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Lowry provides heroics as Raptors begin navigating the unknowns of injury woes – Sportsnet.ca

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TORONTO – Before the ball went up there was a sense the Toronto Raptors were stepping into the great unknown.

For instance, with three regulars out — joining two others already on the injured list — the sequence of pre-game shooting was thrown way off.

Players take the floor in groups of three or four in 15- or 20-minutes intervals — kind of like batting practice in baseball. The lower you rank on the seniority list, the earlier you go out.

Roughly, it’s rookies first and vets last.

But with Pascal Siakam (groin), Marc Gasol (hamstring) and Norman Powell (shoulder) all sidelined indefinitely, and the likes of Matt Thomas (finger) and Stanley Johnson (groin) already out, the floor was open.

Malcolm Miller, in his third season with the team, typically goes out to shoot shortly after 5 p.m. for a 7:30 p.m. tip. He wasn’t due until 6:25 on Friday and by 6:15 found himself in the locker room still counting down the spare minutes.

“I’ve eaten, lifted, stretched and I’m still twiddling my fingers,” he said.

Figuring out how to thrive in unfamiliar situations was the theme of the night as the Raptors played their first game since Gasol, Siakam and Powell were all injured in Wednesday’s win against Detroit.

Let’s just say the road ahead may have some bumps.

NBA on Christmas Day

The Raptors and Celtics tip off a full Christmas Day schedule on Sportsnet, Sportsnet ONE and SN NOW with coverage starting at 11:30 a.m. ET/8:30 a.m. PT, followed by 76ers vs. Bucks, Lakers vs. Clippers and Nuggets vs. Pelicans.

The Raptors needed 26 points and nine assists and – most significantly – 40 minutes from Kyle Lowry to finish off the otherwise non-threatening Washington Wizards. Some shaky bench minutes from the Raptors suddenly razor-thin reserves allowed the Wizards to come back from down 12 in the fourth quarter to tie the game with 3:43 to play.

A five-point Lowry flourish in the final two minutes and four key free throws by Fred VanVleet (18 points, nine rebounds and eight assists) in the final 9.9 seconds were enough to hold the Wizards off despite 37 points from Washington’s Bradley Beal.

They will have to get used figuring things out on the fly as none of the missing regulars are expected back sooner than two weeks at least, with Siakam thought to be the closest to returning. Gasol and Powell could be out significantly longer. Meanwhile the Raptors have a heavy holiday schedule to plow through.

It was not for nothing that Toronto head coach Nick Nurse grabbed a random roll of duct tape left on the lectern before the game and joked: “just what I needed.”

Taping together a starting lineup wasn’t all that difficult. Serge Ibaka was in for Gasol – reprising the role he’d before the big Spaniard was acquired by trade last season. Fred VanVleet was thinking he might get another game to heal a bruised knee that had kept him out of the past four, but no such luck. He returned to the starting spot that Powell had looked so comfortable filling in for Lowry and lately VanVleet.

The wildcard would be who would soak up Siakam’s 37 minutes. Nurse opted to go small and start Patrick McCaw, who was playing just his fifth game since missing 19 after knee surgery.

It wasn’t what might have been envisioned out of training camp, but it was familiar.

After that? Nurse was open to pretty much anything from the 11 healthy bodies he had on hand.

“I look at it as it’s a chance, it’s certainly a big opportunity for some some guys. And it’s not just the new guys that are playing, there’s more usage and shots et cetera going for OG and Serge and hopefully McCaw,” said Nurse before the game. “Then now you’re getting Rondae [Hollis-Jefferson] and Chris [Boucher] are back into a serious rotation, where they know they’re gonna be in the rotation … and you usually get better play out of ’em there when they can relax a little bit.

[So] maybe we’ll learn something and find something new out about some of these guys. One thing is we’ve gotta go play the games. Nobody’s gonna hold up and wait on us, so we’ve gotta go play ’em, and I expect us to play ’em with great energy and confidence, and play really really hard, because we’re gonna have to.”

