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NBA Awards Race: Raptors’ Nick Nurse deserves Coach of the Year honours – Sportsnet.ca

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The stretch run is underway in the NBA.

Outside of the obvious jostling for playoff position this time of year comes with, this is also the part of the season when cases for the various annual awards will begin to be made in earnest.

Here’s a look at the frontrunners in each of the six major awards with about three-quarters of the season in the books now.

Coach of the Year – Nick Nurse

Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse gestures toward an official during the first quarter of an NBA basketball game against the Brooklyn Nets, Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2020, in New York. (Kathy Willens / AP)

A homer pick? Sure. That doesn’t make this any less right, though.

Toronto Raptors coach Nick Nurse is the coach of the year and, really, it’s not even close.

The Raptors are top-five in the entire league in man-games lost, sustaining injuries to the following players this season: Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell, OG Anunoby, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Patrick McCaw, Matt Thomas, Stanley Johnson and Dewan Hernandez.

Not only is that 12 of the 15 players on the roster overall, it also comprises the team’s top-seven core players — most of whom have missed significant time this season due to injury, as opposed to just a game here or there.

The only player who hasn’t missed a game — be it because of injuries or G League assignments — is rookie Terence Davis, who by the way, is enjoying a stellar rookie season, averaging 8.2 points per game on scorching 41.5 per cent shooting from three-point range on 3.6 attempts from distance in 17.6 minutes per game.

And yet, despite all this, the Raptors boast the third-best record in the league at 42-16, went on a Canadian professional sports-best 15-game win streak and look poised to reach another Eastern Conference Finals — or beyond.

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Yes, as it turns out, the Raptors are probably a lot more talented than many thought they were sans Kawhi Leonard — with Siakam, in particular, taking a huge leap this season — but the most consistent contributing factor to the Raptors’ success this season has been the steady hand of Nurse at the helm, guiding the good ship Raptors through rough weather just as deftly as he’s done through easy breezes.

The hallmark of the Raptors this season – and by proxy, Nurse – has been the team’s defence. Toronto’s buy-in and commitment on that end of the floor being ever-present — even as the team’s coach has experimented with some wacky looks by using multiple zones such as standard two-three, box-and-one and triangle-and-two, to using college basketball-style full- and half-court presses.

This is stuff that you don’t see in the NBA, and normally you’d hear grumbling from players over such weirdness. But that doesn’t happen with the Raptors, and the biggest reason is that, more often than not, when Nurse decides to push a button a positive result follows.

No other coach in the league has the kind of leeway, nor results to back it all up, like Nurse does. This award should be in the bag for him.

MVP – Giannis Antetokounmpo

Giannis-Antetokounmpo-Milwaukee-Bucks
Memphis Grizzlies guard Dillon Brooks (24) drives against New Orleans Pelicans guard Lonzo Ball (2) in the second half of an NBA basketball game Monday, Jan. 20, 2020, in Memphis, Tenn. (Brandon Dill/AP)

Prepare to see this narrative popping up a lot in the coming weeks:

Look, it’s not difficult, Giannis Antetokounmpo is going to win the MVP again.

His team, which had the best record in the league last season, is going to finish atop the league with an even better record this season and the man himself — who won MVP last season with averages of 27.7 points, 12.5 rebounds and 5.9 assists — has improved nearly across the board statistically this season, averaging 29.7 points, 13.7 rebounds and 5.8 assists.

Usually there’s some controversy in regards to MVP because it’ll normally wind up being awarded to the best player on the best team, but not necessarily the actual best player in the league. Antetkounmpo is the best player on the league’s best team who also happens to be the best player in the world.

There’s no room for argument here.

Rookie of the Year – Zion Williamson

New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson (1) dunks the ball against the Portland Trail Blazers in the first half of an NBA basketball game in New Orleans, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020. (Rusty Costanza/AP)

This might seem crazy, because the most games New Orleans Pelicans phenom Zion Williamson can play this season is 37, while his Memphis Grizzlies super rookie counterpart Ja Morant has already played 51.

But there’s a definite chance because, for one, Williamson’s counting stats are a little better than Morant’s, but also because of where they’re respective teams are going.

As unfair as this is, the Grizzlies, who have now lost three straight, also feature the toughest remaining schedule in the NBA, according to Tankathon, while the Pelicans have just the second-easiest.

If things go as expected, the Pelicans will make up the 3.5 games they’re currently back of the No. 8 seed Grizzlies and sneak into the playoffs, largely thanks to the boost Williamson’s providing them.

It’ll still be a tough call to measure what will be a full season’s worth of work from Morant to an explosive half-season from Williamson, meaning where the Grizzlies and Pelicans end the season in the standings will likely be a determining factor.

Defensive Player of the Year – Giannis Antetokounmpo

Giannis Bucks Hornets Paris game
Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo celebrates a dunk. (Thibault Camus/AP)

Antetokounmpo is poised to enter elite company as just the fifth player in NBA history to win an MVP and defensive player of the year, joining Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson and Kevin Garnett in the select club. Even more exclusively, Antetokounmpo will join Jordan and Olajuwon as the only player to win both awards in the same season.

