Odds stacked against Raptors as they prepare for first play-in tournament
The NBA’s play-in tournament started in 2020-21 as a way to incentivize parity in what has historically been the most predictable of the big four North American sports leagues. And it worked. Despite pushback from traditionalists like LeBron James, the 2022-23 season has had more parity than any in recent memory, with a growing middle class separated by just a few games and the final standings coming down to the very last day of the regular season.
But the play-in tournament is not a saviour. Just because it incentivizes parity and gives two more teams in each conference a shot at making the playoffs doesn’t mean it sets those teams up for success. After all, despite the middle class getting stronger, the league still runs through those at the top. And this year, it runs through the top of the Eastern Conference.
The ninth seeded Toronto Raptors are about to find that out, one way or another. After failing to secure a top-eight seed, the Raptors have put themselves in an almost impossible position, having to win two straight win-or-go-home games against the 10th seeded Chicago Bulls on Wednesday and then the loser of the Miami/Atlanta play-in game on Friday. And if they win both, they will play the No. 1 seeded Milwaukee Bucks in a best-of-seven series starting on Sunday.
Here’s everything you need to know about the Toronto Raptors as they approach their first ever play-in tournament.
Play-in for what?
When Raptors president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri asked “Play-In for what?” during the season from hell in Tampa, Florida, he was being rhetorical. But given the structure, schedule, and potential pay-off of the play-in tournament, Ujiri’s question is valid.
For the Raptors to escape the play-in tournament, they will have to win two elimination games, one on the road versus a better-rested team with a higher seed. And even if they get through the play-in tournament, the Raptors will have just one day off (to practice and travel) before playing Milwaukee, the best team in the NBA, who will have had six days of rest in between the end of the regular season and the start of the first round on Sunday, and 10 days for the starters, who sat the final two games of the regular season.
“I think it seems like the regular season,” Raptors head coach Nick Nurse said about the schedule of the play-in tournament. “Game, travel, game, travel, game, and then you get to stay put for a little while if you can make it that far.”
The structure and grueling schedule of the play-in tournament puts teams in an impossible situation, especially the 9th and 10th seeds. It’s no wonder that only one ninth seed has made it out of the play-in tournament, and the furthest a play-in tournament team has gone is six games into the first round, never winning a series. Plus, the last time a No. 8 seed — which Toronto would technically be if they come out of the tournament — has beaten a No. 1 seed in a playoff series is all the way back in 2012.
The Raptors are doing everything in their control to prepare for every possibility, with advanced scout teams already preparing for both the No. 7 seed Miami Heat and No. 8 seed Atlanta Hawks should they win their game against Chicago and play one of them. “There’s a group of coaches working on Miami, there’s a group of coaches working on Atlanta,” Nurse said. “They’ll do a lot of the groundwork, legwork, prep work and then hand it back to one of our front of the bench guys.”
Meanwhile, the Bucks are doing the same thing with each of their potential opponents, which is why in a vacuum it’s possible the Raptors could put up a fight against the Bucks. But given that the Bucks will be significantly better rested, more prepared, and have home-court advantage against Toronto in a potential first-round series, the hole the Raptors have dug for themselves is likely too big to climb out of.
The fact that the Raptors will have such a short period to rest in between games could also affect their rotation. Unlike a typical win-or-go-home Game 7, where a team can lean on their starters knowing that they will get several days of rest in between rounds, the Raptors might opt to play the long game in hopes of preserving their best players’ already tired legs for at least the length of the tournament. After all, what’s the point of winning the first game at the cost of not having the energy to win the second?
That is what Nurse and the coaching staff will be managing as they choose a rotation for the play-in, determining how many players see the floor and for how long.
The five starters are sure to get a lot of run, as that group has been one of the best five-man units in the league since acquiring Poeltl, outscoring teams by 9.1 points per 100 possessions. After that, it’s likely that Gary Trent Jr. and Chris Boucher see time off the bench, as those have been the Raptors sixth and seventh best players.
