The NBA’s unconventional 2020-21 season is all set to begin Tuesday night. As the Toronto Raptors gear up to play their first game Wednesday against the New Orleans Pelicans (7:30 p.m., TSN), the sports media in the U.S. seem cautiously optimistic of the Raptors’ success this season.
Here are some opinions from the experts down south:
ESPN has the Raptors ranked No. 11 heading into the season, predicting a 42-30 record in the shortened 72-game season.
It is remarkable to think back to how Toronto was perceived before winning the title — back when it was jokingly referred to as “LeBronto” after numerous losses to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the playoffs,” Tim Bontemps writes. “Now, Toronto is seen as one of the league’s most mentally tough and resilient teams. To remain in the mix atop the East, they’ll need all that, and then some.
Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today gave the Raptors’ chances a solid B, hinting at a possible Lowry trade in the near future if the team stumbles:
Toronto was intent, for the most part, on running it back with Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby and (Fred) VanVleet while adding on the edges. The Raptors will see how the season starts and then determine what moves are necessary — try to make another deep run in the playoffs or look to trade assets such as Lowry, who is entering the final season of his (contract).
Jonathan Tjarks of The Ringer said he was confident OG Anunoby, who signed a $72 million contract extension Monday, will be the player with the biggest breakout season in the NBA:
If we shouldn’t have written off the Raptors after losing Kawhi Leonard, then we definitely shouldn’t write them off after losing Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol. Let’s not forget their best lineups in the playoffs were with Anunoby at the 5 . . . he’s finally playing at his natural position in the modern game. Sounds like a breakout season to me.
Sopan Deb of the New York Times wrote that the Raptors might be the toughest team to peg:
Pascal Siakam’s stock took a dive after his performance in the playoffs, and replacing Ibaka with the combination of (Aron) Baynes and (Alex) Len might not be enough. Kyle Lowry turns 35 this season. Toronto was knocked out of the playoffs in the second round and didn’t upgrade much in talent. Even so, the Raptors are never to be counted out.
Danny Leroux of The Athletic pegged the Raptors’ over/under win total at 41.5 wins in this shortened season, or about 47 wins in a regular year:
The Raptors were one of the league’s best regular-season teams a year ago, and while losing Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol hurts, they are still talented and well coached. Expect the Raptors to handle the bottom-feeders and take their fair share against strong teams too, so this over is my favorite on the East board. Toronto’s offensive shortcomings make a Finals run less likely, so hammering the over is likely better than shifting some resources in other directions.
Sam Quinn of CBS Sports has the “over” on 42.5 wins:
Yes, the losses of Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka hurt the interior defense. Yes, Kyle Lowry is another year older. Yes, the Raptors are the only team not playing in their home city this season, and yes, their bench is full of players you’ve never heard of. But do you really want to be the person to bet against the Raptors? Again? Toronto has hit its over nine years in a row. Vegas has never properly appreciated Lowry. It has no way of properly appreciating Nick Nurse.
Nick Crain of SlamOnline raised big questions about Raptors’ centre rotation and Siakam’s ability to pull through:
The Toronto Raptors are only one season removed from winning an NBA championship. While the roster looks a bit different now, they still have the talent to be one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. The big questions are:
- How productive will the center rotation be? After losing Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol, that rotation will be completely new.
- Can Pascal Siakam shake off the rust we saw in the bubble? As good of a player as he has the chance to be, that wasn’t his best stretch of basketball. How close is he to his ceiling?
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Laine winner caps sparkling performance as Jets extinguish Flames in overtime – CBC.ca
Patrik Laine let his play on the ice speak volumes Thursday night with a three-point performance that should squash questions about his committment to the Winnipeg Jets.
“Hopefully I can just build off that game,” Laine said after the victory. “There’s a lot of things I need to look at. The three points isn’t going to tell the whole truth of the game. But it’s a good start.”
His big night comes after Laine’s agent made comments during the off-season suggesting that both the powerful forward and the Jets could benefit from his being traded. Laine ducked questions on the subject as training camp opened.
WATCH | Laine’s 3-point night helps Jets beat Flames:
His commitment to the team seemed clear Thursday as Laine not only lit up the scoreboard, but stood up for his teammate.
With less than a minute to go in the second period, Calgary’s Noah Hanifin cross-checked Laine’s linemate Kyle Connor into the boards.
Laine responded by going after Hanifin and a scuffle ensued, with Laine and Flames left-winger Matthew Tkachuk exchanging blows.
“That’s just the type of guy he is. He’ll go to battle for his teammates,” Connor said. “He’s a pretty selfless guy and I think you can see that. I have his back out there and vice versa. He’s just an all-around great teammate, I’d say.”
Hanifin was called for cross-checking, and Laine and Tkachuk were each sent to the box for roughing.