The Bucks are the league’s best defensive team by a large margin and Antetkounmpo has been one of the key factors in this, leading the league in individual defensive rating (96.2), defensive win shares (4.3) and defensive box plus/minus (3.9).

This is Antetokounmpo’s league now, on both ends of the floor, and he should get the fitting hardware to match.

Sixth Man of the Year – Dennis Schroder

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Dennis Schroder (17) dribbles downcourt against the Los Angeles Clippers during the second quarter of an NBA basketball game. (Alonzo Adams/AP)

One of the best stories of this season has been the surprisingly strong play of the Oklahoma City Thunder, a team many left for dead after the departures of Paul George and Russell Westbrook.

Instead, the Thunder, led by Canadian rising star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and veteran superstar Chris Paul, are comfortably in a playoff spot and could push for homecourt advantage seeding down the stretch.

But while most focus on the Thunder’s success this season has revolved around Gilgeous-Alexander and Paul, the player on the team most likely to walk away with some shiny recognition for the year is reserve guard Dennis Schroder.

The Thunder’s third-leading scorer, Schroder is enjoying one of his best seasons as a pro — and certainly his top one coming off the bench — averaging 19 points and four assists per game on 47.5 per cent shooting from the field and 38.6 per cent from deep.

Among players who have played at least 41 games off the bench, Schroder’s 19-point scoring average leads the field, including Los Angeles Clippers bench bosses Montrezl Harrell and Lou Williams — who are probably the front-runners in many folks’ minds.

They shouldn’t be, though.

The Clippers were expected to be among the league’s elite, and probably would still be even if one of Harrell or Williams were having an off-season. The Thunder are a team that feel like they’re greater than the sum of their parts, and if you remove a piece like Schroder from the equation it’s unclear where they would be now.

Most Improved Player – Luka Doncic

Dallas Mavericks forward Luka Doncic (77) dribbles upcourt against the Golden State Warriors during the first half of an NBA basketball game in San Francisco, Saturday, Dec. 28, 2019. (Jeff Chiu/AP)

Before saying anything else, it’s important to know that the author of this post personally dislikes this award. Not because it’s bad to reward improvement, but the idea of “most improved” just seems so arbitrary. Improvement can mean just about anything, and as such the goal posts for this award often shift from year to year. It’s just, overall, frustratingly undefined what the criteria of this award is.

So, with that said, the most improved player so far, by at least one estimation, is Dallas Mavericks superstar Luka Doncic.

Why? Well, just look at the descriptor preceding his name. Superstar.

In terms of tiers of improvement, the hardest one to make is going from very-good, star-level player into a true blue bona fide superstar. Doncic has made this leap in just his second NBA season.

This doesn’t just have to do with numbers, though – which, by the way, have improved over his rookie season in nearly every statistical category.

Being an NBA superstar means that, yes, you have to produce on the floor and likely be the best player on the floor whenever you’re on it, but it’s also about being marketable and a good ambassador for league and the sport as a whole as the superstars of the NBA double as its face.

Doncic might be the most exciting player in the league to watch, has a million-watt smile and represents the global game basketball is and the NBA has become.

Superstars are less common than you think they are, but you definitely know one see one. Doncic is a superstar.

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Jays (Finally) Win One – Bluebird Banter

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Jays 6 Orioles 1

It is about time.

This is just a space holder for the recap, my tennis went long.

Ross Stripling was amazing. Just 1 hit allowed in 6.1. He threw 72 pitches and was in control.

And the offence finally broke through for 6 runs in the 8th (imagine the Hallaluah chorus playing here). And George Springer got his 1000th hit.

Life is good again.

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Here are the Raptors games you don’t want to miss in the 2022-23 season – Sportsnet.ca

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The Toronto Raptors will open their 2022-23 NBA season on Oct. 19 at Scotiabank Arena. Their regular season will conclude on April 9 at home against the Milwaukee Bucks.

Here are some things to highlight in the Raptors’ schedule this season.

Facing off against familiar foes

As has become customary, former beloved Raptors — especially those from the 2019 championship team — are likely to receive heroes’ welcomes upon their return to Toronto. If you’re looking to join in on the festivities, here’s a list of notable players and their arrivals back at Scotiabank Arena:

Demar DeRozan: In his second season with the Chicago Bulls, DeRozan is scheduled to pay two visits to Toronto: First on Nov. 6, and then on Feb. 28.

Serge Ibaka: Now with the Milwaukee Bucks, Ibaka is slated to return to Scotiabank Arena on Jan. 4 and the season finale on April 9.

Kawhi Leonard: The 2019 Finals MVP missed all of last season recovering from a partial tear in his right knee. He will, hopefully, be available when his Los Angeles Clippers come to town on Dec. 27.

Kyle Lowry: The return to Toronto for perhaps the most beloved Raptor of all time, and his Miami Heat, will be on Nov. 16 and March 28.

Norman Powell: Now a member of the Clippers, Powell will be accompanying Leonard when Los Angeles visits Toronto on Dec. 27.

