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Raptors’ one-two punch of Siakam, VanVleet puts away Timberwolves

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Behind a stellar performance from Toronto’s one-two punch of Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam, the Raptors came away with a 122-107 win against a shorthanded Minnesota Timberwolves squad on Saturday night.

VanVleet scored a game-high 28 points and seven assists, while Siakam dropped 27 points, 10 rebounds and six assists.

It hasn’t been often that the two have had amazing games in unison during the 2022-23 campaign. Saturday’s matchup marked the 13th time in their 52 games together that they both eclipsed 20 points, while the 55 combined points were tied for the fifth-most they’ve scored together this season.

“I think we’re both at the stage where we’re gonna get the other team’s best look and get the most attention,” said VanVleet post-game, noting how they both had to weather the Timberwolves’ physicality and find mismatches.

“We’ve got to keep working on those things, and again, just trying to make the right reads for this team. And I thought we did a good job of that tonight.”

VanVleet was able to get the night going for the Raptors, scoring 15 points on 6-of-9 shooting in the first quarter.

Despite the hot start, the Raptors’ defence wasn’t able to hold off the Timberwolves, who were on the second night of a back-to-back and without their all-star in Anthony Edwards, after he was sidelined just before tip-off with an ankle injury.

Siakam was ultimately the difference maker for the Raptors, as he was able to create some separation with a run in a game that head coach Nick Nurse called “low energy.”

The turning point seemed to come after a poster dunk by Naz Reid at the 3:39 mark in the third quarter. The backup centre ultimately led the way for Timberwolves with 22 points off the bench on 8-of-10 shooting to go along with a nasty slam.

Siakam responded by scoring nine points to end the third quarter, and then another four points in the fourth, helping the Raptors ultimately create a double-digit lead that would balloon to as much as 19.

Nurse highlighted the “variety in what Siakam’s doing,” through his ability to get to the basket, use his patented spin moves, create opportunities with his fadeaway, crash the offensive glass and also take advantage of transition opportunities.

“That, to me, is his recipe for having a good night,” Nurse said.

To go along with the Raptors’ one-two punch, for the second game in a row, all five of Toronto’s starters were able to score in double digits,

The team’s success was highlighted by a flurry of dunks from O.G. Anunoby and Scottie Barnes.

Gary Trent Jr. also provided a spark off the bench, as the sixth man chipped in with 19 points on 8-of-14 shooting, while he was instrumental on defence with five steals.

Another standout in the second unit was Chris Boucher.

After scoring 12 points in the first quarter on 6-of-6 shooting, Jakob Poeltl found himself in foul trouble. However, the Raptors were able to lean on the 6-foot-9 Boucher, who put up a solid fight against the 7-foot-1 Rudy Gobert.

“It was a big battle. It showed me a side of my game that I have,” said Boucher.

Saturday marked the third straight win for the Raptors in this home stretch at Scotiabank Arena after recently beating the Denver Nuggets and Oklahoma City Thunder. It improved them to 35-36, good enough to hold the ninth seed in the Eastern Conference, while it marked the fourth time this season they’ve been able to put together a three-game streak.

“I think we needed this so we can find some joy among the team,” said Boucher. “It helps us find out what we can do.”

VanVleet and Siakam stepped up as the Raptors earned their third straight win. (Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports)
VanVleet and Siakam stepped up as the Raptors earned their third straight win. (Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports)

As the Raptors finish their season, the goal is to be among the top six teams in the East. But with 11 games left, and with the Raptors sitting five games behind that seeding, that seems like a monumental task. Instead, their eyes seem set on keeping their position for a shot in the play-in tournament.

If the Raptors secure the seventh or eighth seed, they’d just need to win one game in the play-in to enter the playoffs and start a seven-game series. As the ninth or 10th seed, they’d need to win two games — but if they were to lose their first game in that scenario, they’d be knocked out in do-or-die fashion.

They’ll look to continue their momentum on Sunday night on the road, as they take on the best team in the East in the Milwaukee Bucks on the second night of a back-to-back.

“We’ve got our work cut out for us, but I like where we’ve been at,” said VanVleet. “We’ve been pretty focused, you know, the last couple of weeks and we need to keep that up.”

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Preseason Opener: Enzo Maresca’s Chelsea Takes on Wrexham

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Welcome to the first match of the summer, the first preseason game, and the first chance to see Enzo Maresca’s Chelsea in action. While the main focus today is on fitness, this game will undoubtedly spark analysis and excitement among fans.

