the fifth-fastest pace last season – and one that was surprisingly potent before being besieged by injuries – should be enough to get Washington back in the Eastern Conference playoff mix.

The Wizards should join the revamped Hawks in a two-team tier below the East’s top seven, but from a talent perspective, both are closer to the Pacers than they are to a bottom-six group that’s likely to include the Magic, Bulls, Hornets, Pistons, Knicks, and Cavaliers. At the very least, Washington should qualify for the 2021 play-in tournament that will involve teams No. 7-10 – a sobering new reality for Westbrook, who’s used to playing for Western Conference teams with grander postseason ambitions.

After extending Beal last year, the Wizards have remained hellbent on keeping their other franchise cornerstone happy. Beal, in turn, has at least said the right things about wanting to remain in Washington for the life of his contract. Trading a future first-rounder and swapping one overpaid star for another in order to graduate from futility to mediocrity might seem like a shortsighted play, but the Wizards should be more competitive on a nightly basis, and if that keeps Beal happy and engaged, it’s a worthwhile gamble.

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Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes says he’s cleared NFL’s concussion protocol – Sportsnet.ca

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes was cleared Friday from the league’s concussion protocol after his third consecutive day of practice and will be under centre when Kansas City plays the Buffalo Bills in the AFC championship game.

Mahomes was hurt in the third quarter of the Chiefs’ divisional-round win over Cleveland. He returned to take the majority of snaps in a light workout Wednesday, then did the same during the longest practice of the week Thursday, before team doctors and an independent neurologist gave him the green light following Friday’s workout.

“The week has been a bunch of testing, a bunch of different things, to make sure I’m good to go and there’s no lingering effects and things like that,” Mahomes said. “Everything has been good. I went through everything; three or four different doctors have said everything is looking good.”

The reigning Super Bowl MVP was hurt when he was tackled around the head by Browns linebacker Mack Wilson while running a quarterback option. It never appeared that Mahomes hit his head on the turf — and if he did, it was not the kind of impact that usually leads to a concussion — raising the possibility that he had actually compressed a nerve.

Either way, Mahomes immediately showed the symptoms of a concussion. He remained on the turf for a couple of minutes, then nearly collapsed when he got to his feet. He was still wobbly as trainers helped him to the sideline and into the blue injury tent, though he looked more steady when he ran into the locker room a few minutes later.

The Chiefs wasted little time ruling Mahomes out, though. Chad Henne wound up finishing off the 22-17 victory.

“We had an option play called we ran a little earlier,” Mahomes recalled Friday, “and I ran out to the right. I got hit. I tried to get up, felt my legs go out and knew that wasn’t a good thing.”

Still, Mahomes had enough wits about him to tell the trainers to let him remain on the turf so that Henne would have a chance to warm up — “because I knew we were going to go for it on fourth down,” Mahomes said.

“You want to be out there, but you have to go through the protocol and do everything the right way. You have to look at everything long term as much as short term,” said Mahomes, who signed a 10-year contract in the off-season that could pay him close to a half-billion dollars over the course of the deal. “We have the belief there will be no lingering effects and I’ll be able to go out there and be myself and be who I am every single week.”

Mahomes was second in the NFL with 4,740 yards passing this season, despite skipping the regular-season finale with the Chiefs already assured of the No. 1 seed and a first-round bye. The long layoff between Week 16 and last Sunday wasn’t a problem, either, as Mahomes threw for 255 yards with TDs running and passing before he was hurt.

He has 15 touchdowns, including three on the ground, without an interception in five post-season starts at home.

“I mean, he’s flying around as much as he can,” Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce said. “I know that guy is a tough son-of-a-gun, and he’s going to go out there and try to get ready the way he knows how, which is take every rep as if it’s a game rep. And his attention to detail, his preparation throughout the week, that hasn’t changed. Just him playing within the guidelines he was given knowing he’s in the concussion protocol.”

Mahomes also does not appear to be bothered by a toe injury he picked up against Cleveland. He acknowledged it was sore on Monday, but it has gotten progressively better throughout the week.

His injury status doesn’t just provide some clarity for the Chiefs, who otherwise would have started Henne with Matt Moore as the backup. It also provides some for oddsmakers and the gambling public. The opening line Sunday night varied widely depending on the sportsbook, with those confident Mahomes would play listing Kansas City as a 4-point favourite and those thinking he might not play giving the Bills a 2 1/2-point advantage.

The line had settled on the Chiefs as 3-point favourites by Friday afternoon.

NOTES: RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire (high-ankle sprain) also practice for the third straight day and appears likely to play for the first time since Week 15. CB Bashaud Breeland (concussion) is also likely to be cleared to play. … LB Willie Gay Jr. (high-ankle sprain) and RB Le’Veon Bell (swollen knee) were the only players that did not practice Friday.