“I think we got to consider that — shortening it down a little bit,” Nurse said of the rotation. “But I think it’s always a little bit how the game is going will affect that quite a bit as well. You never quite know how it is going to go and we certainly would like… to play your best guys as much as they can handle really.”
The Raptors could stop at seven or they could go a bit deeper on their bench, picking between Precious Achiuwa and Christian Koloko at the backup center — an important piece to matchup against Chicago’s rebounding machine, Andre Drummond. Will Barton could also see the floor if the Raptors are in desperate need of shooting.
If you look at betting odds around the NBA, the home team is heavily favoured in every play-in game. And with good reason.
Each of these teams have had 82 games to show us who they are, and the razor-thin margins in the standings tell us that they are in the same tier. Sure, individual matchups and stylistic advantages matter a lot over the course of a seven-game playoff series, but not nearly as much in a one-off, where any player could decide the game by getting hot and scoring 35 points. That’s why taking the team with home-court advantage is always going to be the safe pick.
“It should be crazy, man. It should be a really fun atmosphere,” Fred VanVleet said about what he expects from the Scotiabank Arena crowd versus the Bulls, where the Raptors are 27-14 this season. “This type of time of the year and these types of circumstances I think brings the best out of our crowd. And having that home court advantage has been one of the more special places to play in the NBA over the last decade, especially around this time of year.
“It’s just up to us to go out there and give them something to cheer about. And hopefully we can use that to our advantage.”
DeMar DeRozan is returning to Toronto after spending the first nine years of his career as a Raptor. He is very familiar with the Raptors’ home-court advantage, acknowledging that “the atmosphere is going to feel like it’s an Eastern Conference finals game in a play-in game. So it’s definitely going to be crazy. Driving to the arena, walking through the arena, you’re definitely going to feel it. That’s the beauty of that place, those fans. And any competitor would want to be a part of that.”
DeMar and the Bulls
Speaking of DeRozan, the Raptors icon will be returning to Scotiabank Arena on Wednesday evening hoping to put an end to the Raptors season.
Toronto has had the slight upper hand in their matchups this season, winning the season series 2-1. But these two teams are on eerily similar trajectories, especially since the All-Star break, with identical 12-9 records and similar struggles in close games. Stylistically, they both cause a lot of deflections and turnovers with their high-pressure defences while struggling to space out the floor on offence.
Expect Toronto to shade a lot of extra attention towards DeRozan and Zach Lavine, sending double-teams and traps at them in order to force the rest of the Bulls into making quick decisions and open shots. In fact, this game will likely come down to whether or not the Bulls’ role players make enough open threes.
“That’s Nick Nurse,” DeRozan said of the Raptors’ aggressive game plans against him. “I’m going to deal with it. I know how to deal with it now. But playing against Nick and playing against those guys, they try to do everything in their power to make sure I don’t beat them.”
Meanwhile, expect Poeltl to be a difference maker for the Raptors on offence, where he will have a lot of room to roll to the rim or make decisions in the short roll given the way the Bulls like to put two on the ball in the pick-and-roll. The Raptors love putting slower bigs like Nikola Vucevic in the pick-and-roll repeatedly, hammering the advantage. They should also have opportunities to take advantage of their overwhelming size in the post against mismatches and on the offensive boards.
“I think our coaching staff is one of the top in the league in terms of preparation and game planning and finding different things and having adjustments ready on the fly,” VanVleet said. “So you’ve gotta give them a ton of credit for that. It’s up to us to go out there and try to execute the best we can.”
“We enjoy trying to put game plans together as a staff and the challenge is… a little different now, right, because you gotta make sure your option A’s are ready to go and they’re the right ones and those kinds of things,” Nurse said about his gameplan.
“I guess we are where we are right now and what has happened doesn’t really matter much if we can win a couple,” Nurse said about the play-in games. But the truth is, where the Raptors are right now matters a whole lot. By failing to win key games down the stretch of the season and finishing ninth, the Raptors have put themselves in an impossible situation, and they would need to make history to salvage the season.
