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Raptors face lineup questions ahead of Fred VanVleet’s return

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TORONTO – Norman Powell came streaking down along the left side of the floor, just a few steps ahead of Toronto Raptors teammate Pascal Siakam who was dribbling down the court in transition with the ball.

The two made eye contact and then, just a step inside the free-throw line, Siakam threw a sky-high lob, confident Powell could climb the ladder and finish off the ambitious-looking alley with an emphatic oop.

“I just helped him reach his potential, that’s it,” Siakam joked Tuesday afternoon, a day after that exclamation-like alley-oop play in the Raptors’ 133-113 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers Monday night. “He didn’t know he had that, he hasn’t been dunking like that. Just make sure that he knows he’s got that. That’s my job.”

That big slam was part of 26-point outburst by Powell, as he’s continued his consistently strong play of late, with Monday’s outing marking the first time he’s scored at least 20 points in three consecutive games in his NBA career.

These three games have also coincided with Powell getting inserted back into the starting lineup, due to the injury to Fred VanVleet. Powell has always performed better as starter, but this season it’s become even more apparent as his 17.6 points per game scoring average, 52.1 per cent shooting from the field and 43.9 per cent shooting from three-point range as a starter is miles better than the numbers he’s put up off the bench (10.5 points, 44.8 per cent field-goal percentage and 31.1 per cent from deep).

 

And both outside and from within the Raptors, people have noticed the stark difference between the Powell who starts and the Powell who comes in reserve.

“Yep, it certainly will make me reconsider it,” said Raptors coach Nick Nurse after Monday’s game when asked if Powell’s play might make him reassess sending Powell back to a bench role when VanVleet returns to the lineup.

Following up on this thought Tuesday, Nurse was asked about the developing scenario of choosing between Powell or VanVleet in the staring lineup and turned it into an apparent situation of another kind.

“I don’t know that it would be Fred, that’s why I’m hesitating to answer your question,” Nurse said after looking around at the gathered group of reporters in comical, mock smart-aleck way.

“I don’t know that it’d be Fred. But yeah, they all wanna start,” Nurse continued. “We’ve been through this a million times, right? Like with Serge [Ibaka] a year ago, with Jonas [Valanciunas], you know, we’ve been through it.”

And it would seem that the Raptors will be going through it once again — but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

The Raptors’ roster versatility and the malleability seen in the starting lineup is something Nurse wants to do more of to be better prepared come the post-season.

“From my past experiences it felt like we were always locked into a set lineup and then all of a sudden we were facing a team and we had bad matchups to start the game,” Nurse said. “Then it was hard, almost impossible to have those conversations that we were switching. Like, devastating that time of year.

“You start all 82 and then all of a sudden here come the playoffs and you’re not. So I think I’m just trying to lessen the devastation factor.”

Added Siakam: “Because we played with different lineups all year [last season] you feel comfortable with anyone on the floor.”

Given how last season finished, experimenting with different lineup combinations, including in the starting lineup, isn’t a bad idea for Nurse and the Raptors, especially when they have a good problem such as the Powell and VanVleet dilemma.

In regards to the starters, specifically, there’s a lot that goes into his decision of who starts the game.

“I think just fit sometimes, like, what guys fit with maybe the first group or the second group a little bit better, that’s one thing. Or just some guys that have maybe risen their level of play that deserve more minutes, and you get ’em into a starter’s rotation, and that’s the easiest way to get ’em those more minutes.

“And the other thing is, you guys remember from a year ago, I like to use some flexibility in the starting lineup throughout the course of the year because I see in the playoffs that you may have to do that sometimes. You may have to switch your starting lineup, and it seems a strange time to do it for the first time all year, or to be so rigid all year long and then ask your team all of a sudden to be open-minded and flexible. So that would be another reason, just to change it around a little bit.”

There will be interesting decisions within the Raptors starting lineup for Nurse to make with, perhaps, those judgments being passed sooner than later. VanVleet’s knee looks to be nearly fully healed as he was spotted during practice in a one-on-one drill looking explosive off the dribble and getting good elevation on his jump shot.

Nurse said it’s “not likely” VanVleet will play Wednesday night against the Detroit Pistons, but he can’t be too far from a return now.

A return that could see Powell, him, or maybe someone else entirely forced to the bench.

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FedExCup update: Adam Scott bursts FedExCup, Presidents Cup bubbles – PGA TOUR

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GERMANTOWN, Tenn. – Adam Scott has been at it for more than two decades. He admits that visiting the same venues and tournaments annually can sometimes lead to complacency. But having an objective gave him inspiration this week at the FedExCup St. Jude Championship.