It was somewhat of a disappointing result for Laine, who rarely drops the gloves and was hoping he’d register a Gordie Howe hat trick — a goal, an assist and a fight.
“The one time I drop my gloves, I get a two-minute penalty. So that’s kind of embarrassing,” he said.
WATCH | NHL season begins amid rising COVID-19 cases:
The tussle helped ignite a Winnipeg (1-0-0) side that was tepid at times on Thursday.
Calgary (0-0-1) dominated play through much of the first period, starting just 4:28 in when Tkachuk scored on the second shot of the game with a deflection in front of the Jets’ net.
Johnny Gaudreau and Elias Lindholm added goals before the end of the first frame, and the Flames held a 3-1 lead heading into the break.
During the intermission, Jets coach Paul Maurice went into the locker room and told his group to relax. His words changed the way the group played heading into the second period, said Paul Stastny.
“Sometimes when you’re kind of thinking too much, your feet are in quicksand, you’re looking around too much. Everyone was kind of hoping for things to happen,” he said. “The first game of the season it always kind of happens like that. I think it’s just nerves, in a sense.”
WATCH | CBC Sports’ Rob Pizzo breaks down 9 NHL talking points:
Thirty-four seconds into the second period, Nikolaj Ehlers took a shot from the slot and, while Jacob Markstrom made the stop, he couldn’t control the rebound. The puck squirted out to Mark Schiefele who popped it in from the side of the net to make it 3-2.
Connor’s power-play goal evened the score at 3-3, and Laine buried the winner 1:18 into overtime, streaking from deep in his own end all the way past the Calgary blue line. He fanned on his first shot but quickly recovered and beat Markstrom on his second attempt.
Laine has worked harder in training camp than any other time during his career in Winnipeg, and is bigger, stronger and more mature than ever before, Maurice said.
“He’s a very driven young man. He wants to be great. And sometimes you have to learn how that unfolds,” the coach said. “What he got tonight he earned. He didn’t get lucky, he didn’t have a bunch of bounces go for him. He just worked and worked.”
Markstrom was making his debut for Calgary after signing a six-year, $36-million US deal in free agency and stopped 30-of-34 shots Thursday.
Connor Hellebuyck, the NHL’s reigning Vezina winner, had 23 saves for Winnipeg.
The game was a rematch of last year’s playoff series where the Flames dispatched with the Jets in four games in the qualifying round.
It was also the first of nine meetings between the two clubs in the pandemic-condensed 56-game season.
The Flames will host the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday, and the Jets are set to visit the Toronto Maple Leafs on Monday.
WATCH | CBC Sports’ Rob Pizzo ranks the all-Canadian division:
Connor McDavid goes super-nova in 5-2 Edmonton Oilers win over Vancouver – Edmonton Journal
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ZACK KASSIAN. 6. That was more like it. Zack Kassian was skating better and was involved in the play more over-all, chipping in 3 hits and 3 shots. Unlucky to have not scored, as Thatcher Demko absolutely stoned him in close with a terrific glove save on an early chance. Set up McDavid for a chance a shift later. Part of a 3-way sequence that led to Nugent-Hopkins ringing one off the post. More, please.
DARNELL NURSE. 8. Darnell Nurse will be asked to carry a heavier load this year with Oscar Klefbom on the shelf for the season. If tonight is any indication, Nurse is up to it. 2 shots, 5 hits, 2 blocks in a team-leading 23:54 of TOI. A nifty take-away and shot in the 1st. 61% CF (30-19 at even strength). He was a tower of power. +3.
ETHAN BEAR. 7. Had a terrific game. Always on the right side of his man. Made a number of nice, crisp outlet passes. A key clear on a 1st Period PK, again on a 3rd period penalty kill. A shot, 2 blocks, and played in all 3 disciplines across 23:44. Nurse nudged him out in ice time by 10 seconds. +3.
LEON DRAISAITL. 9. Dominant on both sides of the puck. Put up 4 assists, the first a shot off the post that Nugent-Hopkins back-handed home. Won the faceoff with just 2.5 seconds in the opening frame which led to McDavid’s 1st. His drop pass was part of the high-light reel goal by McDavid described above. Then, Leon set up Connor’s hat trick goal with a sublime, no-look backhand pass that was just out of this world. Without the puck he also chipped in 3 hits, was 71% in the circle, and also had an impressive 1st Period back-check that broke up a dangerous Canucks sortie in the 1st. What a player.
Steve Nash has his hands full with the Brooklyn Nets – CBC.ca
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Here’s what you need to know right now from the world of sports:
Steve Nash is blessed — and also maybe cursed
There’s an element of Greek tragedy to it. The gods (or, in this case, Brooklyn Nets GM Sean Marks) grant our hero a gift that can make him more powerful than all his rivals. But it comes with a catch that threatens to destroy him.