2023 Canadian Open: Live stream, watch online, TV schedule, channel, tee times, radio, golf coverage
One last tune up for the U.S. Open takes place this week at the 2023 Canadian Open at Oakdale Golf and Country Club in Toronto, Ontario. The third-oldest running tournament on the PGA Tour schedule behind just the U.S. Open and The Open, the Canadian Open will feature a stout field as players look to find their footing ahead of the third major championship of the season.
The field is headlined by world No. 3 Rory McIlroy, who looks to pull off a rare three-peat. A seven-stroke winner at the 2019 Canadian Open at Hamilton Golf & Country Club, the Northern Irishman successfully defended his title three years later (due to the COVID-19 pandemic) at St. George’s Golf & Country Club. If he is to win this week, McIlroy will have claimed three Canadian Open titles on three different golf courses spanning five years.
Looking to get in McIlroy’s way is reigning U.S. Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick. Set to defend his title next week at Los Angeles Country Club, the Englishman has his sights on claiming his second victory of the season — as does his fellow countryman Justin Rose. The English contingent is rounded out by Tyrrell Hatton and Tommy Fleetwood, both of whom appear keen on breaking a winless drought on the PGA Tour.
Cameron Young hopes to find some form following a pair of missed cuts, as does Sam Burns. Shane Lowry and Sahith Theegala are eager at the prospect of raising the trophy, while Canadians Corey Conners, Nick Taylor, Adam Hadwin and many more look to put together a memorable performance in front of their very own.
All times Eastern; streaming start times approximated
Round 3 – Saturday
Round starts: 9:15 a.m.
PGA Tour Live: 9:15 a.m. – 7:30 p.m. — PGA Tour Live
Early TV coverage: 1:30 – 2:30 p.m. on Golf Channel
Live TV coverage: 5:30 – 7:30 p.m. on CBS
Live simulcast: 5:30 – 7:30 p.m. on CBSSports.com and the CBS Sports App
Radio: 2 – 7:30 p.m. — PGA Tour Radio
Round 4 – Sunday
Round starts: 8:15 a.m.
PGA Tour Live: 7:30 a.m. – 6 p.m. — PGA Tour Live
Early TV coverage: 12:30 – 2:30 p.m. on Golf Channel
Live TV coverage: 2:30 – 6:30 p.m. on CBS
Live simulcast: 2:30 – 6:30 p.m. on CBSSports.com and the CBS Sports App
Radio: 1 – 6:30 p.m. — PGA Tour Radio
Bobrovsky bounces back, Panthers win Game 3 of Stanley Cup Final – NHL.com
SUNRISE, Fla. — Before Matthew Tkachuk and Carter Verhaeghe were the late-game heroes for the Florida Panthers, Sergei Bobrovsky was back to doing what he did best.
The Panthers goalie rebounded from being pulled in his previous start to make 25 saves in in a 3-2 overtime victory against the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final at FLA Live Arena on Thursday.
Florida still trails 2-1 in the best-of-7 series, with Game 4 here Saturday (8 p.m. ET; TNT, TBS, truTV, CBC, SN, TVAS), but has life now after rallying from 2-1 deficit with Tkachuk scoring the tying goal with 2:13 left in the third period and Verhaeghe scoring the winner 4:27 into overtime. But the Panthers wouldn’t have been in position to pull out the first Stanley Cup Final victory in their history without Bobrovsky.
He was at his best in the second period, stopping 12 of the 13 shots he faced to prevent Vegas from building more than a one-goal lead.
“I can’t even count how many huge saves he made tonight,” Verhaeghe said. “Probably at least 10.”
[RELATED: Complete Stanley Cup Final coverage]
Panthers coach Paul Maurice scoffed Wednesday at the suggestion that Bobrovsky might not start Game 3 after he was pulled in the second period of a 7-2 loss in Game 2 on Monday after allowing four goals on 13 shots. So, Maurice couldn’t resist asking the media postgame Thursday, “You want to ask who’s starting next game?”
