Respect, like children’s belief in fairies, or lithium, is a tenuous resource. The Toronto Raptors have a long-standing feud with respect. Although it’s by no means unique to Toronto, fans of the team often feel personally disrespected by referees, media narratives, and free agents’ decisions. As the home of the only NBA team not based in the United States of America, national media coverage can occasionally dismiss Toronto and its accomplishments.
Many Toronto players have themselves used the constant weight of disrespect to fuel their careers. Terence Davis and Fred VanVleet are famously connected by the similarity of their origin stories: undrafted guards who’ve had to earn every minute they’ve ever played in the NBA. So many Raptors’ slogans are tied to that very idea: bet on yourself, understand the grind, make ‘em believe. The core concept between all three is that others don’t bet on you, don’t believe. They lack respect.
Hosting a Christmas Day game is one of the ultimate signs of respect in the NBA. The regular season’s most appetizing slate of games is intended to be reserved for the best teams and the most compelling rivalries, and it’s impossible to leave the defending champion out of the mix. So, for the first time in NBA history, a Christmas Day game took place outside of the United States.
In the brightest timeline, Toronto was supposed to host a Christmas coming-out party to a league that can occasionally be dismissive of its efforts. Pascal Siakam was supposed to explode for 40 points on a broadcast whose network hyped the Christmas games with only negative highlights of the Raptors. Toronto was supposed to bet on itself.
Instead, the Raptors were out-gunned and out-classed by a disciplined Boston Celtics in a 118-102 loss that seemed even worse than the final score. Kemba Walker dribbled into countless pull-up triples as Toronto, missing Marc Gasol, was too afraid of Boston’s offensive rebounding to lift its center out of the paint. Nick Nurse even admitted that yielding those shots was within the scope of the gameplan, at least until Walker started hitting them. Jaylen Brown stole Siakam’s spotlight as the best player in the game, hitting every variety of shot, no matter the defensive pressure, en route to his game-high 30 points.
There were, as always, some positives. Kyle Lowry was, as has been the norm since Toronto lost so much of its talent to injury, a masterclass on the offensive end. Chris Boucher was fantastic and decisive; he closed the game for Toronto over Serge Ibaka. Fred VanVleet’s shot remains absent since his return from injury, but he finished fantastically inside the arc and finished with 27 points. Still, when one of Lowry, Boucher, or VanVleet wasn’t manufacturing miracle offense, Toronto had trouble scoring in the half-court and committed countless unforced errors in transition.
The Raptors fell flat in one of the team’s few spotlight moments of the year. The defending champions did not earn respect with their Christmas performance. It’s possible that until they win another championship, as one MLSE employee (wishfully?) said to me before the game, Toronto will never again host a Christmas game. After the Christmas letdown, ESPN will likely continue ignoring the defending champions this season, and perhaps rightfully so.
Disrespect can, of course, also yield benefits. Disrespect on the court yields open shots, particularly for underappreciated players like Chris Boucher, who shot three-of-four from deep against Boston. The ever-looming specter of disrespect can result in entire Hall of Fame careers, as in the case of Kyle Lowry and the constant, general lack of belief in his abilities outside of Toronto. Disrespect off the court can yield Christmas days spent with family rather than working, playing basketball and having to justify your performance to media members who would also rather be at home.
Disrespect, however, is a thing of the past for the Toronto Raptors.
There are no moral victories once you’re a champion, but along the same lines, there should be no real demoralizing losses either. The Toronto Raptors are defending champions, and they’re currently holding court without several of their best players. They’ve won some wacky games short-handed, but they couldn’t recreate the recipe against Boston. The lights are bright on Toronto’s first Christmas game, but that doesn’t make the game matter more. The Raptors don’t need to earn respect because they should already have it. Winning the championship has freed Toronto to lose, just as it freed them to play on Christmas at all. Respect may be a double-edged sword, but the Raptors are learning that this Christmas, they’re floating above the battlefield.
