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Raptors feeling confident, ready for challenges ahead of NBA restart



TORONTO – Just a week into the new normal and the Toronto Raptors are already making it seem like things are pretty normal.

Or as normal as things can possibly be when you’re a team about to head into a bubble for the resumption of a season that was suspended because of an ongoing global pandemic.

Still in just the second media availability since the team touched down in Florida as they begin their preparations for the NBA season’s restart, had it not been for the fact this availability was taking place over Zoom, with the way the Raptors were talking, you could’ve sworn this was a regular training camp availability.

“It’s kind of like a basketball camp feel. We’re in the dead of summer so that too kind of makes it feel like basketball camp,” said Raptors coach Nick Nurse Tuesday. “As far as what I have seen, it’s been great. Players look fantastic, I mean absolutely. When you see them with the eyeball test, they look great. Their attitudes have also been fantastic and it feels like we are in really early stages of kind of getting back going because it’s such a limited one-on-one skill work, individual type thing we are doing now, but everyone is in a good frame of mind.”

Added Norman Powell: “I think we’ve come in, in great shape. I think guys have done a great job of making the most of what they can and working with what’s available to them. There’s not guys that are out of shape or lagging behind. Everybody’s in great, general shape in talking to different guys on the team. We feel good.

“Obviously we’re a little bit rusty and haven’t been in this high quality of workouts and in basketball for a while, but everybody has been doing what they can, and everybody looks good, feels good, they are confident, and ready to get back into the full swing of things.”

There may have also been some “best condition of my life” talk in there, too.

But sarcasm aside, there’s little denying this is a very confident Raptors group heading into the NBA season’s resumption.

Starting all the way from the top with team president Masai Ujiri saying his team is going to be “awesome” when games start back up Monday, there’s an air of confidence coming from the Raptors at the moment that might be mistaken for cockiness if not for the fact they are the defending champions that, before the season suspended boasted the third-best record in the whole league – even without Kawhi Leonard.

As Nurse explained it, this is a confidence borne from the team’s past experiences together and the fact each member of the team pulls for each other, another reason, perhaps, why everyone came back into this restart camp in as good shape as everyone said they did.

“I didn’t know if we were going to be not really in the right frame of mind or whatever and whatever it was I was going to kind of deal with it, but I would say I am pleasantly surprised with the frame of mind, I am pleasantly surprised with the conditioning and I just think you have a bunch of guys who have a high care factor,” said Nurse. “They love to play, they are guys that are concerned about getting better individually, about their own careers, and it just seems like they’re doing a really professional job. I just think there is a strong love of the game there for a lot of these guys.”

The most visible example of this, at least from photos, has definitely been Marc Gasol, who hasn’t played a game since Jan. 28 recovering from a hamstring injury., and has looked far slimmer than recent memory would serve.

Gasol is with the team in Naples, Fla., right now and so for those who don’t believe the transformation, it’s the real deal.

“The chiselled Marc. Cut up. He looks great,” Nurse said of Gasol’s new physique. “Listen, you guys know how highly I think of him already. He is such a great player. I think it’s motivating for people around him. He certainly looks fantastic. I don’t know, maybe a leaner Marc gets him to more rebounds, gets him to better defensive positions more quickly – not that those are a problem – but maybe he’s going to produce more in those things. Maybe his legs stay in there late in the games for some three-balls. I don’t know. If his conditioning improves him as a player, it’s going to be a super added bonus for us.”

Powell was equally as impressed by Gasol’s transformation.

“The change is that drastic,” said Powell. “I make fun of him all the time looking like a soccer player in Barcelona. He looks great, man, he’s moving great. He’s feeling great, in talking to him. I’m supposed to be playing tennis with him either tomorrow or the next day, so hopefully I’ll still be able to give him a run for his money.”

If Gasol is in good enough condition to chase Powell around the base line, then league look out.

But in all seriousness, if you’re a Raptors fan hearing how well-conditioned the Raptors have managed to keep themselves in this three-month-plus layoff so far has to be encouraging.

Nurse did admit that because the team is just relegated to individual work at the moment, there’s going to be some rust that needs to shake off for proper five-on-five play – “everyone always says that you can never really get in basketball shape unless you’re playing basketball” – but for the most part, the Raptors have done an excellent job of preparing themselves for this moment even before anyone had any clue that the 2019-20 season would resume.

All that extracurricular work will pay off when the season resumes, particularly with how tough Toronto’s eight-game seeding schedule is.