There were some rough patches, to be sure.

“Well, we won the game. That helps, but it’s going to be a work in progress,” said Lowry afterwards. “I think guys are just going to continue to get more comfortable every game and we’re going to continue to have to have everyone step up.”

It stands to reason that when you lose three key pieces and elevate two bench players to the starting lineup there might be some gaps elsewhere.

Late in the third quarter of a game the Raptors had largely controlled, Nurse rolled out what was left of his bench along with Lowry. Safe to say that Boucher, Miller, Terence Davis and Hollis-Jefferson struggled to create offence unless Lowry was doing it for them. Miller and Boucher in particular looked uncertain at times, but their job was really to hold the fort.

Over a six-minute stint spanning the end of the third and the start of the fourth quarter against the bench of the NBA’s worst defensive team, the Raptors were outscored 21-16. The ball movement was not – let’s say – fluid.

Nurse went back to more starter-heavy unit at that point but the Wizards had momentum as a Beal triple cut the Raptors lead to seven with 6:58 to play and another three by Admiral Schofield cut the lead to two a moment later and an Ish Smith three tied the game with just over five minutes left, setting up an unnecessarily tight finish.

If the Raptors are going to break even during their short-handed stretch, they’re going to have to find production from their second unit, if only to take pressure off their thinned out starters.

To that end, not only will Lowry be playing heavy minutes, he’ll be wearing many hats:

“Mentor, scorer, playmaker, just a confidence giver,” he said of his duties with the second unit. “Continue to give these guys confidence in what they are doing. Kick the ball ahead and make sure they shoot their shots and if they miss their shots, never put their head down. Just continue to communicate with them.”

But there were bright spots too as the Raptors won their fourth straight and improved to 20-8.

The first quarter couldn’t have worked out better for the undermanned Raptors. It helped that Lowry looked determined to set the tone as he played 10 minutes and shot 4-of-5 from the floor with a pair of triples. He stuck around after the starters filtered off to organize a bench unit made up of Boucher, Hollis-Jefferson, Malcolm Miller and rookie Terence Davis.

On that stint there was no let up as a pair of quick Davis threes sparked an 11-4 run that helped the Raptors open up a 40-23 lead.

It helped that the Raptors were playing the Wizards, decimated by injuries themselves and who limped in with an 8-18 mark and sporting a league-worst defensive rating of 116.1 per game which their fourth-ranked offence can’t quite offset. That Wizards sharpshooters Beal and Davis Bertans combined to shoot just 5-of-22 from three probably helped matters, too.

Still, it was encouraging to see Ibaka finding room to operate in the pick-and-roll with Lowry and VanVleet – a marked difference from Gasol who tends to drift along the three-point line. Ibaka scored eight of his 23 points in the period and was a force at the rim with three blocks in the first half alone. His last one of the half sparked a fast break that Anunoby finished with a dunk off a pretty feed from VanVleet that gave the Raptors a 68-52 lead at the half.

Things will get more difficult from here as six of the Raptors next opponents are in playoff positions, beginning with the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday and then Indiana Monday before hosting Boston on Christmas Day, but Toronto can only do what they can with what they have and Friday they did enough.

“We’ve got capable guys, and we certainly can’t have any other mindset than that [we can survive.]” said VanVleet. “Those guys [out with injury] there’s no magic pill for them to be better by tomorrow. And we want them to take their time and get as healthy as they’re gonna get. In the meantime the rest of us have to band together and do our best given the circumstances.”

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What you need to know ahead of the restaged 2022 World Junior Championships – ESPN

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The World Junior Championship is a holiday hockey tradition like no other.

This year is an exception.

The tournament is still coming your way during peak vacation time, only now it’s happening mid-summer, rather than post-Christmas. Confused? Let’s recap.

