Ugh. No one ever said life in the NBA was supposed to be fair, but what has Norm Powell done to deserve this?
What have the Raptors?
On Thursday night, Toronto provided updates on the wave of injuries that swept over them in the win against the Detroit Pistons the night before.
• Marc Gasol, who strained his hamstring in the first quarter against the Pistons, was revaluated today in Toronto and was deemed to be out “indefinitely.”
• To the surprise of all, it was revealed Pascal Siakam strained his groin midway through the fourth quarter and will be out “indefinitely.”
• And Powell, rocked by a Blake Griffin screen late in the fourth quarter, suffered a partially dislocated shoulder and will be out – you guessed it – “indefinitely.”
Given the Raptors have already lost rotation pieces Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka, Pat McCaw and Matt Thomas for double-digit games in a season that’s only one-third gone and Fred VanVleet has missed five, someone needs to get video of the Raptors peeing up the legs of the “Basketball Gods” (Dwane Casey voice).
As for the impact? Well, losing your leading scorer (Siakam) and best all-around player, your most important defender (Gasol) and your second-leading scorer (Powell) in one game seems to be … significant.
Gasol’s loss leaves the Raptors even more thin up front with rookie Dewan Hernandez the only other centre on the roster, so it’s not impossible that if Gasol is out for an extended period a depth piece may need to be found and acquired.
There is no replacement for Siakam who leads the Raptors in scoring (25.1 per game), rebounding, is third in assists and second in blocks while posting a team-high usage rate of 29.4 per cent.
Normally a good chunk of that load would shift to Powell, but not now.
The only hope is that Siakam isn’t out very long – it’s believed they are exercising caution for what is a fairly mild strain – and the silver lining might be that it will serve a bit of a break for a young player carrying a new and heavier load of responsibilities while ranking seventh in the NBA in minutes played to this stage.
The same can be said for Gasol, who could likely benefit from a breather after playing 12 straight months of basketball, ending with the World Cup in China in early September.
On paper, the Raptors can likely backfill Powell’s minutes more easily, but there is otherwise no way to polish what must be a heartbreaking turn of events for a player who seems to snake-bitten at times.
Watching Powell rolling on the floor, clutching his left shoulder in agony?
If you’re the type who likes to see good things happen to good people, it was not the moment for you.
Perhaps the best you can take away from it is that he didn’t require surgery.
Otherwise, the timing couldn’t be worse for Powell or – given Siakam’s injury – the Raptors.
The six-foot-four slasher was playing the best basketball of his career, and whether that would have resulted in him being the kind of fixture as a microwave sixth man and occasional starter good teams need or a juicy trade chip down the line, an extended Powell absence complicates matters for Toronto in the short- and medium-term.
How the injuries ultimately affect the Raptors’ seeding in a tight Eastern Conference playoff race – a half-game separated second through sixth before play Wednesday night – or their ability to get what should be a solid nine-man rotation firing on all cylinders when they don’t have Kawhi Leonard as a safety net is another matter.
In a season where the margin for error is slim, it’s less than ideal.
Fortunately, it appears that Serge Ibaka – averaging 17 points and 10 rebounds on 57 per cent shooting over his past three games – is back to the form he was flashing before he missed 10 games with a sprained ankle and ready to take up the slack.
He’ll likely appreciate a return to the starting lineup and a steady diet of 30-plus minute nights Gasol’s absence will afford. The Raptors and the rest of the league will get a more extended look at the viability of Chris Boucher as a regular rotation piece, a second chance for Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and perhaps more small-ball lineups featuring OG Anunoby at the four spot will become the norm.
Missed will be Gasol’s long-range shooting, paint defence and ability to run the offence 25 feet from the basket – all of which help explain why the Raptors are 11.2 points better per 100 possessions with Gasol on the floor than they are when he sits, even while he’s averaging a career-low 6.6 points a game on a career-low 36.4 per cent from the floor.
But Powell’s loss could be different if only because a similar injury to the same shoulder cost him six weeks and 21 games last year and represents another roadblock between him and his ultimate potential.
Raptors fans understandably love to celebrate the team’s plucky underdog stories – Siakam’s rapid rise to All-Star status as a late first-round pick; VanVleet’s emergence one of the league’s most respected players after being undrafted – but Powell often gets overlooked.