Jonas Valanciunas: The well-liked New Orleans Pelicans centre and his team will be visiting on Feb. 23.

January could prove to be a pivotal month

Looking at each individual month of the schedule, January stands out since it features both the longest homestand the team will enjoy as well as the start of its longest road trip.

For six games and 11 days between Jan. 4 and Jan. 14, the Raptors will play in the friendly confines of Scotiabank Arena as they look to kick off the new year with some wind in their sails. The Raptors will face Milwaukee, New York, Portland, Charlotte twice (but not on a back-to-back) and then Atlanta during that period.

Beginning on Jan. 25 and then lasting seven games and 12 days until Feb. 5, the Raptors will be on their longest road swing of the season with stops in Sacramento, Golden State, Portland, Phoenix, Utah, Houston and Memphis.

The contests against Golden State and Portland will be back-to-backs and are one of 12 back-to-back sets the team will play this season (two fewer than last season).

Given the scheduling quirks in January, it could be important month as a means for the Raptors to rack up wins during the homestand and test themselves out on the road still with plenty of runway until the post-season.

Other games of note

Here’s a quick list of other notable games to keep an eye on:

Nov. 23/Dec. 16 — versus Brooklyn: It’s unclear if Kevin Durant will still be a member of the Brooklyn Nets when they make their trips up north, but if he is, that will surely be a scene at Scotiabank Arena.

Nov. 26 — versus Dallas: The NBA’s brightest young star, Luka Doncic, and his Dallas Mavericks are coming to town early in the season. As a bonus, Canadian national team stud Dwight Powell also plays for Dallas.

Dec. 5 — versus Boston: The eighth annual Giants of Africa Game celebrating the life of Nelson Mandela.

Dec. 7 — versus Los Angeles Lakers: LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers make their annual visit to Toronto.

Dec. 18 — versus Golden State: Canadian Andrew Wiggins and the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors make their only trip to the Six.

Dec. 29 — versus Memphis: Raptors fans will be in for a treat as high-flying point guard Ja Morant will make his only trip to Toronto, but more importantly, Canadians Dillon Brooks and Brandon Clarke will be playing on home soil once again.

Jan. 6/Jan. 22 — versus New York: R.J. Barrett and the New York Knicks will be in Toronto in January.

Jan. 8 — versus Portland: Dame time is well and good, but the real attraction with this match is the opportunity to see London, Ont., native Shaedon Sharpe live. The most mysterious pick in the 2022 draft, no one really knows what kind of player he may be.

Feb. 10 — versus Utah: Canada’s Nickeil Alexander-Walker and the Utah Jazz will take on the Raptors in Toronto.

March 14 — versus Denver: Two-time defending MVP Nikola Jokic and Canadian star guard Jamal Murray will be in town with the Denver Nuggets to take on the Raptors.

March 16 — versus Oklahoma City: A game after hosting Murray, the Raptors will invite in another of Canada’s best in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Luguentz Dort when they face off against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

March 22 — versus Indiana: With three Canadians on the Indiana Pacers roster (Oshae Brissett and rookies Bennedict Mathurin and Andrew Nembhard), this Wednesday night in March should be a special one at Scotiabank Arena.

March 24 — versus Detroit: Canadian veterans Kelly Olynyk and Cory Joseph feature on this young, exciting Detroit Pistons team, but the storyline that will likely be on Raptors fans’ minds when the Pistons visit will be if Dwane Casey will, once again, get the best of his former team.

U.S. national television games

Lastly, for those who care about this kind of thing, the Raptors announced they will be on U.S. national television four times (twice on ESPN and twice on TNT). Additionally, Toronto will play on NBATV five times this season.

The Raptors will appear on two more U.S. national television games than last season.

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Czechia pulls off major upset over U.S., advances to WJC semifinal vs. Canada – Sportsnet.ca

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Czechia completed a 4-2 upset win over the previously unbeaten United States on Wednesday to punch its ticket to the semifinal of the 2022 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship in Edmonton.

After the United States’ Logan Cooley opened the scoring just over 12 minutes into the game, Czechia responded with three straight tallies to take control of the contest against the defending champs.

Jan Mysak, Petr Hauser, Matyas Sapovaliv and Jiri Kulich all scored for Czechia. Kulich also recorded two assists.

Matthew Berard of the U.S. was assessed a five-minute major and a match penalty for slew-footing early in the third period. Czechia was unable to capitalize on the man advantage.

Later in the third, Czechia’s Stanislav Svozil received a five-minute major and a match penalty of his own after initiating a knee-on-knee hit with Cooley. The third-overall pick in the 2022 NHL Draft would remain in the game after the collision.

The U.S. capitalized on the man advantage courtesy of Carter Mazur to cut the deficit to 3-2. Kulich would later add an empty netter

Luke Hughes of the U.S. sustained an apparent lower-body injury early in the first period, he would exit the game and return for the start of the second frame.

Czechia is set to play Canada in Thursday’s semifinals. Sweden plays Finland in the other semi.

Czechia, which hasn’t won a medal at the event since 2005 when it captured bronze, went 1-0-1-2 in the round-robin stage.

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