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Lakers blow out Rockets; advance to Conference Finals – TSN

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The Los Angeles Lakers are going to the conference finals for the first time in a decade, ending the longest drought in franchise history.

LeBron James is going there for the first time since 2018. For him, that also qualifies as a drought.

James scored 29 points and the Lakers wrapped up their first trip to the Western Conference finals since 2010 by topping the Houston Rockets 119-96 on Saturday night in Game 5 at Walt Disney World.

Kyle Kuzma scored 17 points, Markieff Morris had 16, Danny Green added 14 and Anthony Davis finished with 13 for the top-seeded Lakers. They will play either the second-seeded Los Angeles Clippers or third-seeded Denver Nuggets for the West title in a series that won’t begin before Wednesday.

James is going to the conference finals for the 11th time overall — six with Cleveland, four with Miami and now with the Lakers. It’s his ninth time getting to this round in the last 10 seasons; the one miss in that stretch was last season, when his inaugural year with the Lakers fell apart because of injury and the team missed the playoffs.

James Harden scored 30 points, Jeff Green scored 13 and Russell Westbrook had 10 for Houston.

It was a rough end to a rough week for the Rockets.

Westbrook exchanged heated words with a fan in the family section during the fourth quarter; NBA security asked the man, identified by ESPN as a brother of Lakers guard Rajon Rondo, to leave the game.

Houston won Game 1 of the series and lost the next four. Saturday’s finale came a day after Danuel House — who averaged 11.4 points in nine playoff games this season — was told to leave the bubble. An NBA investigation showed he had an unauthorized guest in his room for several hours earlier this week, and he missed the last three games of the series.

And now that the off-season is here, the speculation about coach Mike D’Antoni’s future will ramp up. His contract with the Rockets is now complete, the sides couldn’t agree on terms of any extension a year ago, and he’s been mentioned as a candidate for the vacancies in Indiana and Philadelphia.

The Lakers ran out to a 33-11 lead, though Houston came right back with a 17-2 run to get within seven. The Lakers’ lead was 62-51 at the half after the Rockets turned 13 Los Angeles turnovers into 15 points, the biggest reason why Houston was still in the game to that point.

Houston got within seven on a drive by Westbrook 2:09 into the third, and that was the last real gasp of hope for the Rockets. The Lakers scored the next 15 points, and the lead was 95-69 going into the final quarter.

TIP-INS

Rockets: Houston finished the post-season with a 5-7 record. … The Rockets took a pair of time-outs in the game’s first 6:06, first when it was 13-2 and then after James made a 3-pointer to push the lead to 23-7.

Lakers: Los Angeles went seven years without a conference-final appearance from 1991 through 1998, the team’s longest drought before this 10-year run. … The Lakers took the lead in Game 3 on a jumper by James with 10:01 left. They didn’t trail again in the series, going the last 106:01 without facing a deficit.

D’ANTONI’S TENURE

If this was the end of D’Antoni’s time with the Rockets, he’ll be leaving with some strong numbers. Houston went 217-101 in his four regular seasons with the team — a .682 winning percentage. This season was his “worst,” at .611. He’s gone 28-23 in the playoffs with Houston and was the NBA’s coach of the year in 2016-17, his first season with the Rockets.

CONGRATULATIONS

Less than two hours before game time, James tweeted at Naomi Osaka — who rallied to win the U.S. Open women’s championship in three sets on Saturday. “GREAT COMEBACK!! Congrats,” James wrote. Osaka wore masks throughout the tournament bearing names of Black victims of violence; James saluted her efforts by adding a raised-fist emoji to the end of his tweet.

___

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Hutchinson signs two-year contract with Maple Leafs – NHL.com

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Michael Hutchison signed a two-year, two-way contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs on Friday. It has an average annual value of $725,000 at the NHL level.

The 30-year-old goalie was 5-9-1 with a 3.47 goals-against average, .888 save percentage and one shutout in 16 games (12 starts) with the Maple Leafs and Colorado Avalanche last season.