It could be that his role has been perpetually in flux since being pressed into starting as a rookie, or because he got paid relatively early in what is still only a five-year career and struggled in the first two years after he got the extension or because of his penchant for some forehead-slapping plays along the way.
It could be that we forget that the Powell we’ve seen this year could have been on display last year, had he not been pushed out of a starting spot by the acquisition of Danny Green.
But Powell deserves credit for turning himself into an important rotation player after being taken 46th the 2015 draft, and for finding a way to do it on deep teams that have averaged nearly 56 wins a year since he broke into the league.
And he deserves credit for taking the opportunity to start presented to him earlier this season, when Lowry and then VanVleet got hurt, and sprinting with it.
Not only have the past 21 games been the best six-week run of his career, he’s been one of the most efficient guards in the NBA.
Yes, that Norm Powell.
Since becoming a starter after Lowry fractured his thumb on Nov. 8, Powell has averaged 16.7 points a game on 51.1 per cent shooting, including 42 per cent from three on a robust 5.3 attempts. It translates into a True Shooting percentage of 63.5 per cent, among the league’s best for wing players. He’s averaged 1.2 steals a game, too.
He’s the only guard in the NBA to score at least 16 points a game while shooting better than 50 per cent from the field and 40 per cent from three (with five attempts or more) and while averaging at least one steal per game.
And he’s done while treading lightly too, with a usage rate of just 20.5 per cent.
He’s still prone to some frustrating turnovers and odd defensive lapses, but he’s flat out won games for the Raptors too.
What does it all mean?
Hopefully not too much, for the Raptors at least.
NBA on Christmas Day
The Raptors and Celtics tip off a full Christmas Day schedule on Sportsnet, Sportsnet ONE and SN NOW starting at 12:00 p.m. ET/9:00 a.m. PT, followed by 76ers vs. Bucks, Lakers vs. Clippers and Nuggets vs. Pelicans.
If anything it solves a looming potential lineup crunch that had Nurse musing about starting Powell over VanVleet. That issue has disappeared for now.
VanVleet could be ready to return Friday after a four-game absence with a sore knee and will slide into the starting spot Powell was keeping warm for him.
McCaw will presumably keep getting every chance to show that he can contribute at a level that far exceeds his meagre offensive output (6.3 points per 36 minutes on 40 per cent shooting over the past two seasons).
Rookie Terence Davis II should also benefit. In the 11 games Lowry was out and before McCaw returned, he delivered 10.8 points a game on 54.2 shooting (46.7 per cent from three) while averaging 21.1 minutes a game.
With Lowry and now McCaw back, Davis is averaging just 14.7 minutes over the past eight games while scoring just 4.6 points a game on 34.2 per cent shooting. That should change.
Matt Thomas, due to return in a week or so from a broken finger, should be able to carve out some minutes also.
Things will sort themselves out, but it’s a lot to take in at once. It’s not often that a team loses three of its top seven players in the space of a single game, but stranger things have happened.
But as it relates to Powell’s injury and the timing, it’s not too often they feel that unfair.
Auston Matthews makes early exit from Toronto Maple Leafs practice – TSN
TORONTO — Auston Matthews made a brief appearance at Maple Leafs practice on Thursday but unexpectedly exited the session before it began, leaving his availability for Friday’s game against Edmonton up in the air.
“He just wasn’t feeling that great today coming off [Wednesday’s 3-1 loss to the Oilers],” head coach Sheldon Keefe told reporters on a Zoom call following Thursday’s practice. “So he’s going to take the rest of the day here today and we’ll see how he is tomorrow and [provide] an update in the morning.”
Matthews was the Leafs’ best player in Wednesday’s defeat, recording the team’s only goal and pacing all skaters with six shots in 24:14 of ice time. Other than speaking with trainer Paul Ayotte on the bench prior to Thursday’s practice, Matthews showed no outward signs of injury before his departure.
The news of Matthews’ potential absence comes on the heels of Toronto already having lost veteran forward Joe Thornton for an undetermined period. Thornton was crunched into the boards by Josh Archibald early in the third frame on Wednesday, and hurried off while cradling his left wrist.
Keefe reiterated on Thursday that Thornton’s issue is not a “day-to-day thing,” and he’s “definitely going to miss some time,” but that they’ll get more information from planned tests later in the week.
The Leafs are also without forward Nick Robertson for the next month or so, as he rehabs a leg injury suffered on Jan. 16.