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The waiting is over in the wild rose province. Curling Alberta has made its decision on what teams will represent the province at this year’s Scotties and Brier in the Calgary bubble. Laura Walker, last year’s provincial champion, has accepted the invitation to play at this year’s Scotties. “We were excited to get the call. We wanted to wear the blue and gold and we take so much pride in representing our province,” Walker told CBC Sports. “We know there are many deserving teams in Alberta and we don’t take this honour lightly.” Walker made her Scotties debut in Moose Jaw, Sask., last year and finished with a 3-4 record. On the men’s side, Brendan Bottcher will once again be going to the Brier. Bottcher is last year’s provincial champion. He has played in the last three Brier championship games, losing twice to Brad Gushue, and two years ago to fellow Albertan Kevin Koe. It’s Bottcher’s fifth appearance at the Brier. The decision was made Sunday afternoon by the Curling Alberta board members. Massive repercussions This was a much anticipated decision as it will have massive repercussions on what other teams will attend the national championships. Curling Canada has announced a one-time expanded field for the Scotties and Brier, citing these extraordinary times in the midst of a pandemic as the reason for increasing the field to 18 teams. Normally, there are 16 teams competing at the event. However, Curling Canada has said there will be no wild-card game as it’s unfair to have teams travel all that way and make plans to only play one game. The governing body for the sport wants the best teams in the country at the event. So the first two spots will be determined by the CRTS rankings — the two teams that would normally compete in the wild-card game. The third and final team will be determined through a number of criteria. Kevin Koe, who brought in John Morris to join the team in place of Colton Flasch during the off-season, is ranked sixth. He’ll be at the event. “While we don’t agree with the decision made we are excited to have the opportunity to compete in the Calgary bubble,” Koe told CBC Sports. “Regardless of the uniform we are wearing we are a very motivated team and excited to compete for another Canadian championship and represent all our sponsors and fans.” Mike McEwen’s Manitoba rink is ranked fifth and is also a lock for the event. The last spot would then most likely go to Glenn Howard out of Ontario, as his team is currently ranked ninth. WATCH | Heroux, Jones break down Calgary culring bubble: Women’s side more complicated The women’s side is a tad more complicated. With Walker being named as Alberta representative, that means Tracy Fleury’s Manitoba rink is locked in for one of the spots with her No. 2 ranking. The next team without a Scotties spot is Chelea Carey. Her team disbanded during the off-season — Carey is a free agent. Then it’s Kelsey Rocque’s Alberta rink at No. 5. The issue for Rocque is that she changed two of four players during the off-season — and Curling Canada rules explicitly state three of four members need to return to be eligible. That eliminates the Rocque rink from the two CRTS spots — however, the team might be considered for the third spot. There is a potential situation brewing that could include last year’s world junior champion Mackenzie Zacharias. Her Manitoba rink is ranked 11th. This all comes in the wake of a number of jurisdictions cancelling their playdowns. To date, eight jurisdictions across Canada have now cancelled their playdowns — they include: B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Northern Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia. The final spots are expected to be filled over the next couple of weeks. Women Canada — Kerri Einarson. B.C. — Corryn Brown. Alberta — Laura Walker Saskatchewan — Sherry Anderson. Manitoba — Jennifer Jones. Ontario — Rachel Homan. Northern Ontario — Krysta Burns. Quebec — Laurie St-Georges. Nova Scotia — Jill Brothers. Nunavut — Lori Eddy. Men Canada — Brad Gushue. B.C. — Steve Laycock. Alberta — Brendan Bottcher Saskatchewan — Matt Dunstone. Manitoba — Jason Gunnlaugson. Ontario — John Epping. Northern Ontario — Brad Jacobs. Quebec — Michael Fournier. Yukon — Dustin Mikkelsen. Nunavut — Peter Mackey. There are six major curling events planned for the Calgary curling bubble starting with the Scotties on Feb. 19. That will then lead into the men’s national championship beginning of March. 5. Following these two events, the mixed doubles championship will take place all leading to the men’s world curling championship, set to begin in early April. The final two events held inside the bubble include two Grand Slam of Curling bonspiels.