Hutchinson started one game for the Avalanche, making 17 saves in a 2-1 win at the Detroit Red Wings on March 2, after he was acquired in a trade with Toronto on Feb. 24.

He was the Avalanche’s third-string goalie entering the Stanley Cup Playoffs but was 2-1-0 with a 2.75 GAA and .910 save percentage in four games (three starts) after Philipp Grubauer and Pavel Francouz each was injured.

Selected by the Boston Bruins in the third round (No. 77) of the 2008 NHL Draft, Hutchinson is 51-52-14 with a 2.80 GAA, .905 save percentage and five shutouts in 127 regular-season games (107 starts) with the Winnipeg Jers, Florida Panthers, Maple Leafs and Avalanche.

The Maple Leafs also signed forward Joey Anderson to a three-year, two-way contract on Friday. It has an average annual value of $750,000 at the NHL level.

Anderson, a restricted free agent, was acquired in a trade with the New Jersey Devils on Oct. 10 for forward Andreas Johnsson.

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Maple Leafs News & Rumors: O'Ree, Simmonds, Hallander & More – The Hockey Writers

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In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’ll report on Willie O’Ree’s new book about his life and hockey. I’ll also update how two young Swedish prospects are currently doing in the Swedish Hockey League.

Related: Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Dermott, Lehtonen & “Dr. Strangelove”

I’ll also share the news that Auston Matthews has invested in a Swedish rollerblade company. Finally, I’ll report that Michael Hutchison, a goalie most Maple Leafs fans certainly remember well – if not happily – re-signed with the team today. I’ll share reasons why the organization signed Hutchison later in this post.

Item One: Willie O’Ree Publishes New Book About His Life

An article in the Globe & Mail today contained a short review of Willie O’Ree’s new book Willie: The Game-Changing Story of the NHL’s First Black Player. What was most interesting to me was that Jarome Iginla wrote the foreword for the book, and the book jacket contains tributes to O’Ree from P.K. Subban, Grant Fuhr, and new Maple Leafs forward Wayne Simmonds. (from “‘I’ve been blessed’: Willie O’Ree’s new book reflects on his time as the NHL’s first Black player,” Globe & Mail, 30/10/20)

Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers shakes hands with Willie O’Ree (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Simmonds recalls learning about O’Ree when he was growing up in Scarborough, a suburb of Toronto. Simmonds’ parents made a special point of pointing out the history of hockey and especially teaching their son how important O’Ree was to the Black community.

As Simmonds put it, “With what he went through, for him to continue on the path to play, made him a trailblazer not only for Black players but for players of other ethnicities as well. He really means everything to me.”

For those who might be interested in reading the book, it is filled with O’Ree’s stories as told to Canadian journalist and filmmaker Michael McKinley. It shares O’Ree’s journey from growing up in Fredericton, New Brunswick, to his NHL play, and then to his induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Related: Prospects News & Rumors: AHL, Rossi & OHL

It also places O’Ree’s life and story squarely into the middle of the history of the civil rights movement by covering his experience facing segregation in the United States, including both the cheers and also the tirades from racists who attended NHL games.

In the end, after the difficulty of his life, O’Ree, who now lives in San Diego, California, shared his goal of working with McKinley to write the book. O’Ree noted: “In the book, I wanted people to know more about my hockey career. I wanted them to know what I have been involved with.”

Looking back, he summed up his life, “So many wonderful things happened in my lifetime, and I had never had an opportunity to share them. I’ve been blessed.”

It should be a good read.

Item Two: Two Young Maple Leafs Prospects Playing Well in the SHL

Even though most hockey in North America is on hold, the Maple Leafs have prospects playing in Europe as a way to continue their development. Two of these are young Swedes Filip Hallander and Pontus Holmberg.

Filip Hallander

Maple Leafs fans will recall that Hallander was a player general manager Kyle Dubas was seeking at the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. However, Hallander went to the Pittsburgh Penguins as the 58th-overall selection. Dubas was able to retrieve him when Kasperi Kapanen was traded this offseason.