To account for the missing bodies, Keefe shuffled the Leafs lines at practice in a tune-up for Friday’s rematch with Edmonton. Jimmy Vesey was elevated into Thornton’s spot on Toronto’s top line with Mitch Marner and Adam Brooks (who filled in for Matthews), Zach Hyman slid onto the wing with John Tavares and William Nylander, and Wayne Simmonds slotted onto the third line with Alex Kerfoot and Ilya Mikheyev. Winger Pierre Engvall looks to be stepping into the lineup for the first time this season with Jason Spezza and Alex Barabanov on the fourth line.
“We’ll see how it all comes together. There’s a lot of things happening,” said Keefe. “The health and well-being of our players is one thing, [then] salary cap and all those things affect the decision. So, we’ll see how it settles for tomorrow. But the expectation is that [Matthews and Marner] will drive their line, and we need a support player with them [in Vesey]. It allows us to use our depth throughout the lineup. Hyman can bring an extra boost to JT and Will.”
Toronto made a point of trying to bolster its depth in the off-season with a number of acquisitions, including Simmonds and Vesey. Now, barely a week into this pandemic-shortened regular season, the Leafs can assess just how successful they were in adding versatile pieces to the lineup.
“This year more than any year I think that your depth is going to be tested and, fortunately for us, we have a ton of guys who can move up and down the lineup and be filling holes,” said Hyman. “So I think that it’s a big opportunity for guys to seize the moment and play like they’re capable of playing. In a season like this, you need everybody.”
Some losses will be more difficult than others to weather, though. Thornton has been a big part of the Leafs offence early on, averaging 15:26 of ice time per game between his spot with Matthews and Marner and appearing on the team’s No. 1 power-play unit.
The trickle-down effect is that other veterans, like Simmonds, will be thrust into larger roles, but there are some intangibles that only Thornton can truly provide.
“He’s amazing. His personality is infectious,” said Kerfoot. “He comes to the rink every day with a smile on his face and when you’re around him, you want to be there, you want to work hard. Just one of those guys that brings guys to him. [That said], it’s going to be great [playing with Simmonds].He’s a big body and we can use that to get open around him, use our speed to open things up a little bit. He’s easy to read off makes good little plays with the puck. It’s going to be fun tomorrow.”
However the final lineup plays out for Friday’s game, the Leafs acknowledged they’ll have to find more middle ground between good offence and sound defence if they expect to get a win.
After Wednesday’s disappointing end, Matthews accused his team of playing “too safe” and focusing more on containing Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl than executing a game plan. Holding those Oilers superstars to a goal and assist between them was a fine enough accomplishment, except it didn’t deliver the final result the Leafs needed.
Fortunately, they don’t have to wait long to try to correct their mistakes.
“I think we need to find the balance,” Hyman said. “I think just because we’re defending well doesn’t mean that we can be attacking and playing well in the o-zone and taking pucks to the net and doing things we are capable of doing. We can have them both, you don’t have to have one without the other and really have to find that balance.”
Keefe: Matthews 'wasn't feeling great' – TSN
Toronto Maple Leafs centre Auston Matthews skated briefly before the team’s practice on Thursday, but departed the ice before the team session began.
Head coach Sheldon Keefe said after practice that Matthews’ status would be updated on Friday morning ahead of their rematch against the Edmonton Oilers.
“No real update other than he just wasn’t feeling great today coming off the game yesterday so just take the rest of the day here today and see how he is for tomorrow,” Keefe said. “I’ll have an update in the morning.”
Matthews logged 24:14 of ice time in Wednesday’s 3-1 loss to the Oilers, scoring the team’s lone goal. He has two goals and five points in five games this season.
The Maple Leafs are also awaiting an update on forward Joe Thornton, who will undergo an MRI on Thursday after leaving the game early.
“He’s definitely going to miss some time,” Keefe said Thursday. “It’s not a day-to-day thing.”
The Maple Leafs used the following forward lines with Matthews and Thornton both absent on Thursday:
Champion rower Kathleen Heddle was one of Canada's greatest Olympians – The Globe and Mail
The rowers Kathleen Heddle and Marnie McBean were known as the Dynamic Duo and the Odd Couple. After they became the first Canadians ever to win three Summer Olympic championships, they were called the Golden Girls.
Ms. Heddle, who has died at 55, six years after receiving a cancer diagnosis, was one of Canada’s greatest Olympians, a determined athlete who quietly inspired a generation of girls to take up a demanding, exhausting sport.