RELATED: Leaderboard | FedExCup standings


Scott entered the first week of the FedExCup Playoffs at 77th in the standings, needing a solid finish just to advance to the next event.

He got it, shooting four rounds of par or better to finish T5 at 11 under par. He jumped 32 spots in the FedExCup to No. 45, ensuring his first BMW start in two years.

“It was really about putting my mind to (doing) something and getting it done,” Scott said. “I think that’s sometimes the hardest thing at this point in my career, … switching your mind on all the time. Floating around on autopilot sometimes … doesn’t get you very far, so I had to focus a little bit more.”

This was Scott’s fourth top-10 in 18 starts this season, but first in a stroke-play event since The Genesis Invitational in February. It’s been a solid season – he’s missed just two cuts and posted top-15s at the year’s last two majors – but lacked the high finishes that rack up points.

This was a well-timed performance, also. Scott was playing not only for his FedExCup fate this week. He also wanted to secure his status on the International Presidents Cup Team. The top eight in the team’s standings after next week’s BMW Championship will earn automatic spots on Trevor Immelman’s International Team that will face the U.S. at Charlotte’s Quail Hollow Club on Sept. 22-25.

Scott arrived at TPC Southwind ranked eighth on the Internationals’ points list. While a Captain’s Pick would be a certainty should he not earn an automatic spot on the roster, Scott’s performance at TPC Southwind frees up another pick for Captain Trevor Immelman.

“That is huge for us,” Immelman said about Scott earning his spot. “There’s no doubt about it. When I got this job, he was one of the guys that I had sort of earmarked that would be very important to be (at Quail Hollow).”

The added flexibility is appreciated. Immelman has lots of options.

Presidents Cup veterans like Marc Leishman, Jason Day, Adam Hadwin, Si Woo Kim, Anirban Lahiri, Jhonattan Vegas and Emiliano Grillo are outside the top eight, as are up-and-comers like Min Woo Lee, Ryan Fox, Taylor Pendrith and Christiaan Bezuidenhout and PGA TOUR winners such as Sebastian Munoz, Mackenzie Hughes, Lucas Herbert and Cam Davis.

Scott led the field in Strokes Gained: Putting this week, gaining nearly 4 strokes in the final round alone. He salvaged an even-par round Saturday despite not playing well, then shot 66 on Sunday. He could’ve moved even farther up the FedExCup if not for a drive into the water on the 72nd hole, though he was able to salvage bogey.

Immelman thinks his team’s veteran presence is trending in the right direction and close to earning his first PGA TOUR win since the 2020 Genesis Invitational, which fell right before the COVID-19 pandemic.

“His swing seems to be in a good spot. The sound is right,” Immelman said. “I really think he has become a good putter over the last three years. When you match that together, I think he’s right there.”

Immelman, who also is an announcer for CBS, enjoys spending time on the range at PGA TOUR events, scouting out the players whose shots he’ll call and potential team members. Scott has noticed.

“He’s been watching me grind away every week, the old dog out here, grinding me into the ground trying to make his team,” Scott says. He and Immelman have been friends since their amateur days, and Scott is a de facto Captain’s Assistant, qualified to give input on a variety of matters.

It was a five-minute speech that Scott gave to his teammates as they drove to Royal Melbourne for their first practice rounds three years ago that helped the International Team take the lead going into Sunday.

“It was so amazing, so heartfelt,” Immelman said. “It really meant a lot, particularly when you factor in that we had seven rookies on that team.”

Scott did what he needed to do Sunday to help Immelman, and to advance in the FedExCup Playoffs.


Friends since their junior golf days in Dallas. The past two PGA TOUR Rookies of the Year. Now Will Zalatoris and Scottie Scheffler are the top two players in the FedExCup standings.

Scheffler has been leading since March but with points quadrupled in the Playoffs, Zalatoris was able to supplant Scheffler, who missed the cut in Memphis, atop the FedExCup.

Zalatoris now holds a 125-point lead over Scheffler. Cameron Smith dropped a spot to third in the standings after his T13 at TPC Southwind and will round out the headlining group at the BMW Championship.

Zalatoris’ win in FedEx St. Jude Championship came in his first career Playoffs start.

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Latvia in QF, Slovakia out – IIHF

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The teams had met only three times previously in World Junior play, most recently in 2012, and Czechia won all three by a combined score of 19-5.

Both goalies were playing in their third of four games for their respective teams, Jan Bednar having the better GAA than Bruveris – 3.36 to 3.84 – but it was Bruveris who made the difference today.