The 2022 WJC was set to be played as usual last December. Due to COVID-19 concerns, the location was moved to Edmonton, Alberta, under restrictive “bubble” conditions. The International Ice Hockey Federation hoped strict protocols would allow the event to go off as scheduled. Spoiler: It did not.

Four days in, the IIHF was forced to call things off after the United States, Czechia and Russia each forfeited preliminary round games because of mounting COVID cases through their ranks. The IIHF didn’t know at the time whether the tournament could be rescheduled.

In April, a new plan was announced. The IIHF said it would restage the 2022 iteration of its event from Aug. 9-20 in Edmonton. The results from games that were played last December would be thrown out. Players born in 2002 or later would retain their eligibility to participate. And so, here we are.

When preliminary action begins (again), all eyes will of course be on the tournament’s perennial favorites from the U.S. and Canada. Those countries highlight two groups of participating nations: Group A has the U.S., Austria, Germany, Sweden and Switzerland, while Group B is Canada, Czechia, Finland, Latvia and Slovakia.

Austria retained its place in a top division despite finishing in 10th place last year. Normally, it would have faced relegation, but the cancellation of various U20 tournaments altered regulations and they remain in the mix.

The top four teams from each group will play in the quarterfinals, starting on Aug. 17. That will be followed by the semifinals on Aug. 19, and the gold and bronze medal games on Aug. 20.

Before things get rolling, we’re checking in on some of the major storylines and more intriguing players populating this year’s tournament. As hockey fans know, there is no comparison for the drama the World Juniors can bring. (Editor’s note: A version of this story was posted in December ahead of the initial start of the tournament. This has been updated to account for what has changed between then and now)

Can Team USA go back-to-back?

Spencer Knight made 34 saves and Trevor Zegras recorded two points when Team USA shut out Team Canada 2-0 to win gold at the 2021 World Juniors tournament.

That marked the fifth WJC title for Team USA, along with victories in 2004, 2010, 2013 and 2017. What the U.S. has never accomplished is winning gold in consecutive years. And there’s no time like the present to give it another shot.

Head coach Neal Leaman will be behind the bench again this year, after guiding Team USA to gold in 2021. Leaman has been the men’s coach at Providence College for 11 seasons and won an NCAA title in 2015.

Team USA has four skaters returning from that championship-winning roster in 2021 in Brock Faber, Landon Slaggert, Brett Berard and Tyler Kleven, and retained 17 of the 25 players who were originally slated to be in the December tournament.

Standing prominently in the U.S.’s way of a repeat will be Team Canada, although they’ve suffered significant losses to their numbers from before. Nine players from Canada’s December roster aren’t returning this time around, including Owen Power and Kaiden Guhle. However, Canada does boast impressive goaltending depth highlighted by the Canadian Hockey League’s goalie of the year, Dylan Garand.

Canada was also the last team to win consecutive WJC titles, earning five straight gold medals from 2005 to 2009. Will the U.S. be next to go back-to-back?

Can Connor Bedard dominate — again?

Technically, the last 16-year-old to play for Canada in the World Juniors was some guy named Connor McDavid.

In December, another Connor followed in McDavid’s footsteps — and the (then) 16-year-old Connor Bedard was off to a great start. Bedard entered Canada’s winter selection camp with an outside shot at being the team’s 13th forward. He made the final roster and proceeded to become the youngest player in tournament history to score four goals in a game during Canada’s preliminary round rout of Austria. One day later, the IIHF shut the championship down.

Bedard returned then to the Western Hockey League’s Regina Pats and produced an electrifying 76 points in 38 games.

It’s no wonder then that Bedard enters this tournament re-do not only on Canada’s top line with Mason McTavish, but as the favorite to go No. 1 overall in the 2023 NHL Entry Draft.

Canada’s head coach Dave Cameron said the three months of playing time that elapsed for Bedard between one championship and the next made a “huge” impact on his overall game. The center agrees, telling reporters this week he felt improved from the second half of last season, particularly when it comes to his face-off percentage. Bedard will be angling to show off those advancements on an international stage.