Bobrovsky didn’t seem bothered that he was pulled in Game 2, saying, “It is what it is.”
“I only can control the things that I can control,” Bobrovsky said. “You try to give your best and sometimes it’s happening, so it’s OK. As long as you stay mentally [focused] and the series goes on, and tonight is a big win for us.”
Video: VGK@FLA, Gm3: Bobrovsky stops Theodore and Howden
Still, Bobrovsky wasn’t the same goalie in the first two games against Vegas as he had been in the second and third rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Toronto Maple Leafs and Carolina Hurricanes, when he was 8-1 with a 1.51 goals-against average, .954 save percentage and one shutout.
Vegas utilized screens in front and took advantage of Florida’s defensive breakdowns on rush chances to score eight times on 46 shots on Bobrovsky in the first two games. It helped that Florida played with better defensive structure in front of Bobrovsky on Thursday, but he also elevated his play to make big saves at key moments.
Among them was a glove save on defenseman Nicolas Hague‘s open shot from the left circle at 4:05 of the second period and a right pad stop on Jonathan Marchessault‘s shot from the left circle at 5:49 of the second to keep the score tied 1-1.
“He’s been doing it for us all year and especially the last couple weeks,” Panthers forward Sam Reinhart said. “When we’re in lanes, we’re kind of back defensively collapsing, it makes it a little bit easier on him and he’s been making the spectacular saves at the right time, and that’s what you need at this time of year.”
“Every game he’s giving us a chance to win the game,” Panthers center Aleksander Barkov said. “And today, no different. He was incredible for us. Made some unreal saves in literally every period. He gave us the chance to win, and we used that chance.”
Video: Panthers earn comeback OT victory in Game 3 of SCF
Bobrovsky said he didn’t feel that different than he did in Game 2.
“I felt pretty comfortable last game too, but I feel good tonight as well,” he said.
Instead, he credited his teammates for the way they played in front of him.
“This game, the coaches gave us a pretty clear plan, and I thought the guys were executing it unbelievably tonight,” Bobrovsky said. “We defended very well. We didn’t give much space or room for them, or time, so that’s a big win for us.”
Blue Jays cut ties with pitcher Anthony Bass amid backlash over anti-LGBTQ social media post
Reliever Anthony Bass has been designated for assignment by the Toronto Blue Jays.
It’s the latest development in a controversy that began last week when Bass shared a social media post that supported anti-LGBTQ boycotts.
Bass, who made a public apology last week for the post, had been scheduled to catch the ceremonial first pitch by LGBTQ advocate leZlie Lee Kam when the Jays hosted Minnesota on Friday night to kick off their Pride Weekend.
The Blue Jays said pitcher Kevin Gausman would catch the first pitch instead.
The decision to include Bass was met with criticism by some on social media.
Bass has a 0-0 record and 4.95 earned-run average over 22 appearances this season.
Toronto called up right-hander Mitch White in a corresponding roster move.
Bass had shared a since-deleted video post urging others to spurn Target and Bud Light over the support they showed for the LGBTQ community.
He said in a scrum that he initially did not think the video post — which described the selling of Pride-themed merchandise as “evil” and “demonic” — was hateful.
“That’s why I posted it originally,” he said. “When I look back at it, I can see how people can view it that way and that’s why I was apologetic.”
Before Friday’s game, Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins said the decision to cut Bass was primarily motivated by performance and not by the pitcher’s off-the-field circumstances.
“There’s a myriad of variables,” Atkins said. “Performance is usually the driving one and performance was a large aspect of this decision. Distraction was a small part of it and something we had to factor in.”
Atkins refused to say whether Bass would still be on the team if his performance had been better.
“We’re trying to build the best possible team we can build,” Atkins said. “This was a baseball decision to make our team better.”
Atkins also said it was not “a realistic option” for Bass to land in Toronto’s minor league system.
“We won’t stand in his way to be with another organization,” Atkins said.
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