The two won gold medals in pairs and with the crew of eight at the 1992 Olympic regatta on the Lake of Banyoles, about 95 kilometres northeast of Barcelona, Spain. They became nationally famous four years later by winning a thrilling double sculls race on Lake Lanier outside Atlanta. That victory gave Canada its first gold medal of the Centennial Olympics and came only hours after a terrorist bomb at a downtown park killed a woman, casting a pall on the Games.
The pair became as famous as hockey players, stopped on the street by strangers seeking autographs, wooed by sponsors and advertisers. Almost as suddenly, they returned to ordinary lives, a deliberate decision by Ms. Heddle.
“We turned down cereal boxes and a running-shoe sponsorship,” Ms. McBean said recently. “We turned down the cover of a national magazine. Kathleen said she wasn’t in it for that reason. I was: ‘We’re not?!’”
The gregarious Ms. McBean was the strategic plotter in the bow of the double sculls, while Ms. Heddle was the reserved powerhouse at stroke. Many mistook Ms. Heddle’s quiet demeanour as an expression of shyness, though her teammates insist she was merely a calm person in no need of the spotlight.
“When she chose to share what she was thinking,” Ms. McBean said, “she was sage.”
Her great success as a rower was all the more unexpected coming as it did only after she was introduced to the sport two months before her 20th birthday.
Kathleen Joan Heddle was born on Nov. 27, 1965, in the smelter city of Trail in British Columbia’s West Kootenays region. She was the fourth and youngest child born to the former Marilyn Helson Buchanan, a university-educated dietitian from Moose Jaw, and Duncan Walker Heddle, a geology engineer originally from Nelson, B.C., who did mineral exploration for Cominco Ltd. (now Teck Resources). The couple, who met on a blind date, moved the family 600 kilometres west to Vancouver before the girl’s second birthday.
At Kitsilano Secondary, Kathy, as she was known then, was active in band, travelled with her Grade 12 history class to Egypt, and played volleyball, basketball and softball.
She enrolled at the University of British Columbia, her father’s alma mater, where she played volleyball on the junior varsity team for two seasons while also serving as team manager. She was crestfallen when told she was not good enough to make the varsity squad.
She was registering for third-year courses inside War Memorial Gymnasium on campus when a rowing coach spotted her in a lineup. Drew Harrison prowled the gym like a stable owner checking horseflesh before a claim race, seeking broad shoulders and sturdy hindquarters. The Heddles trace their lineage to the windswept Orkney archipelago off the northeastern tip of Scotland, and in Kathleen’s wide, round face and blonde hair her own mother saw “a little bit of Viking blood.” At 5-foot-11 (180 centimetres), Ms. Heddle’s V-shaped torso offered the classic physique for a rower.
She was placed with the university’s novice squad, which practised in rows of two on a barge outfitted with sliding rowing seats, riggers and oars. The coach patrolled a runway in the middle of the barge, like the commander of a slave ship. The rookies needed training before taking to the water aboard a shell large enough to hold eight rowers and a coxswain.
“Maybe after two or three weeks of that [barge training],” Ms. Heddle said in 1996, “they actually put you in an eight. It’s really tippy, and you’re getting hit in the back by the oar behind you because no one has their timing right.”
She knew she had found her calling when she could feel the shell respond as her strokes pushed through the still waters of Burnaby Lake.
“I had this feeling I could be good at it,” she said. “I guess you have an instinct that this is it, you’ve actually found the sport that’s meant for [you].”
Her strength, flexibility, determination and aerobic capacity soon caught the attention of Canada’s national team. In her second season, she was paired with Kirsten Barnes of West Vancouver and they won the women’s coxless pair at the World University Games in Zagreb, Yugoslavia. Two months later, they represented Canada at the Pan-American Games in Indianapolis even though they were the country’s B-team, as the top squad was resting for an upcoming world championship. An early sprint by the Canadians helped them claim gold ahead of their American rivals, one of whom briefly blacked out from dehydration during the race.
After failing to make the 1988 Olympic team, Ms. Heddle completed her psychology degree while continuing to train and compete. In time, she mastered the technical aspects of the sport, combining finesse with brute strength and a focused mind to become a formidable competitor.
