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Raptors’ loss to Trail Blazers an inevitable side effect of injury flood – Sportsnet.ca



TORONTO — What a fine line the Toronto Raptors have walked this season, and how successfully.

How much longer they can, or will need to, is the question.

Witness their opponents Tuesday night.

For years the Portland Trail Blazers were thought to be the Raptors’ counterpart in the Western Conference. It was deemed a compliment and translated to: stable, competitive, consistent.

Each club has made six straight playoff appearances with the Blazers advancing to the Western Conference Finals last year and the Raptors winning their first NBA title.

But consistent competence — let alone excellence — is a difficult standard to maintain in the NBA.

Stuff happens, basically.

As an example, when the two teams met at Scotiabank Arena they were tied in the most unlikely and unwelcome category: each club had missed 128 man games to injuries, third-most in the league.

From the Raptors’ point of view, that might not have even been the most significant numerical oddity.

“I think the stat of the night is this: We started five completely different guys in Portland when we beat ’em out there,” said Raptors head coach Nick Nurse, referring to the win his club stole in Portland in early November when they were down three starters. “I don’t know if you can do that in a two-month span very often.”

This time around, the Raptors were down three different starters – Marc Gasol (hamstring); Pascal Siakam (groin); and the freshly injured Fred VanVleet (hamstring), as well as their top bench scorer, Norman Powell (shoulder) – against the Blazers. The first time it was Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka and OG Anunoby.

While it’s believed Powell could be back any day, the news on VanVleet was more vague and so – we’ve become programmed to assume – more foreboding.

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“He’s out,” said Nurse. “Think it’s gonna be a little bit before we know exactly how long.”

And yet? The Raptors have generally found a way.

They couldn’t this time around. Missing three starters and four of your top seven players is a burden almost no NBA team can weather game after game. The Raptors’ ability to make do with made-up lineups has been the exception to the rule, but as their 101-99 heartbreaker to the Blazers suggested, rules exist for a reason.

“We’ve got great guys, young kids going out there and trying to prove their worth,” said Lowry. “(We) go out there and execute and play. We’ve just got to continue to get better. Hopefully, these guys get healthy and get out there.

“(But) we’ve just got to play with what we have.”

The difficulty of what the Raptors were trying to do became clear down the stretch of the fourth as the Blazers were able to look to Damian Lillard – a borderline MVP candidate – and Carmelo Anthony, a 10-time all-star with a new lease on life on offence. Toronto had Lowry and not much else.

Each of the Blazers stars hit two threes late to dismantle what had been a 10-point, fourth-quarter lead. A Lillard bomb from 30 feet tied the game with 38.5 seconds to play — a shot Toronto contends was triggered by an illegal screen set by Hassan Whiteside — and the Raptors couldn’t generate any offence against a Blazers defence anchored by the paint presence of the big man, who finished with 16 rebounds and seven blocks.

Toronto’s best chance to break the tie ended in a turnover with 13 seconds left when Lowry and Patrick McCaw got their signals crossed on an inbound play. Then Anthony hit a pull-up jumper from the free-throw line with 3.3 seconds left to put the Blazers up for good. A desperate three-point attempt by Lowry rimmed out — “I thought it was going in,” he said — and the Raptors fell to 24-13 on the year as they head to Charlotte on the second night of the back-to-back. For Portland (16-22), it was just its second win in eight games as it tries to remain in the hunt for the eighth seed in the West.

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Lowry led Toronto with 24 points on 7-of-23 shooting, while Ibaka had 17. Chris Boucher and Oshae Brissett each chipped in 12, but it was pretty slim after that as the Raptors shot just 36.5 per cent from the floor. Portland got loose in the fourth quarter, outscoring the Raptors 32-21, and Anthony finished with 28 — 10 in the fourth — while Lillard had 11 of his 20 in the final period.

The Trail Blazers are the more typical version of what happens around the NBA when injuries pile up with no end in sight. With two starters – Rodney Hood and Zach Collins – out for the season and another key rotation piece, Jusuf Nurkic, having not played yet this year, there is no question they have been up against it.