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10 things: Raptors bounce back with suffocating defensive effort vs. Heat – Yahoo Canada Sports

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The Canadian Press

No Matthews, No Problem: Minus their star centre, Maple Leafs down Oilers 4-2

TORONTO — The Maple Leafs needed all hands on deck without two-thirds of their top line. Minus both Auston Matthews and Joe Thornton, Toronto didn’t miss a beat Friday. John Tavares scored the winner on a third-period power play and Frederik Andersen was stellar in making 30 saves as the Leafs picked up a 4-2 victory over the Edmonton Oilers. Adam Brooks, with his first in the NHL, Jimmy Vesey, and Mitch Marner, into an empty net, had the other goals for Toronto (4-2-0), which went 2 for 2 with the man advantage. William Nylander added a pair of assists, while Marner chipped in with one of his own. “A great effort by the group,” said Vesey, whose team lost 3-1 to the Oilers on Wednesday. “No Auston, no (Thornton). Guys came in and stepped up. “It was a gutsy effort. We didn’t like our game the other night.” Matthews is day-to-day with upper-body soreness, while Thornton will miss at least four weeks after fracturing a rib. “We’ve got to play a little bit differently,” Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said. “The group’s really got to recognize the importance of every shift and how important it is to stay with the structure, stay with the plan. I thought we did that really well.” Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl replied for Edmonton (2-4-0), which got 25 stops from Mikko Koskinen. “A good offensive team, you give them a little sniff, they’re going to figure it out,” McDavid said. “We made one too many mistakes.” Down 2-1 through 40 minutes, the Oilers got even 50 seconds into the third when McDavid, who grew up just north of Toronto in Newmarket, Ont., scored his second-ever goal at Scotiabank Arena when he deftly tipped Ethan Bear’s point shot past Andersen for his fourth of the campaign. The Leafs got a power play midway through the period when Toronto’s new top line of Tavares, Marner and Zach Hyman started buzzing, with the latter forcing Koskinen to stretch for a great save. But the Edmonton goalie could do nothing on the Tavares winner — his fourth overall and second in as many games — at 11:46 on a redirection of Marner’s shot after making another terrific stop on Toronto’s captain moments earlier. Andersen shut the door from there before Marner iced it with his fourth into an empty net as Toronto held on for its fourth victory in six outings to open the abbreviated 56-game schedule. “To get a good, hard-fought win like that you need the whole group,” Tavares said. “We got a good bounce-back.” Most of the talk heading into the Leafs-Oilers showdown was about two offensive juggernauts, but despite all the star power, there was very little room at 5 on 5. “You get very familiar with your opponent, tendencies, adjustments that are being made game to game,” Tavares said of a season featuring division-only play. “Things might be a little tighter than people expected. “There’s a lot of respect on both sides knowing the capabilities.” Andersen, who recorded his 139th victory with Toronto to pass Curtis Joseph for fourth in franchise history, said it was a good sign the Leafs managed to limit McDavid and Draisaitl’s chances over the two games. “When you’re facing two of the better players in the league it’s a great task,” he said. “It’s been great to see the team respond and really take that role seriously, and not give them anything for free.” With the Leafs missing Matthews and Thornton, Keefe went back to 12 forwards and six defenceman after dressing an extra blue-liner the last two games. Brooks, Pierre Engvall and Alexander Barabanov drew in up front, while Mikko Lehtonen was scratched on the back end. The Leafs got a power play early in the second, but the Oilers grabbed a 1-0 lead at 5:12 when Kailer Yamamoto threw the puck in front where Draisaitl fished it out of Nylander’s skates and jammed home his second of the season. But Toronto got that one back on the same man advantage 43 seconds later when Jason Spezza fired a puck into the slot that glanced off Brooks and in for the Winnipeg native’s first NHL goal in his eighth appearance. “That was the first game I’ve played in like 330 days or something like that, so it’s been a long time,” said the 24-year-old, who was part of Toronto’s taxi squad before Friday. “It’s nice to get that bounce, and nice for it to come from a guy like Jason Spezza. “A great moment I’ll remember forever.” Andersen then made a good stop outwaiting Jesse Puljujarvi on a break before Toronto pushed in front at 11:16 when Alexander Kerfoot intercepted an Adam Larsson pass behind Edmonton’s net and quickly fed Nylander, who in turn patiently found Vesey to bury his second. “Those have been hard to come by,” Keefe said of scoring at 5 on 5. “It was good to get one.” Friday’s opening 20 minutes weren’t nearly as tight-checking as Wednesday’s chess match, with a couple of chances at either end. Yamamoto, who was credited with the opening goal two nights earlier after the Leafs flubbed the puck into their own net, forced a good stop out of Andersen less than 30 seconds in. Leafs winger Wayne Simmonds then had an opportunity denied by Koskinen from the slot. Edmonton’s Zack Kassian took a pass off the rush from McDavid that Andersen just got a piece of with the shaft of his stick. McDavid had another rebound effort denied by Andersen before Simmonds saw his redirection smothered by Koskinen. “Our best guys led us,” Keefe said. “Just a real good team win — which we knew going in it was going to have to be.” Notes: Toronto placed Thornton on long-term injured reserve, where he joined rookie winger Nick Roberston (knee). … Edmonton activated winger James Neal, who was previously on the NHL’s list of unavailable players due to COVID-19, off injured reserve for his first action of the season. … The Oilers now head to Winnipeg for two against the Jets beginning Sunday before hosting the Leafs for another two-game set starting Thursday. … Toronto opens a four-game Alberta road trip Sunday in Calgary against the Flames. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 22, 2021. ___ Follow @JClipperton_CP on Twitter Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press