That’s where Nash, the Canadian basketball legend and NBA coaching rookie, finds himself after the Nets’ blockbuster trade for James Harden. The kraken of a deal (technically two deals), officially completed today, involves four teams, seven players, six draft picks and four pick swaps. The gist is that Harden is moving from Houston to Brooklyn, Caris LeVert from Brooklyn to Indiana, and Victor Oladipo from Indiana to Houston. Brooklyn is giving Houston three first-round picks and the right to swap first-rounders in four other years, and the Rockets grabbed another first-round pick from Cleveland. Whew.
On one hand, Nash is blessed. It’s every coach’s dream to see his front-office go all-in like this on a championship run. In his first season as a head coach at any level, he now commands one of the best triumvirates ever assembled in pro basketball. Harden is one of the most prolific scorers in the history of the sport, the winner of the last three NBA scoring titles and a former MVP. Kevin Durant is a two-time Finals MVP who owns four scoring titles and a regular-season MVP. Kyrie Irving has hit a championship-winning shot and is one of the most dazzling ball-handlers and finishers anyone has ever seen.
But the Nets’ Achilles heel is painfully obvious. All three of their superstars are difficult personalities who have worn out their welcomes with other teams. Harden forced his way out of Houston by demanding a trade and then showing up for the season out of shape and sullen, alienating teammates and fans. Durant, despite great personal and team success in Golden State, never found the fulfilment he sought in joining the Warriors’ dynasty. He clashed with teammates and the media during his final, sour season there.
And then there’s Kyrie. After unhappy endings in Cleveland and Boston, he could be headed for another one in Brooklyn. Irving is currently on an unspecified, indefinite leave from the team — the reasons for which remain mysterious. No one knows when — or even if — he’ll return to the NBA. So, at this point, the Nets’ Big Three exists only in theory. And, oh yeah, there’s still only one ball for everyone to share.
Time isn’t on Brooklyn’s side either. Harden and Durant are both on the wrong side of 30. Kyrie turns 29 in March but seems like one of the NBA’s oldest souls. So there’s tremendous pressure on Nash to win right now.
The Nets recruited the universally beloved Canadian for this job over far more experienced coaches because of his “soft” skills. He has the ability to relate to, empathize with — and command the respect of — modern superstars. Those talents were put to the test with just Durant and Kyrie on the team. With Harden, the degree of difficulty — and the stakes — have been raised.
Depending partly on how Nash plays this, Brooklyn could win the championship this year. Or go down in flames. And no one would be surprised either way.
Another province cancelled its curling playdowns. Saskatchewan joins B.C., Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, Northern Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia in deciding not to hold tournaments to determine its representatives for this year’s Brier and Scotties. Unlike most of the others, Saskatchewan isn’t simply sending last year’s provincial champions. Instead, it considered recent results and landed on the teams skipped by Sherry Anderson, whose last Scotties appearance was in 2018, and Matt Dunstone, who finished third at last year’s Brier. Both the Brier and the Scotties will be played in a bubble in Calgary this winter, and Curling Canada announced yesterday that it’s expanding the fields to 18 by adding two extra wild-card teams to each event. Read more about Saskatchewan’s decision in this story by CBC Sports’ Devin Heroux.
Another track star broke doping rules. Reigning Olympic 100-metre hurdles champion Brianna McNeal didn’t test positive for a banned substance, but the 29-year-old American has been provisionally suspended by the Athletics Integrity Unit for “tampering within the results management process.” Read more about the ruling here.
A five-time Olympic swimming medallist was charged for taking part in the U.S. Capitol riot. The FBI caught Klete Keller after a video apparently showed him, wearing a U.S. Olympic team jacket, among those storming the building. He’s charged with knowingly entering a restricted building to impede an official government function, disorderly conduct and obstructing law officers. Keller, 38, competed in the 2000, 2004 and 2008 Olympics. He won two gold and a silver medal as part of relay teams, plus a pair of individual bronze. Keller was known to be an outspoken supporter of Donald Trump on social media. Read more about Keller and the charges against him here.
A Mickey Mantle baseball card sold for $5.2 million US. That’s a new record for a sports card, shattering the $3.94 million paid for a one-of-a-kind Mike Trout rookie only five months ago (yes, cards are a thing again). Unlike most super-expensive cards, this Mantle is not a rookie. But the 1952 Topps is special for a few reasons. As ESPN notes, that was the first year Topps produced an annual set, and the company ended up dumping thousands of them into the Hudson River because of overproduction. Also, this particular Mantle card was graded PSA 9, and only six in that condition are believed to still exist. The record may not last, though. There are three known ’52 Topps Mantle cards graded PSA 10 — also known as “gem mint” condition. Those are valued at more than $10 million.
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