Why need for roster flexibility forced Maple Leafs’ hand in latest moves – Sportsnet.ca
TORONTO — The price of much-needed roster flexibility was a piece of the goaltending depth Kyle Dubas amassed this off-season.
The Toronto Maple Leafs lost goaltender Aaron Dell on waivers Monday before he even had a chance to play for the team. The closest Dell got was serving as Jack Campbell’s backup in Ottawa on Saturday night and now he’s off to New Jersey, where the Devils have been searching for more help since Corey Crawford’s retirement in training camp.
Toronto knew it had little chance of sneaking a 31-year-old with more than 100 games of NHL experience through the waiver wire, especially in this marketplace. There have been five goaltender claims since the NHL season began and it’s believed Edmonton was going to grab Dell if New Jersey didn’t take him first.
The move was necessitated by the fact the Leafs were only able to carry 18 skaters under the salary cap ceiling and lost Nick Robertson to a left knee injury that will sideline him for at least the next four weeks.
“[Robertson] had an MRI yesterday. The results we got back … I guess we would classify it as good news considering how it was looking,” Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said before Monday’s game against Winnipeg. “But he is going to miss some time.”
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The fact Robertson will miss at least 24 days and 10 games allows him to be placed on long-term injured reserve while he’s out. In waiving Dell and veteran centre Jason Spezza, who cleared and was assigned to the taxi squad in a paper move, Toronto was able to get just under the $81.5-million cap ceiling before placing Robertson’s salary on LTIR.
That should make it easier to move players back and forth from the taxi squad, giving Keefe more options to work with in the coming month. He put that directly to use by bringing up Mikko Lehtonen for his NHL debut against Winnipeg as part of an 11F/7D rotation.
“We want to get him going here today and really try to get a feel for how he can compete in the league, and give him a chance to do that,” Keefe said of Lehtonen. “The greatest challenge for players like him is the nature of training camp and no exhibition season is you can’t really get the kinks out, you can’t make the adjustments, you can’t make the mistakes in those games that don’t matter and then have it cleaned up by the time you’re playing for real.”
It shouldn’t be long before Rasmus Sandin, Travis Boyd and Adam Brooks jump up from the taxi squad and get some playing time as well.
Depth is necessary to get through every season, but the challenges are even greater with the compressed schedule and the lingering threat of positive COVID-19 cases.
That’s part of the reason why the Leafs brought in both Dell and Michael Hutchinson on one-way contracts in October despite already having Campbell and Frederik Andersen in-house.
“We did that before we knew what the schedule was exactly going to look like and we just wanted to make sure that we had as much depth as possible,” Dubas said earlier this month. “Not knowing the way that things were going to be, we just felt that having as many capable NHL goaltenders was going to be important.”
Hutchinson moves up to the No. 3 role with Dell on his way to New Jersey.
That could wind up being a big opportunity for him career-wise but it had to be tinged with a whiff of disappointment. Dell only got to pull on the Leafs sweater in an intra-squad scrimmage during training camp and to serve as the backup over the weekend, and never put his Felix Potvin-inspired pads in any real action as a result.
“He’s a quiet guy that just goes about his business and stays ready,” said Keefe. “That’s really what you’re looking for in terms of personality and how he’s handled himself. … He’s an established goaltender in the league and we knew when signing him that it would be difficult to get him through waivers if it came to that.
“Here we are.”
Maple Leafs’ Robertson to miss about four weeks with knee injury – Sportsnet.ca
Toronto Maple Leafs rookie forward Nick Robertson, who suffered a knee injury in his NHL regular-season debut over the weekend, will be sidelined roughly four weeks, coach Sheldon Keefe told reporters Monday.
Robertson was injured in the first period of the team’s 3-2 win over the Ottawa Senators after a hit from Drake Batherson.
The 19-year-old Robertson appeared in four of the Maple Leafs’ five playoff games against the Columbus Blue Jackets, scoring one goal. He replaced fellow rookie Alexander Barabanov on the fourth line Saturday and had one shot in 2:20 of ice time before his injury.
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