In the preparations before the 1992 Olympics, the national coaching staff paired her with Ms. McBean, “like an arranged marriage,” the latter said, and it was a relationship not without its difficulties. Over time, each went separately to coach Al Morrow to insist on a new partner. Instead, he convinced each in turn to stick with the plan, as he felt the strengths of each compensated for the weaknesses of the other. Besides, Ms. McBean acknowledged recently, “Kathleen was never going to get louder, and I was never going to get quiet.”
Ms. Heddle was once asked whether she considered her teammate to be a co-worker, a friend or a sister.
“We’re foremost business,” she said. “At a regatta, that’s the first thing on the list. We get along well, and we’re friends, too. That comes out more in the offseason or when we haven’t seen each other in a while. And sisters because we don’t always get along.”
At the Rotsee Regatta in Lucerne, Switzerland, in July, 1991, the two were surprised to find themselves leading a race against the reigning world champions from Germany. Since it was only a semi-final and they would be wise to conserve energy for the final, Ms. McBean called for a slowing of the stroke rate. Ms. Heddle could not bring herself to do so and continued rowing at a furious pace. They would go on to win the event.
“That race at Lucerne has always been a bit of a joke between the two of us,” Ms. Heddle once told Wendy Long of the Vancouver Sun.
A month later, on a flood-relief channel called the New Danube in Vienna, the Canadians led from the start to defeat the German pair by a boat length to became world champions. The next day, they helped the eights also win a world championship. Ms. Heddle would retire with three gold medals and two silvers at world championships.
A year later, they won their first two Olympic gold medals at a regatta in which their triumphs were overshadowed by Silken Laumann’s dramatic bronze-medal win less than three months after she suffered a devastating leg injury in a training collision on the water.
Ms. Heddle retired after the 1992 Olympics to work as a technical assistant at Vancouver Community College. She was lured back into the water by Ms. McBean. After competing as sweepers, with both hands on one oar, the two were now going to compete as scullers, each using two oars – a change in discipline.
As they crossed the finish line on Lake Lanier in 1996, a third Olympic gold medal now theirs, the two were so exhausted they were unable to exchange words. Heddle leaned back with her open right hand, which McBean grasped, as they both gasped for air.
They raced again the next day in quadruple sculls with Diane O’Grady and Laryssa Biesenthal, finishing in third place to earn a bronze medal.
At the closing ceremonies of the Atlanta Olympics, Ms. Heddle and Ms. McBean were the Canadian flag-bearers.
Ms. Heddle retired from the sport once again, while her partner continued until a back injury ended her competitive career. (Seven months ago, Ms. McBean was named Canada’s chef de mission for the pending Olympic Games in Tokyo.)
Ms. Heddle worked in sports administration and started a family. “I don’t picture myself as glamorous,” she told sports historian Fred Hume. “I want [my] accomplishments to be foremost.” While training for the Atlanta Olympics, she stored her possessions with her mother. Her haul of medals, including Olympic golds, were kept in a jumble inside an ordinary shoe box in a closet.
Ms. Heddle died on Jan. 11 at the family home in the leafy Vancouver neighbourhood of Kerrisdale. She had been diagnosed with breast and lymph node cancer followed by melanoma and brain cancer.
She leaves Mike Bryden, her husband of 20 years and a former member of Canada’s national rowing team. She also leaves their children, Lyndsey and Mac. Her death came two years less a day after her mother’s passing at age 91. Her father died in 1990. She also leaves a brother and two sisters.
Ms. Heddle was inducted into the Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame in 1994, followed three years later by induction into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame. She has also been named to the UBC Sports Hall of Fame (2002) and the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame (2003), which had earlier inducted her as a member of the 1992 Olympics coxed-eights crew. In 2016, she was named to the Rowing Canada Hall of Fame, which had been established the previous year.
Ms. Heddle was named to the Order of British Columbia in 1997. Two years later, she was awarded the prestigious Thomas Keller Medal by the International Rowing Federation for her achievements and her sportsmanship. Only two other Canadians – Ms. McBean and Ms. Laumann – have ever won the sport’s highest honour.
In October, 2019, she joined former Olympic teammates including Ms. Barnes and Ms. McBean in the women’s senior eights for rowers over the age of 50 at the Head of the Charles Regatta. The Old Gold crew from the Victoria City Rowing Club defeated 38 other crews in completing the 4.8-kilometre course on the Charles River outside Boston in 18:14.139, more than seven seconds faster than the runner-up crew. It was Ms. Heddle’s final race. She bowed out a champion.
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