Football, sort of, is back! Let’s see how the teams line up for this highly anticipated friendly.

Chelsea Starting XI:

  • Sánchez
  • James (c)
  • Tosin
  • Badiashile
  • Colwill
  • Lavia
  • Chukwuemeka
  • Nkunku
  • Madueke
  • Guiu
  • George

Substitutes:

  • Beach
  • Bergström
  • W. Fofana
  • Veiga
  • Acheampong
  • Gusto
  • Chilwell
  • Santos
  • Ugochukwu
  • Sterling
  • Ângelo
  • Broja

Wrexham Starting XI:

  • Okonkwo
  • Cleworth
  • Brunt
  • O’Connor
  • Bolton
  • Jones
  • Dobson
  • Lee
  • Revan
  • Palmer
  • McClean (c)

Substitutes:

  • Howard
  • Burton
  • Boyle
  • Barnett
  • James
  • Forde
  • Evans
  • Ashfield
  • Cannon
  • Davies
  • Bickerstaff
  • Waters
  • Dalby
  • Marriott

Match Details:

  • Date / Time: Wednesday, July 24, 7pm PDT; 3am BST (next day); 7:30am IST (next day)
  • Venue: Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, CA, USA
  • On TV: ESPN (USA); none (UK); elsewhere
  • Streaming: ESPN+ (USA); Chelsea TV (int’l pay-per-view)

Both teams will be eager to test their tactics and players ahead of the upcoming season. Chelsea fans are particularly excited to see how new manager Enzo Maresca will shape the team, while Wrexham supporters are keen to see their team perform against top-tier opposition.

Let’s see how the starting formation and tactics unfold as we get a first glimpse of what’s to come this season. Stay tuned for an exciting game!ea

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Malaika Mihambo and Dennis Schröder Lead Germany’s Diverse Olympic Team to Paris 2024

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“The goals have definitely not changed,” Malaika Mihambo declared in a recent television interview, reaffirming her determination to compete in the 2024 Olympic Games despite a recent setback from a coronavirus infection. The 30-year-old long jumper aims to defend her Olympic gold medal, which she won in Tokyo in 2021.

While Mihambo is a seasoned Olympian, Paris 2024 will mark a special debut for Dennis Schröder, the captain of Germany’s 2023 world champion basketball team. “It has always been a goal of mine to be at the Olympic Games,” said the 30-year-old Brooklyn Nets player.

Mihambo and Schröder are among the stars of the German Olympic team, which showcases remarkable diversity with around 450 top athletes. This team includes individual talents such as tennis stars Angelique Kerber, the silver medallist at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, and Alexander Zverev, the 2021 Olympic champion in Tokyo. Notable teams include the men’s basketball team led by Schröder, the women’s football team, and the men’s handball team.

Among the experienced Olympic stars is table tennis player Timo Boll, who has won several team medals and is immensely popular in China and beyond. Dressage rider Isabell Werth, with seven Olympic gold medals, aims to match the all-time record of nine gold medals held by Soviet gymnast Larissa Latynina.

Some German athletes, though not yet household names, have garnered attention with impressive performances leading up to the Games. In athletics, the women’s 4×100 meter relay team, decathlete Leo Neugebauer, and marathon runner Amanal Petros stand out. Trend sports also feature promising talents like surfers Camilla Kemp and Tim Elter, and 17-year-old skateboarder Lilly Stoephasius, who will compete in her second Olympic Games.

Swimmer Angelina Köhler has recently emerged as a star, winning gold in the 100 meter butterfly at the 2024 World Championships. Köhler, who has openly discussed her ADHD diagnosis, described participating in the Olympics as fulfilling “a very, very big childhood dream.”

As Germany heads to Paris, this diverse and dynamic team aims to leave a significant mark on the 2024 Olympic Games.

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Thomas Müller: The End of an Era for Germany’s Iconic #13

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It is difficult to write something about Thomas Müller that hasn’t been written before, yet at the same time, it is difficult to capture his essence in mere words. That alone is an indicator of his distinctive nature as a person and brilliance as a footballer.

It is said commonly, there will never be another Thomas Müller. And that rings true today more than ever, for Germany, for football.