There’s no reason to doubt he can. Bedard has long been an overachiever, like when he became the first player in WHL history to be granted exceptional status to join the Pats as a 15-year-old. So maybe it shouldn’t have been a surprise when Bedard came to last winter’s camp and was Canada’s leading scorer through exhibition play with two goals and four assists.

Even still, Bedard wasn’t projected to play a huge role for Canada. That’s changed quickly. Expectations are now sky-high for what Bedard can produce on a squad hungry to get back on top.

Same goes for the USA’s Logan Cooley. He was part of the team’s original WJC roster, tallying an assist in one preliminary round game before the COVID shutdown. Leman thought Cooley made great plays in that match against Slovakia and expected he’d rely on Cooley more from there.

That should be especially true now, given all that’s happened for Cooley since. He returned to the US National Team Development Program and had a terrific year with the U-18 squad, collecting 75 points in 51 games. That translated to Cooley being drafted third overall by Arizona in last month’s NHL Entry Draft. Confidence boost? You bet.

Cooley wants to go pro quickly but is committed to play at Minnesota next season. The World Juniors should be an ideal segue into his freshman year. The Pittsburgh native is a highly skilled center who can take on a top-six role for the USA and be toe-to-toe with Bedard and other elite skaters in this tournament.

Where’s Russia?

This is the first time ever that a World Junior championship won’t include Team Russia.

They’ve been involved since the tournament’s outset in 1974 and claim the most medals (37) of any participating nation. Russia was also part of the championship taking place in December. But in February, the IIHF ruled all teams from Russia and Belarus were suspended from competing in any IIHF-sanctioned events. The verdict was made amid Russia’s ongoing invasion of the Ukraine.

“The IIHF is not a political entity and cannot influence the decisions being taken over the war in Ukraine,” IIHF President Luc Tardif said in a statement at the time. “We nevertheless have a duty of care to all of our members and participants and must therefore do all we can to ensure that we are able to operate our events in a safe environment for all teams taking part in the IIHF World Championship program.”

So, with Russia out, Latvia is now in. This will be Latvia’s first appearance in the tournament since 2017, and its seventh trip overall. Latvia earned its spot by placing second in the tournament’s Division 1A competition in December. Belarus finished first and would normally take Russia’s spot in this instance, but Belarus is also banned.

Will new faces emerge?

All players from the tournament in December could have returned for this summer showcase. Naturally not all of them will be, requiring some reinforcements on just about every roster.

Say hello to (a few of) the new guys.

William Dufour, F (Canada)

Dufour didn’t made Team Canada the first time he tried out. But that was then. The New York Islanders’ prospect put together a tremendous 2022 season with the QMJHL’s Saint John Sea Dogs, leading the league in goals (56) and finishing second in points (116). It was good enough to earn Dufour the QMJHL’s Michel-Briere trophy as league MVP — and he didn’t stop there. Dufour earned another MVP title when he led the Sea Dogs to a Memorial Cup championship this spring, tallying the most goals (7) and points (8) in the tournament. Dufour has the goal-scoring prowess that Canada needs and should be a lock for big minutes at even-strength and on the power play.

Sean Behrens, D (USA)

Technically, Behrens isn’t totally new here. He did make Team USA’s roster in December but couldn’t travel to the tournament after testing positive for COVID-19. The defenseman has another crack at playing now and will be coming into this championship on a high. The Colorado prospect just wrapped up a sensational freshman season at the University of Denver, producing 29 points in 37 games and helping guide the Pioneers to a national title. Behrens is a talented overall skater with great puck-moving ability that will make him especially fun to watch in Edmonton.