Filip Hallander
Maple Leafs Prospect Filip Hallander (THW Archives)

Hallander is a 20-year-old left-winger who’s now playing with Lulea (SHL). This season he started slowly, but he’s beginning to warm up on the score sheet. He’s shooting a ton and now has scored a goal and four assists in nine games. His reputation is that he’s good at puck possession and is willing to shoot the puck on net. He’s also known to have a high hockey IQ and is also good defensively. He plays with intelligence on all three zones of the ice.

Hallander will be coming to North America to start playing with the Maple Leafs’ AHL affiliate the Toronto Marlies soon – perhaps even this season. He fits a typical profile for a young Swedish forward – he’s smart, skilled, and is sound on both offense and defense.

It might take him a number of seasons, but the Maple Leafs will need to replenish its core of forwards sooner or later. It will be no surprise if Dubas sees Hallander as a valuable future roster piece.

Pontus Holmberg

Like Hallander, Holmberg was selected in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, but he was a Maple Leafs selection during the sixth round (156th overall). Holmberg is a 21-year-old left-winger who also plays some center.

He’s currently skating with the Vaxjo Lakers and is suddenly beginning to score, which has been unusual. He now has four goals and two assists in 11 games this season. The entire last season, he only scored seven goals and 17 points in 52 games.

Part of his success can be attributed to the fact that Vaxjo has a much stronger team. Part is that Holmberg is more comfortable in his role with the team. Right now, he’s playing for an NHL entry-level contract. However, he needs a good season for that to happen. Not every late-round draft choice is offered such a contract.

Maple Leafs fans will see if Holmberg’s scoring can be sustained. It obviously helps when a team isn’t constantly on its heels trying to protect against an offensive onslaught from a superior team game after game. When a team can mount some offense, positive things can happen.

Related: The Issues Facing Women’s Hockey in 2020-21

Holmberg’s shown he’s a decent hockey player, but can he put up some points? If he can, he might become a good depth player in the Maple Leafs organization.

Item Three: Auston Matthews Is Getting Entrepreneurial

Yesterday, Elliotte Friedman tweeted that Maple Leafs star player Auston Matthews had become an investor in the Swedish roller-skating company Marsblade. He’s known to have put up between $1 and $1.5 million.

What’s Next with the Maple Leafs?

It seems as if Dubas is preparing the organization for the Seattle Expansion Draft scheduled for June 2021. Today, there was news the Maple Leafs had re-signed Michael Hutchison to a two-year contract. There’s no doubt that Hutchinson probably won’t play for the Maple Leafs anytime soon because he’ll be the organization’s fourth-string goalie. However, it’s interesting to see what the organization is thinking about these days.

Michael Hutchinson Toronto Maple Leafs
Michael Hutchinson, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

It also, to my mind, shows some humanity on the organization’s part. Hutchinson was facing a season without a paycheque. Now he has one, so it’s a win-win for both the organization and for the player.

Related: Maple Leafs Become Chapter in Vesey’s Puzzling Career

Everything has a purpose. If you’re a Maple Leafs fan and you’re scratching your head about why Hutchison was signed, think no further than it’s a temporary set up for the expansion draft.



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Report: Hinch, Tigers progressing on deal – TSN

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A.J. Hinch might be getting another chance.

The Detroit Tigers and the former Houston Astros bench-boss have made progress in finalizing a deal, according to ESPN’s Buster Olney.

The report comes just a few days after Hinch’s season-long suspension stemming from the Astros sign-stealing scandal concluded when the World Series ended on Tuesday night.

Hinch spent five years as manager in Houston, going 481-329 in the regular-season and claimed a pair of American League pennants.

The Astros captured the 2017 World Series under Hinch, and registered three straight 100-or-more-win seasons.

At the age of 35, Hinch was named the manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks and spent parts of two season there in 2009 and 2010.

He was fired after losing 123 of his 212 games.

Hinch had a seven-year playing career as a catcher in the MLB and suited up 27 times for the Tigers in 2003.

His career also had stops in Oakland, Kansas City and Philadelphia.

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