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Report Cards: Power play stays hot, Andersen sharp as Toronto Maple Leafs earn split vs. Edmonton – Maple Leafs Hot Stove

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We asked for more offense. Well, we got it.

After Toronto allowed three odd-man rushes to Edmonton in the first four minutes, it was clear this game wasn’t going to be as boring as the last time these two teams met. Things did start to tighten up a bit after that, but there was noticeably more space available for both teams to create offense off of the rush.

Thanks to some strong goaltending and offensive pushback, the Leafs were able to prevail in the end, defeating the Oilers by a final score of 4-2, although the last goal was a Mitch Marner empty netter with 0.4 seconds left on the clock.

Let’s be honest, no one reads these for the introductory paragraphs. It’s time to grade some Toronto Maple Leafs!

***

5/5 Stars

Game Puck: Frederik Andersen (G, #31) — This was Andersen’s best start of the season by far. He kept his team in the game with a stellar first period, making crucial stops on odd-man rushes and cross-ice passes. When we go back and look at the two goals, one was a last-second deflection by Connor McDavid, while the other was a brutal turnover to Leon Draisaitl right in front of the crease. It’s hard to blame the goalie for either of those.

Ilya Mikheyev (LW, #65) — If he keeps playing like this, it’s going to be hard to justify not playing him in the top six. The Soupman has looked explosive off the rush this season, blowing by defenders in transition. Here’s a great example of Mikheyev using his speed to create a dangerous chance off the rush.

The pass obviously didn’t connect, but that net drive is a high-percentage play when you’re able to beat your man backdoor. It’s something I’d like to see the Leafs do more of in transition: dish the puck out wide after gaining the zone, then barrel your way to the high-danger area.

Pierre Engvall (C, #47) — He’s clearly one of Toronto’s best 12 forwards. One factor is his contract; Engvall earns $175,000 more than an NHL team can “bury” under the current CBA, meaning he’s quite a bit more expensive than the league-minimum depth options. We’re talking about a team who waived Jason Spezza so they could save $6,000 per day – that cap space matters to Kyle Dubas, Brandon Pridham & company.

If Engvall improves the team’s chances of winning, though, they need to play him. Tonight, he showed off his ability to transport the puck up the ice, which is an attribute they’re sorely missing from their depth forwards at the moment. He also had a couple nice moments in the offensive zone, but it’s his transition play in the neutral zone that really impresses me.

The combination of Mikheyev and Engvall worked really well in this game. If they get to play with a more skilled linemate than Wayne Simmonds, I could see it being an effective middle-six line.

***

4/5 Stars

Alex Kerfoot (C, #15) — Most fans aren’t going to obsessively watch players in neutral zone defence, but it’s a major component of driving results. Kerfoot was excellent in this department on Friday night, getting his stick in the passing lanes and intercepting stretch passes through the middle of the ice. He didn’t get a chance to use his speed for much offensively, but his role this season is to provide value defensively as a checking 3C this season. I’d say mission accomplished in this game.

The Muzzin-Holl Pairing — When was the last time Toronto had two pairings that you genuinely trusted? Every so often, I’ll hear people complain about Jake Muzzin or Justin Holl, but I see a pairing you can put out there for 20-plus minutes a night and not think twice about it.

Holl was more noticeable in this game, which makes sense considering he tends to be the one activating into the play while Muzzin sits back. Both players did a great job boxing out Edmonton forwards in front, keeping things to the outside, and stepping up in the neutral zone when they had a chance.

That’s how you defend the blue line in transition. Holl doesn’t give McDavid any space to operate, which leads to a turnover and odd-man rush the other way. We see these types of plays a lot from Holl, and I don’t see it ending anytime soon.

3/5 Stars

William Nylander (RW, #88) — This was such an up and down game for Nylander, so let’s start with the good. He showed off his puck-carrying prowess, skating from end-to-end to create a few chances off the rush. When Nylander wanted a loose puck, he was able to go get it with a strong stick on the forecheck.