“We believed we could win,” Darels Dukurs said. “We just played one game at a time and gave it our best. We played like a team and fought for each other. We stayed focus the whole time.”

The Latvians got just the start they needed, jumping into a 2-0 lead by the halfway point of the period. Martins Lavins got the opener on a fine rush by Harijs Brants. He drove down the left wing and got the puck in front to Lavins, who quickly re-directed the puck between the open pads of Jan Bednar at 4:30.

They made it 2-0 at 12:21 off another great pass from behind the goal line. This time it was Raimonds Vitolins who fed Rainers Rullers in front. Rullers lifted a high shot over the shoulder of Bednar.

Latvia then took two successive penalties. The PK was letter perfect on the first and dodged a bullet on the second before finally succumbing. Michal Gut took a back-door pass that left him with nothing but net to shoot at, but he shot wide and looked heavenward for answers that could be more easily found on his stick tape.

But moments later he was given another opportunity through a hard pass cross crease from captain Jan Mysak, and this one he didn’t miss.

The Vitolins-Rullers combo had another sensational chance early in the second to make it a 3-1 game, but this time Bednar came across and made a great save on Rullers. Latvia had two power plays soon after but couldn’t capitalize, and it started to feel as though they had squandered chances to take control of the game.

Indeed, Czechia tied the score at 9:33 on a broken play. Captain Ralfs Bergmanis blocked a shot in front, but it landed with Stanislav Svozil. He moved in and roofed a backhand over Bruveris, and that feeling of lost opportunities care to the fore.

But credit to Latvia, and to Bergmanis in particular. He put his team ahead at 11:15 after David Jiricek made a poor clearing. Bergmanis’s quick point shot fooled Bednar and gave the underdogs another lead. Bruveris scored again six minutes later on a similar shot during a power play when his long wrister beat Bednar high.

Bednar was replaced by Tomas Suchanek to start the third, but he faced only three shots as his teammates fired 17 on Brumanis without scoring. Czechia had a golden chance to cut the lead midway through the period when Lavins closed his hand on the puck in the crease, resulting in a penalty shot. But Mysak was stoned by Bruveris and kept it a 4-2 game.

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Rory MacDonald announces retirement after 2022 PFL Playoffs exit – MMA Fighting

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Rory MacDonald is stepping away from competition after a devastating loss.

The former Bellator welterweight champion and longtime UFC contender announced his retirement on Sunday, one day after losing by first-round TKO to Dilano Taylor in the 2022 PFL semifinals.

MacDonald, 33, broke the news via Instagram.

“My time has come to put the gloves down for good,” MacDonald wrote. “I’m so thankful for this sport and every person I’ve been able to meet along the way.

“I started this sport as a 14-year-old kid, I still remember my first day and knowing this is what I want to spend my life doing. The passion for martial arts and becoming a pro MMA fighter gave me hope and a way to a better life! And I’m so thankful to God for putting that gym Toshido MMA in kelowna in my path. It truly changed the direction of my life and saved me!

“What an adventure this career has been, 17 years of professional fighting. It all came and went so fast! So many painful trainings that are etched into my being, travelling to all parts of the planet and meeting so many people.

“I’ve learned so much about myself through this career, not all of it good. And I’ve made so many mistakes along the way, but here I am 33 years old a better man because of those mistakes, to which I’m very grateful I’ve grown up.”

MacDonald went on to thank fans for their support, as well as the UFC, Bellator, and the PFL.

Debuting in 2005, MacDonald quickly emerged as one of the hottest prospects in his native Canada, beginning his career 10-0. He eventually took his talents to Montreal’s Tristar Gym, where he trained alongside UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre. MacDonald joined the UFC in 2010, where he won eight of his first 10 fights, including a dominant decision win over future welterweight champion Tyron Woodley.

“The Red King” had his shot at the UFC’s 170-pound title at UFC 189 in July 2015, where he lost by fifth-round TKO to Robbie Lawler in one of the greatest fights in MMA history.

In 2017, MacDonald signed with Bellator and captured a welterweight title by beating Douglas Lima in just his second bout for the promotion. He successfully defended his belt twice before ceding it back to Lima in the finals of a grand prix tournament. MacDonald also unsuccessfully challenged Gegard Mousasi for the Bellator middleweight championship.

The last leg of MacDonald’s career came with the PFL. He signed with the league in 2019, but failed to recapture his previous success, going just 2-4 including the stunning loss to Taylor that was the final fight of his career.

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