Portland has done its best to stop the bleeding. Knowing it was going to be without Nurkic for much of the year after he broke his leg late last season, it added Whiteside in the off-season. The Blazers even decided to bring Anthony back from a 12-month basketball exile and have watched the 35-year-old become their third-leading scorer.

Yet they came into the game Tuesday struggling to keep their season from slipping away on them.

That’s what’s supposed to happen.

The Raptors are what’s not supposed to happen. This many injuries to this many key players stretched out over two months is supposed to send a team spinning sideways, ever closer to the abyss.

The Raptors keep chugging along. They are now 5-4 without Gasol, Powell and Siakam. The last time they played Portland, they were in the midst of an 8-2 run without Lowry and Ibaka.

“I just want us to go out there and play with an honest effort,” said Nurse. “I think through those nine games, I’d say probably seven of them we have … to me, that’s all I want to do. I want to go out and let you know we’re guarding you, that we’re trying to take away things you like, and that we’re doing our best for the offence to go in the direction it needs, to go through the right people, and then have some other guys chip in. Then I can live with that.”

If there is a podcasting odd couple, this might be it. Donnovan Bennett and JD Bunkis don’t agree on much, but you’ll agree this is the best Toronto Raptors podcast going.

Other guys have been chipping in.

As an example, for the last 3:10 of the first quarter Nurse relied on the following lineup in an NBA game: Thomas (undrafted free-agent rookie, playing in his first NBA game in six weeks); Boucher (undrafted free agent in his second season); Brissett (undrafted rookie free agent, playing in his 11th NBA game); McCaw (undrafted free agent with 172 games’ experience) and Stanley Johnson (a busted former lottery pick on his third team in two seasons who has played just 11 games this season).

It is not an NBA lineup, by any conventional measure, yet the rag-tag group finished the quarter on an 8-0 run. Their most reliable offensive play was tipping the ball to themselves to gain an extra disjointed possession. Hey, whatever works. The Raptors took a 24-15 lead into the second period.

By that time, Lowry had gotten enough rest and picked up from there. As long as he doesn’t crumble under the load – Lowry is leading the NBA in minutes per game, averaging 38 per night – the husky point guard will be a lock for his sixth-straight all-star appearance. The 33-year-old Lowry hit a three and a floater in quick order and the Raptors were up by 12 early in the second quarter.

Incredibly, they were able to hold some version of their advantage for most of the period. The Raptors led 56-46 at half. Heading into the fourth, they led 78-69.

The highwater mark came with Lowry and Ibaka on the bench early in the fourth as Boucher scored 10 quick points to keep the Raptors’ lead in double figures.

But things got glitchy down the stretch. The Trail Blazers tightened up defensively and were able to focus more attention on Lowry. In the final 3:57 minutes, the only offence the Raptors could manage was a mid-range pull-up by Lowry and a tough finish by Ibaka off a Lowry feed.

Even the short-handed Blazers had more options than that, and eventually that was the difference.

Still, it was almost another unlikely Raptors win. Even in defeat, it was the most recent example of the Raptors scratching, clawing and almost finding a way. The Trail Blazers are proof that it’s not something that should be taken for granted.

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Mirtle: This may very well be the last stand for this Maple Leafs core – The Athletic



Kyle Dubas stood in front of a small group of reporters on the NHL’s trade deadline day and offered some serious honesty about his Maple Leafs.

He swore. He called their play embarrassing. And he offered a firm “I don’t know” when asked why they were so inconsistent — or “Jekyll and Hyde,” as he put it at one point.

“The truthful answer is we don’t know,” Dubas said. “That might draw some criticism to say ‘I don’t know,’ but I’m not gonna bullshit and tell you I have some magical solution. I think we have to go through this.”

Dubas spoke for nearly 18 minutes on Monday afternoon, with long answers that followed a now familiar theme. The tale he told was about how his team still has lessons to learn and that this adversity, these brutal losses, are the path to getting there.

It seemed some came away from the speech believing it was another rousing…

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Trade grades: Oilers acquire 2020 version of Mike Green – ESPN



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Edmonton Oilers trade for Detroit Andreas Athanasiou



This in from Gord Miller of TSN, that the Edmonton Oilers have traded for Andreas Athanasiou and Ryan Kuffner from Detroit. The Oilers gave up Sam Gagner and two second round picks to get Athanasiou, who will be a Restricted Free Agent this summer.