He also did this.

How many open nets is Jimmy Vesey going to be staring at thanks to #88 this season?

Nylander would’ve ended up in the 4 or 5-star club if not for a few ghastly moments vs. Draisaitl.

Earlier in the game, Nylander got beat by Draisaitl for a 2-on-1 rush because he wasn’t moving his feet on the backcheck. Every player has flaws in their game they need to clean up, but with Nylander, they’re so glaringly obvious that I can understand why Leafs fans get frustrated with him at times.

Zach Hyman (LW, #11) — He won the race to beat out an icing call four separate times in this game. That relentless motor on the forecheck is part of what makes Hyman such an effective complementary player. He also got to show off his wheels in the third period.

I don’t remember rookie Zach Hyman making these plays off the rush. He’s come a long way.

Wayne Simmonds (RW, #24) — There was a shift in the first period where he won a puck battle along the wall, made the next pass, then got himself to the front of the net while his four teammates cycled the puck around and created a few chances. That’s more of what we want to see from Simmonds

TJ Brodie (RD, #78) — He wasn’t able to make plays up the ice as often as you’d like, but defensively, I’m really liking what I see from Brodie. He’s done a great job of taking away passes through the middle of the slot. Brodie also has a knack for knowing when it’s the right time to commit to getting down to block a high-quality shot or when it’s time to slide to take away the backdoor pass. He got knocked over by Ryan-Nugent Hopkins on the forecheck prior to the McDavid goal, which isn’t something you love to see, but I’ve been liking his steady game so far this season.

Travis Dermott (LD, #23) — He’s looked much smoother out there this season. After battling back from a shoulder injury last year and never really looking like the same Travis Dermott we remembered from his first couple seasons, I’m hoping this is the year he’s able to take that next step. So far so good for him; he’s looked much more composed with the puck lately.

Coaching Staff — Do we blame the coach when a team comes out of the gate and allows three odd-man rushes in four minutes? Do we give Sheldon Keefe & company credit for righting the ship afterwards? I’m never really sure how to hand out these grades, but I liked the fact that PP1 was top-loaded and the 5-on-5 lines were more or less optimized. Now we just need to find a way to get Mikheyev some more ice time.

***

2/5 Stars

Zach Bogosian (RD, #22) — The 1-on-1 between McDavid and Bogosian went about as well as you’d think.

This is why you shelter #6 defensemen.

The rest of Bogosian’s game actually wasn’t too bad. He delivered a few nice hits in the neutral zone, tied up opposing forwards who were looking for a backdoor pass, and even got himself into some decent shooting positions off the rush. His impact on Toronto’s breakout went about as well as you’d think considering his limited puck-skills and passing ability.

Jimmy Vesey (LW, #26) — Aside from scoring another “freebie” as Ray Ferraro put it, I didn’t have many notes on Vesey. He was able to use his long frame to get his stick on a few passes in the defensive zone, most notably in the 6-on-5 situation late in the game.

John Tavares (C, #91) and Mitch Marner (RW, #16) — They each picked up a goal (Marner’s an empty netter), but overall, they got outplayed by the McDavid line in this game to the tune of 28% possession in the matchup. It’s always a tough task going up against the most dangerous offensive player in the world. That said, you’d hope that your two best (healthy) players could avoid getting hemmed in by #97 at even strength.

The two did connect on this power-play deflection, which ended up being the game-winning goal.

That’s some great hand-eye by Tavares, who’s one of the best in the business in that department.

The 4th Line — Aside from a lucky Adam Brooks goal of his skate on the power play, there wasn’t much to see here. Alex Barabanov cleared the bar of me actually remembering a few plays he made in this game, but again, nothing super dangerous offensively or notable defensively. Jason Spezza made a few nice passes at even strength, whereas Brooks seemed to be fighting the puck for most of the night.

I don’t want to be too mean to a guy who scored his first NHL goal, so let’s at least watch it.

Sometimes hockey is such a weird sport.

***

1/5 Stars

Morgan Rielly (LD, #44) — Burn the tape. Rielly struggled to get the puck going in the right direction on Friday night, spending most of his time in the defensive zone. He had a couple nice sequences offensively, but that was undone by everything he was giving up the other way.


Heat Map

Here’s a quick look at where each team’s shots were coming from at even strength, courtesy of Natural Stat Trick.

When you consider the amount of pre-shot movement and odd-man rushes Edmonton was able to generate in this game, the heat map undersells their shot quality in this game. They outplayed Toronto at 5-on-5, but Frederik Andersen outplayed Mikko Koskinen.


Game Score

Game score is a metric developed by The Athletic’s Dom Luszczyszyn to measure single game performance. You can read more about it here.


Final Grade: B

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