Facing the second-hardest schedule of the 22 teams that made it into the Disney World bubble, however, Nurse and the Raptors aren’t running scared from the sight of it, they’re embracing the challenge and want to make the most of this hurdle in their way before the playoffs hit.

“I like it, I like the schedule,” said Nurse. “I think it’s great to see the Lakers again, Milwaukee again, just to get a feel for them again. I think we’re playing really quality teams, I think every team we’ve got is a playoff team, so, obviously, those are good teams, so I like it.”

With how good the Raptors were before the suspension and the confidence the team is conveying right now, though it’s still early in the process before their first return game on Aug. 1, Nurse has good reason to want this challenge right out of the gate.

His team already seems ready for it.

Quick Dribbles

• Another matter of great importance discussed during Tuesday’s Raptors conference call was the ongoing discussion of social and racial justice, not just in the United States, but in Canada as well.

Powell addressed this matter, mentioning how it might be a good idea to use his platform as an NBA player to even make matters of racial justice on Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment’s radar in order to help out the community in Toronto.

“We’ve talked about both sides of the spectrum,” said Powell. “Racial injustice is not just happening in America, it’s happening worldwide and I think the focus has been on the United States, but for us, it’s been a privilege to be the only team in Canada and to have that platform and to speak out about the inequalities and injustices both State-side and in Toronto and Canada as a whole. We’re taking that very serious.

“We have a very diverse team. A mix of Canadians, Europeans, people from the United States and everybody has their own personal stories, own personal instances that they’ve experienced in their lives and we’re trying to adjust it all.

“That comes from talking of how we can put on notice with MLSE how we reach out and do things in the community in Toronto and help there but not only in Toronto but in our communities back home for each and every player.”

• And to Powell’s point about what can be done beyond just the United States, Nurse has met with the other NBA head coaches to discuss the matter and he and Raptors assistant coach Jim Sann are even organizing an effort to get U.S. ex-pats abroad the ability to be registered to vote in the U.S. election.

“You might have saw that Atlanta is using their arena as a voting station,” Nurse said. “One of the big pushes you might have saw the article quickly mentioned that Jim Sann and I are pushing voters abroad, it’s a 650,000 to a million ex-pats living in Canada and we’re going to try to get out a message on our platform of registering them to vote in the upcoming election, which will also get worldwide to all U.S. citizens across there.”

Later adding: “I think like with anything, it’s a probably really old initiative that’s hard to get the message out, and we’re hoping to help, we’re hoping to help raise awareness, and use our platforms.

“…We’ll just do some PSA type things, and that’ll involve a few of the players, we’ve already asked a few of the players to be involved, just directing them where to go, how to register and that’s the main thing, direct them to the website and get their registration going and get the wheels in motion and then there’ll be a couple of other steps once we get closer.”


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Trump criticizes Redskins, Indians sports teams for considering name changes – Global News



President Donald Trump on Monday criticizing a pair of sports teams that are considering name changes in the wake of a national reckoning over racial injustice and inequality.

Trump tweeted, “They name teams out of STRENGTH, not weakness, but now the Washington Redskins & Cleveland Indians, two fabled sports franchises, look like they are going to be changing their names in order to be politically correct.”

Trump, in his tweet, also mentioned Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren, saying, “Indians, like Elizabeth Warren, must be very angry right now!” Trump has repeatedly mocked Warren, who ran for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, for claiming Native American heritage, derisively calling her “Pocahontas.”

Read more:
Trump ‘will not even consider’ removing names of Confederate leaders from U.S. bases

The NFL’s Redskins announced Friday that they had begun a “thorough review” of their name, which has been deemed offensive by Native American groups for decades. The Redskins’ decision came after FedEx, which paid $205 million for naming rights to the team’s stadium, and other corporate partners called for the team to change its nickname.

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Hours later, the Indians Major League Baseball team announced that they, too, will review their long-debated name.

“We are committed to making a positive impact in our community and embrace our responsibility to advance social justice and equality,” the team said in a statement.

Edmonton Eskimos to keep team name

Edmonton Eskimos to keep team name

Trump has spent the last few days stoking divisions and exploiting racial tensions, accusing protesters who have pushed for racial justice of engaging in a “merciless campaign to wipe out our history.”

Earlier Monday, he lashed out at NASCAR and wrongly accused the sport’s only full-time Black driver of perpetrating “a hoax” when a crew member found a noose in the team garage stall.