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My take

  1. It looks like Oilers GM Ken Holland wants his team to take a run at the Stanley Cup. Can you blame him? Not me.
  2. Athanasiou, 25, is a major pick up for the Oilers. He’s having an off year but he scored 30 goals in 2018-19.
  3. When it comes to even strength scoring, Athanasiou ranks 238th out of 393 regular NHL forwards this year, with 1.57 points per game.
  4. Sam Gagner ranks 284th for even strength scoring with 1.38 points per game. But Gagner lacks the wheels to play with Connor McDavid. Athanasiou has got them. Gagner was moved for cap reasons, so Edmonton can fit Athanasiou under their cap.
  5. Kuffner, 23, is a struggling AHL player.
  6. Athanasiou kills penalties and plays on the power play in Detroit. This year he’s at 1:37 per game on the PK and 2:21 per game on the PP. But his big number is that -45 NHL plus-minuus in 46 games. That’s a wretched number but it’s a number earned by the entire Detroit Red Wings team when Athanasiou is on the ice, it’s not an individual stat. We’ll see how well Athansiou plays defence when he gets here, though there are doubts about him in this regard.
  7. Athanasiou has been on the ice for 21 even strength goals for this year and 60 against.
  8. Brian Burke of Sportnset said: “All I can tell you about Athanasiou is: he makes both teams dangerous. This is a guy who has speed for sure, but he is not a fanatic about defence. I can tell you that. This one, I’ll give Kenny the benefit of the doubt. They definitely got faster but this guy is not a defender.”
  9. Former NHL coach Bruce Boudreau of Sportsnet said Athanasiou would help push NHL defenders back with his speed. “I think it’s going to work out. If Connor is skating full speed and this guy can keep up to him, how do you check them”?
  10. Louie DeBrusk of Sportsnet said: “This is going to be the first time that Connor McDavid has a running mate that can actually keep up to him and be right there with him and be right on the door step waiting for those back door tap ins.”
  11. Scottie Upshall on TSN said, “I like the move. They need speed. He’s one of the fastest players in the league. And Connor needs that. He needs a guy who is going to step up and keep the pace of play and be able to move the puck, be able to create some space.”
  12. TSN’s Ray Ferraro said: “Certainly Ken Holland knows him from Detroit. He’s seen the ups and downs of AA as he’s gone from Grande Rapids to a part time pro in Detroit to a full time guy. Seen him score 30 goals. He’s there to watch him -42 this year. So I think there be a pretty direct line of communication of what’s expected from Athanasiou. He can skate. He can score. McDavid is on a line right now with Alex Chiasson and Sam Gagner. That doesn’t fit. They need more there. And I think the Oilers… they’ve got a player that can play with McDavid. Will it be successful. We’ll see…. It feels like this is the type of player who has had such a crappy year that can hit lightning here playing with a guy like McDavid.” Ferraro said he’s intrigued by this for Edmonton. “I think that what concerns me is that he likes the puck. Athanasiou likes the puck. He likes to rush it. He likes to carry it. The guy he’s going to be playing with should be carrying the puck all the time.”
  13. TSN’s Craig Button wondered if Athanasiou would get to the right places at the right time on the ice. “He plays with blinders on… He’s like a drag racer. He’s not a formula one racer. He’s just straight ahead. And if you’re going to play with Connor McDavid, you better be thinking, ‘Where’s Connor so I can get him the puck?’ I don’t think Athanasiou will be a good fit for Connor McDavid. I don’t.” Buttons suggested playing Athanasiou with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and putting Drasaistl back with McDavid.
  14. TSN’s Jeff O’Neill said: “It’s going to be nice to see him in a competitive situation too. There’s not a lot of fun going on in Detroit right now and I don’t think there’s going to be a lot of fun. That would be a player who would just be drowning in that year after year.”
  15. TSN’s Mike Johnson said: “Even if it doesn’t fit perfectly, if they’re not a perfect blend, Connor McDavid is talented enough, if you have any kind of offensive instincts, or even enough to know just get out of the way, go to the net and let him do his thing, you’ll pick up points, you’ll pick up goals, you’ll feel better about yourself. There is an element of truth that if you just keep it simple even it’s not exactly your style of game, if you just keep it simple and go to to the net and get out of the way, Connor McDavid is great enough for you to have a little bit of success just like that.”
  16. I like this deal. Edmonton has a great chance to both win the Pacific division and to make the Stanley Cup semi-finals. Second round picks are valuable, but they have about a one in five chance of turning into a good NHLer.
  17. Athanasiou makes $3.0 million this year. He’s a restricted free agent this summer, so Edmonton will have to make a call on him then. For now, we’ll see how he does this spring in Edmonton.

