Marred by COVID-19 absences, the Toronto Raptors travelled to Cleveland on Boxing Day with four of their regular NBA roster players available and four 10-day contract signees who’d never been with the team before.
It wasn’t until a few hours before the game against the Cavaliers that the Raptors even confirmed they would have the league-minimum eight players available for Sunday’s game. But they did. And they played. And it wasn’t pretty.
Toronto fell just short of making the worst kind of history, losing to Cleveland 144-99 and almost matching its worst-ever franchise loss.
Sunday’s pre-game shootaround in Cleveland was the first time the group had even been on a basketball court at the same time. Unable to practice, much less go over any specific game plan, the eight Raptors took the floor in the hopes of maintaining some sense of togetherness.
The result was pure chaos.
Led by Chris Boucher and Yuta Watanabe, the Raptors miraculously trailed by only one point after the first quarter. Watanabe’s double-double was the highlight of the night for Toronto, as he finished with 26 points and 13 rebounds over 37:10 minutes.
Recently signed forward D.J. Wilson also put up solid numbers, netting 15 points in 33:44 minutes.
From the second quarter onward, however, all hell broke loose.
The Cavs, who were missing three starters of their own due to COVID-19, took control of the game and put the nail in the coffin with a 47-point third period.
When all was said and done, Toronto hung on just enough to finish a point short of matching the worst loss in franchise history.
After the loss, there were those who chose to look ahead.
While others picked the route of questioning how a game like that was even allowed to go on in the first place.
Regardless of the result, the internet had a lot of love for the eight guys on the court for the Raptors on Sunday night.
Edmonton’s playoff hopes took a serious hit on Thursday, with the 13th-place team losing 6-0 to Florida. It was the Oilers’ seventh straight loss — and their 13th loss in the past 15 games — and it put them six points back of San Jose for the final Wild Card spot in the West.
The team needs Evander Kane more than ever, as well as an upgrade in net and possibly a new voice behind the bench.
Based on what lies ahead, it could also use a ventilator.
On Wednesday, the league released its revised schedule for all the games that had been postponed due to COVID-19. Mostly, the NHL’s schedule makers just crammed a bunch of games (95 in total) during the three-week window that was originally blocked off for the Olympic break.
Now, there is no break. And for the Oilers, who play their final 46 games over 98 days — roughly a game every other day for the next three months — there’s little chance to take even the slightest of breaths.
Seriously, what did Connor McDavid ever do to Gary Bettman to get him so angry? Edmonton’s path to the post-season is not just an uphill climb — it’s now also littered with potholes, as well as several back-to-backs and a couple of insane stretches where they will play three games in four nights.
Even if they manage to survive this gauntlet and sneak into the playoffs, what’s the point if they won’t have anything left in the tank?
Of course, it’s not just Edmonton that will be challenged in the weeks ahead.
Every team got a bunch of games dumped on their lap next month. Winnipeg now has 10 games in 17 days, while Montreal will play eight games in 15 days.
All it means is that February, which typically represented the dog days of the calendar might now be the most pivotal month on the schedule.
Depth is going to be tested like never before. You better have a backup goalie, because you’re going to need him. And you better have a fourth line that plays more than six minutes a night.
For Edmonton, this could be just a little problematic.
The Oilers don’t have a backup goalie. These days, they don’t even have a No. 1 that they trust. As for spreading the minutes around, Oilers’ defenceman Darnell Nurse is averaging the second-most ice time of any player in the NHL, while Leon Draisaitl and McDavid are logging more minutes than any other forward.
With the team chasing the pack — and playing from behind in most games — there’s little chance that their ice time will be decreased. If anything, it’s probably going to be going up, especially if Dave Tippett is still coaching.
After all, the Oilers can’t afford to have another losing month. They can barely afford to have another losing week.
With so many games scheduled in so few days, the playoff picture is coming into focus faster than ever. By the end of the month, we should have a clear indication of where teams stand heading into the March 21 trade deadline.
That is, if any teams are left standing by then.
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TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
Record: 24-10-3, 51 points (3rd in Atlantic)
Games rescheduled: 9
The result: From Jan. 31 to Feb. 27, Toronto plays 12 games in 29 days. But that is still less than the 14 games they played in the month of November.
What it means: The Leafs got off real easy. They now have two back-to-backs scheduled, but one is a home-and-home against Devils — meaning both teams will be at a disadvantage — and the other features the 10th-place Blue Jackets and the last-place Canadiens If anything, this could be Toronto’s chance to put points in the bank.
Record: 11-20-2, 24 points (9th in Atlantic)
Games rescheduled: 15
The result: The Senators’ schedule looks completely different. They now have 10 new games in February — including two that were originally scheduled for April and got moved up. Too bad fans won’t be allowed in the building for most of those games.
What it means: Though Ottawa is probably not going to make the playoffs, there had been talk that the Senators would be playing games in May. That didn’t happen. But there are 16 games in April, at a time when the 31st overall team could be playing meaningless hockey.
Record: 8-25-6, 22 points (10th in Atlantic)
Games rescheduled: 12
The result: During a three-week span in February, Montreal will play eight games in 15 days. All but one of those games is at home, which might not be a good thing based on how the team has been playing.
What it means: Not a whole lot. It’s a pity the NHL even bothered to reschedule Montreal’s games. All it does is delay the inevitable.
Record: 18-11-6, 42 points (5th in Pacific)
Games rescheduled: 10
The result: The revised schedule includes three back-to-backs in February and increases the number of games they’ll play in the month from four to 11. But Calgary also gets seven straight games at home.
What it means: Compared to the teams they’re jockeying with for playoff positions, the Flames got off relatively easy. Their toughest stretch is a back-to-back against Vegas and Toronto. But they are book-ended with games against Arizona and the New York Islanders, which should allow Calgary to breathe while others might be running out of breath.
Record: 18-18-3, 39 points (6th in Pacific)
Games rescheduled: 7
The result: Vancouver will play six of the seven rescheduled games during what was supposed to be the Olympic break (Feb. 7 to 22). All but one of those games are at home. Consider it payback for what the league put the Canucks through a year ago.
What it means: If you were hoping the Canucks had a shot at grabbing a wild card spot, you’re probably feeling optimistic right now. Sure, they still have to win those games. But considering that the team is 10-3-1 since Bruce Boudreau stepped behind the bench, would it surprise anyone if Vancouver ends up with the most points out of the Canadian teams out West?
Record: 18-16-2, 38 points (7th in Pacific)
Games rescheduled: 9
The result: Someone in the league office does not appear to be an Oilers fan. How else do you explain that Edmonton now comes out of the All-Star Game (in which Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are both attending) and immediately plays eight games in 13 days? Or that the team twice plays three games in four nights?
What it means: Kiss those playoffs goodbye! Seriously, this schedule is going to reveal what the Oilers are made of. This has already been a difficult season for McDavid and Draisaitl, who are feeling the pressure like never before. Now, they have to chase a playoff spot while running on fumes, with the team staring down a five-game road swing at the end of February against Tampa Bay, Florida, Carolina, Philadelphia and Chicago.
Record: 17-13-6, 40 points (5th in Central)
Games rescheduled: 9
The result: From Feb. 11 to Feb. 21, Winnipeg plays seven games in 11 days.
What it means: After playing six times in the past four weeks, the Jets are going to be busy in February. There are now 12 games scheduled, with 11 of them coming in the final three weeks of the month. The team will pretty much be playing every other night — or every night, considering there are three back-to-backs also scheduled. And because six of those games are against divisional rivals, this should be a make-or-break month for Winnipeg.
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