Trump had tweeted in 2013 that then-President Barack Obama “should not be telling the Washington Redskins to change their name” because “our country has far bigger problems! FOCUS on them, not nonsense.”

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© 2020 The Canadian Press

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Dallas will not compete in MLS tournament after 10 positive COVID-19 tests – TSN



FC Dallas has withdrawn from the MLS is Back Tournament after 10 players and one member of the club’s technical staff tested positive for COVID-19.

Major League Soccer said each of the positive tests occurred upon the club’s arrival in Florida or within a few days after.

“Given the impact of the number of positive tests on the club’s ability to train and play competitive matches, we have made the decision to withdraw FC Dallas from the MLS is Back Tournament,” MLS commissioner Don Garber said in a statement.

“The health of everyone involved in our return to play has always been our top priority, and we will continue to make decisions consistent with that priority.”

The tournament, now down to 25 teams, starts Wednesday at Disney’s Wide World of Sports complex in the Orlando area.

The league said of the 557 players currently in Orlando, 13 have been confirmed positive for COVID-19. Aside from the 10 from Dallas, two from Nashville and one from Columbus also tested positive.

Toronto FC and the Vancouver Whitecaps left Monday for the World Cup-style tournament. The Montreal Impact arrived last Thursday.

The Whitecaps were originally slated to open against Dallas on Thursday. But the game was pushed back after six members of the Dallas contingent tested positive in Florida and Vancouver had to delay its scheduled departure last Wednesday due to a pair of inconclusive test results. That prompted more testing in Vancouver, which subsequently came back negative.

The Whitecaps will now open July 15 against San Jose.

Toronto was scheduled to take off last Friday but pushed its departure to Saturday, citing the need for more time to complete pre-travel coronavirus testing. The club had to postpone again after a member of its travelling party reported “experiencing symptoms,” requiring another round of testing.

The Colorado Rapids, originally due to leave Sunday, delayed their departure to Tuesday after a pair of “presumptive positive” COVID-19 results in its travelling party.

The tournament wraps up Aug. 11.

The Impact play the New England Revolution on Thursday. Toronto is slated to open Friday against D.C. United.

MLS has been on hiatus since March 12 when the global pandemic halted play two weeks into the season.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 6, 2020.

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NHL season likely to proceed despite positive COVID-19 tests – News1130



VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — NHL players have only been back on the ice for a couple of weeks and already there are nearly three dozen positive COVID-19 cases in their small bubbles. But with training camps set to start in a week, the league is unlikely to cancel the 2020 season, according to Scott Rintoul, host with Sportsnet 650.

“The percentage testing positive is very much in line with what we were seeing before, around five and a half per cent — lower than a lot of the other sports, some of which have tried to get up and running, again,” Rintoul said.

“The good news for the NHL is they still have time. They can still tweak their protocols, if necessary.”

The key, he added, is to safely get players to the hub cities, expected to the Edmonton and Toronto, and to keep them in their bubbles.

Alberta’s chief medical health officer said it is possible for Edmonton to safely be a hub city. But Dr. Deena Hinshaw said the province has set out firm COVID-19 guidelines for the league that would have to be followed, otherwise the province would step in.

“If guidance is not being followed, if it’s being disregarded, and if the public’s health is being put at risk, then we would follow the same steps that we would take with any other organizer, in terms of that same kind of ladder of follow-up with conversations, education, and, if needed, measures to ensure that compliance was in place,” Hinshaw said.


The league and players association announced penalties Monday for team officials who leave the bubbles, including dismissal, fines and loss of draft picks.

Initially, families won’t join players in the hub cities, and the league is reportedly offering to assist the families with errands, such as groceries.

NHL games are to resume in early August, with 24 teams taking part in an expanded playoffs, finishing with the Stanley Cup being awarded in October.

Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said on Sunday the NHL and NHL Players’ Association have agreed on protocols to resume the season. That includes daily testing once games get underway for players, coaches, and staff.

However, Daly said the sides are still negotiating a collective bargaining agreement extension. A CBA extension is still crucial to the process, and the league’s board of governors, the players’ executive committee, and full membership must approve that and the return-to-play protocols to bring hockey back this summer.

If ratified, it will end a pandemic-forced shutdown for 31 teams across North America that began in mid-March.

The NHL says 35 players in total have tested positive for the novel coronavirus over roughly the past month.

The league says 23 of 396 players checked for COVID-19 at team facilities have tested positive since voluntary workouts began June 8, a five-per-cent rate.

In that same period of time, it is aware of 12 additional positive test results.

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