Germany has dominated world football so often throughout history, each era marked by superstars in their own right. And even then, Thomas Müller remains unique, apart from the rest. The idea of a dominant die Mannschaft in the ‘modern era’ of football immediately prompts the mental image of an overjoyed Müller wearing any variation of the iconic white-black German kits, busy shouting in celebration amidst the euphoria of scoring yet another goal for his country on the biggest of stages.

Efficient, unorthodox, enigmatic – yet somehow simple. Everywhere he needed to be on the pitch, yet he left the greatest of defenders oblivious, unable to predict his next move. A goalscorer and creator simultaneously and equally brilliant at doing both. Unapologetically himself – both on and off the pitch.

You’d never be mesmerized by Müller’s touch, flair, or skills. But you’d be mesmerized nonetheless. Unpredictable off-the-ball movement, a surprise element with the ball, and a shot from such unbelievable angles that you’d never believe how it found the net. And even then what forever remained stuck in the minds of fans and opponents alike was the scene that followed after his heroics in the opposition box — a group of elated Germans heralding around Müller as the scoreboard reads a scoreline just as memorable.

A little boy from the south of Bavaria had a dream and had the entire world watch as he lived it to the fullest. Müller represented his country a total of 131 times and somehow every single time he was a pleasure to watch and a menace to face. The lights were bright, but he shone brighter.

His football was messy but incredibly effective. Tall, scrawny, and the furthest thing from muscular, but it worked to his advantage. He was never the “typical footballer” — concerning both his personality and playstyle. He was so good at everything going forward that the orthodox football terms didn’t apply. No problem for Müller – “Ich bin ein Raumdeuter,” said the star clearing things up about his position and inventing a role in football no one other than himself has or ever will truly master.

Germany’s first game at the 2010 World Cup saw Müller walk onto the pitch with the number 13 on his back. The same number was coincidentally also worn by legendary German striker Gerd Müller at the ‘76 finals. Thomas scored that night — it was the first of 45 goals he would go on to score for his nation. The fans (and notably Gerd himself) were overjoyed to see a German named Müller, squad number #13, scoring for Germany again after so many decades.

Speaking postgame about his first international goal, Müller said while laughing: “I was just trying to boost the sales of the Müller replica shirts!” – the first of many playful Müller interviews after a masterclass for Germany. 14 years and 44 goals later, Thomas has made that jersey number his as much as it was Gerd’s.

Thomas Müller — forever Germany’s beloved #13.

What once was a need to prove himself and do everything in his power to lead his country to victory turned into a feeling of grounded pride for what he’s greatly helped achieve, but the desire to win never died. Müller, even after everything, still put in the same effort he did on day one.

There was never a dull moment watching Müller play for his country. Not everything has changed — over all these years, Müller has had the same playfulness, the same laugh, the same witty statements that never failed to make fans smile. He is just as loveable as a person as he is as a footballer. “I don’t have any muscles – how can I get hurt?”, or “I already have one Golden Boot, what will I do with another?” Müller captivated audiences with both his football and his words.

Müller playing for Germany is what made myself (and so many others) a fan of the beautiful game – because the game was only beautiful when Müller had the ball. A mesmerized young boy and a superstar footballer formed an unlikely, one-sided bond over the television screen a decade ago, and that bond only strengthened over the years.

As Müller announces his international retirement today, it is difficult to fathom that we might never see such an icon play for Germany ever again. We might never see him celebrate or joke around in the Germany shirt. We might never see someone represent everything German football stood for as well as Müller did. We might never see him film a challenge video with Mats Hummels at the German camp. And we might never forget the heartbreak of his last game for Germany.

Yet we as fans can look back on one of the greatest international careers of all time. His antics on the world stage are some of the best highlights of a career filled with highlights. There is no need to mention his countless achievements for his country – he is the most decorated German player of all time after all. Even then, Müller, who has always had impeccable timing knew exactly when it was his time to depart. He didn’t want to push it or ever make things about himself.

Müller’s iconic moments turned into unforgettable games. Those unforgettable games made legendary tournaments. And those legendary tournaments? They are the crown jewels of an illustrious career.

So here is a thank you, from the bottom of our hearts – thank you for showing us what football is really about. Thank you for some of the greatest memories a football fan could ask for. Thank you for always giving everything on the pitch, and finally – thank you for being yourself. We will never forget Thomas Müller in the iconic German white. Danke, Thomas.

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