Thomas Bordeleau, C (USA)

This opportunity has been a long time coming for Bordeleau. He was supposed to play for Team USA in both 2021 and last winter but was thwarted by COVID-19 protocols on both occasions. The 20-year-old did get to play a small role for the U.S. during the men’s World Championship this year. He should have a bigger role at the Juniors. Bordeleau projects to be a top-six center, using his creativity and high-end skill set to generate plenty of offense for the U.S. A San Jose Sharks draft pick, Bordeleau signed his entry-level contract with the team at the end of last season.

Jonathan Lekkerimaki, F (Sweden)

Keep an eye out for this Vancouver Canucks draftee. Lekkerimaki has had a great international season for Sweden already, notching a tournament-high 15 points in the U18 World Championship (where he won gold) and five goals at the Hlinka tournament. Add to that a seven-goal performance back in the Swedish Hockey League and there is little surprise the 18-year-old is generating some big buzz — and expectations — about how he’ll help lead Sweden’s offense in this championship.

Aatu Raty, F (Finland)

This season was a real turning point for Raty. The Islanders’ prospect got off to a poor start with the Finnish League’s Karpat, registering little ice time through the team’s first six games. Raty was then traded in October from Karpat to Jukurit, where he played under head coach (and former NHLer) Olli Jokinen. It was a perfect match, and Raty excelled in his new quarters putting up 13 goals and 40 points in 41 games. After being left off Finland’s roster entirely last year, he’s now centering their top line with Roni Hirvonen and Joakim Kemell and could end up being the tournament’s top scorer. Talk about a glow up.

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Tennis legend Serena Williams to retire after U.S. Open in September – CBC Sports

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Serena Williams’ appearance at the National Bank Open in Toronto will be the final one of her career.

The tennis legend said earlier Tuesday she is planning to retire from tennis sometime following the U.S. Open, which begins later this month.

Williams, who won her opening match at the National Bank Open on Monday, made the announcement in an essay released by Vogue magazine.

“I’m turning 41 this month, and something’s got to give,” Williams wrote in an essay released Tuesday by Vogue magazine.

She said she wasn’t sure she’d be able to look at the magazine when the issue hit newstands, “knowing that this is it, the end of a story that started in Compton, California, with a little Black girl who just wanted to play tennis.”

Williams, one of the greatest and most accomplished athletes in the history of her — or any other — sport, said she does not like the word retirement and prefers to think of this stage of her life as “evolving away from tennis, toward other things that are important to me.”

Williams is playing this week in Toronto, at a hard-court tournament that leads into the U.S. Open, the year’s last Grand Slam event, which begins in New York on Aug. 29.

WATCH | Williams advances to 2nd round:

Serena Williams advances to the 2nd round of the National Bank Open

1 day ago

Duration 0:33

Serena Williams defeated Nuria Parrizas-Diaz in straight sets, 6-3, 6-4, her first singles win since the 2021 French Open.

The American has won more Grand Slam singles titles in the professional era than any other woman or man. Only one player, Margaret Court, collected more, 24, although she won a portion of hers in the amateur era.

“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want that record. Obviously I do. But day to day, I’m really not thinking about her. If I’m in a Grand Slam final, then yes, I am thinking about that record,” Williams said. “Maybe I thought about it too much, and that didn’t help. The way I see it, I should have had 30-plus Grand Slams.”

I never wanted to have to choose between tennis and a family. I don’t think it’s fair.— American tennis player Serena Williams

But, Williams went on to write, “These days, if I have to choose between building my tennis resume and building my family, I choose the latter.”

Off tour for a year

She and her husband, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, have a daughter, Olympia, who turns 5 on Sept. 1.

“Believe me, I never wanted to have to choose between tennis and a family. I don’t think it’s fair,” said Williams, who was pregnant when she won the 2017 Australian Open for her last Grand Slam trophy. “If I were a guy, I wouldn’t be writing this because I’d be out there playing and winning while my wife was doing the physical labour of expanding our family.”