In case you’re wondering about the value of draft picks, Brad McPherson has dug into this a this website, the Blue Bullet Report:

Essentially, he’s found that a forward taken in the various rounds has the following average career value:

  • 1st overall: 102 value
  • 10th overall: 26.2
  • 20th: 13.2
  • 30th: 8.9
  • 40th: 4.8
  • 50th: 4.2
  • 60th: 3.6
  • 70th: 3.4
  • 80th: 2.2
  • 90th: 1.8
  • 100th: 1.5
  • 110th: 0.9
  • 120th: 0.9
  • 130th: 0.8
  • 140th: 0.8
  • 150th: 0.8
  • 160th: 0.8
  • 170th: 0.6
  • 180th: 0.6
  • 190th: 0.5
  • 200th: 0.5
  • 210th: 0.5

The first overall pick has an average career value four times greater than the 10th overall pick and more than 10 times greater than the average 30th overall pick, and more than 20 times greater than the average second round pick.

Sometimes lower round picks turn into fine players, like Ethan Bear and Caleb Jones. Most often, they do not.

Major recent trades:

  • Edmonton gets Athanasiou for two second round picks and Sam Gagner.
  • Pittsburgh gets Patrick Marleau for a third round pick.
  • Carolina Hurricanes get Vincent Trochek for forwards Erik Haula and Lucas Wallmark and two prospects (Chase Priskie and Eetu Luostarinen).
  • Washington Capitals acquire Ilya Kovalchuk for a third round draft pick.
  • New York Islanders get Jean-Gabriel Pageau for first round draft pick in 2020 (lottery protected), 2nd in 2020 and 3rd round pick in 2022 if Islanders win the Cup.
  • Colorado gets Vlad Namestnikov for a fourth round pick in 2021.
  • Boston Bruins get Ondrej Kase, traded for a 2020 first-round pick along with David Backes and defensive prospect Axel Andersson, Bruins retaining 25 per cent of Backes’ contract.
  • Vegas Golden Knights get Alec Martinez, D – Traded for ’20 2nd-rd pick, ’21 2nd-rd pick
  • St. Louis Blues get Marco Scandella, D – Traded for ’20 2nd-rd pick, ’21 cond. pick
  • Washington Capitals get Brenden Dillon, D – Traded for ’20 2nd-rd pick, ’21 cond. pick
  • Winnipeg Jets get Dylan DeMelo, D – Traded for ’20 3rd-rd pick
  • Vancouver Canucks get Tyler Toffoli, RW – Traded for Tim Schaller, Madden, picks
  • Tampa Bay Lightning get Blake Coleman, LW – Traded for Nolan Foote, ’20 1st-rd pick
  • New Jersey Devils get David Quenneville, D – Traded w/ ’21 2nd-rd pick for Andy Greene
  • Pittsburgh Penguins get Jason Zucker, LW – Traded for Alex Galchenyuk, Addison, ’20 1st-rd pick
  • Los Angeles Kings get Trevor Moore, LW – Traded w/ picks for Jack Campbell, Kyle Clifford
  • Buffalo Sabres Michael Frolik for 4th -round pick (2020)
  • Montreal Canadiens Marco Scandella for 4th-round pick (2020)
  • Arizona Coyotes Taylor Hall and Blake Speers for 2020 conditional first-round draft pick, 2021 conditional third-round draft pick, Nate Schnarr, Nick Merkley Kevin Bahl

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