Williams was off the tour for about a year after getting injured during her first-round match at Wimbledon in 2021. She returned to singles competition at the All England Club this June and lost in the first round.

After that defeat, Williams was asked whether she would compete again.

“That’s a question I can’t answer,” she said at the time. “I don’t know. … Who knows? Who knows where I’ll pop up?”

Williams hints in the essay that the U.S. Open will be her last tournament but does not say so explicitly.

“I’m not looking for some ceremonial, final on-court moment,” Williams wrote. “I’m terrible at goodbyes, the world’s worst.”

Plans to celebrate in Toronto

The announcement has already set off plans to celebrate Williams, along with ticket sales having skyrocketed according to tournament director Karl Hale.

“Tremendously (impacts everything with the tournament). Ticket sales have gone through the roof, we’ll be sold out by (6 p.m.) today, which doesn’t happen on a Wednesday, typically,” he said. “The media requests have been significant to say the least, everybody wants to see Serena and talk to her. Even the players in the players lounge, everybody’s talking about Serena.”

“Tomorrow night, we’ll celebrate her for sure.”

The American has won more Grand Slam singles titles in the professional era than any other woman or man. Only one player, Margaret Court, collected more, 24, although she won a portion of hers in the amateur era.

“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want that record. Obviously I do. But day to day, I’m really not thinking about her. If I’m in a Grand Slam final, then yes, I am thinking about that record,” Williams said. “Maybe I thought about it too much, and that didn’t help. The way I see it, I should have had 30-plus Grand Slams.”

But, Williams went on to write, “These days, if I have to choose between building my tennis resume and building my family, I choose the latter.”

She and her husband, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, have a daughter, Olympia, who turns 5 on Sept. 1.

News saddening to younger players

Despite Williams’ announcement being considered imminent, for younger players like American Coco Gauff, the news is still saddening.

“A little bit sad because I’ve always wanted to play her so I’m hoping my draw in Cincinnati or the U.S. Open or even here, can work out so we could play each other because that’s one of my goals,” the 18-year-old said.

Her legacy has been one to behold and one that Gauff believes may be untouchable.

“I think the legacy she’s left on the world just through her tennis career is something that I don’t think any other player could touch. I think the legacy she’ll continue to leave throughout her life is something that can inspire many more generations,” she said.

When asked about her impact on her being young Black tennis player, Gauff made sure to point out it wasn’t just Williams who made an impact, it was also her dad Richard Williams.

“I grew up watching her. That’s the reason why I played tennis. Tennis being a predominantly white sport, it definitely helped a lot because I saw somebody look like me dominating the game and it made me believe that I could dominate too.

“Mr. Williams and all that he’s done for both (Venus and Serena) of them, inspired my dad to continue to coach me and help me even though he didn’t (have much) tennis experience. He was like, ‘if Mr. Williams could do it, then I can.’ It’s not so much just what Serena and Venus have left, it’s also the whole Williams family in general.”

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Kevin Durant Didn't Previously Express Wish For Nets To Fire Steve Nash, Sean Marks – RealGM.com

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Kevin Durant met with Joe Tsai recently in London and it was revealed he expressed a lack of faith in the direction of the Brooklyn Nets. Durant reportedly issued an ultimatum that he is not interested in continuing with the Nets if Steve Nash remains as head coach and Sean Marks continues running the front office.

“The timing of it is also unusual,” said Brian Windhorst on Tuesday. “While star players have gotten coaches fired for decades and will get them fired for decades, he didn’t express this, as far as I’m aware to the Nets at the end of the season. And he didn’t express this to the Nets when he made his trade demand. So doing it now is a maneuver. A maneuver that I don’t think worked. 

“Because as I talk to teams out there, they don’t think his increased his trade value, they think this hurt his trade value.”

Windhorst also noted that Tsai statement of support for Nash and Marks also includes a sentence the league paid strong attention to stating “We will make decisions in the best interest of the Brooklyn Nets.”

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