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Takeaways: Raptors get needed break after streak-ending loss to Nets – Sportsnet.ca

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Though it may have felt like it was going to last forever, as the old adage goes, all good things must come to an end.

The Toronto Raptors saw their 15-game winning streak snapped Wednesday night after they fell to the Brooklyn Nets 101-91 Wednesday night at Barclays Center.

This was Toronto’s final game before the all-star break, and while entering the mid-season respite riding a 16-game streak would’ve been really nice, the loss shouldn’t diminish the accomplishment of putting together the longest-ever winning streak by a major Canadian professional sports team.

With that said, the performance the Raptors put up Wednesday night, while scrappy, was rather uninspired, to say the least.

Here are a couple takeaways from Toronto’s streak-ending loss in Brooklyn.

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Could’ve used more scarves

Hey Raptors, what about scarves?

Or mittens? Or a space heater by the bench? Or just about anything to help warm this team up, because the Raptors’ shooting Wednesday evening was, to put it nicely, frigid.

The Raptors shot an abysmal 37.8 per cent from the field and 30.2 per cent from three-point range. When compared to the 50.4 per cent from the floor and 40.6 per cent from deep the team was shooting during the 15-game streak, it really puts into perspective why the Raptors finally lost.

Over the course of Toronto’s previous 15 games, it was customary that when one or two guys had an off night, others would seamlessly step up and fill the void. That didn’t happen Wednesday, as Pascal Siakam (6-for-17 from the field), Kyle Lowry (4-for-13), Terence Davis (0-for-6) and Patrick McCaw (1-for-6) were all dreadful shooting the ball.

Specifically, the two Raptors who will be playing in the big game this Sunday, Siakam and Lowry, were quite bad. Siakam left a number of shots short and went 1-for-6 from deep. Lowry, who did impact the game in other ways by dropping a game-high 12 assists and collecting a team-high 11 rebounds, got himself into foul trouble and seemingly tried to goad and irk the officials – who had established a whistle that wasn’t apparently favourable to him – every trip down the floor, like that was going to help matters more.

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But as poorly as the Raptors shot the ball, and as tilted as the officials’ calls against the team may have seemed to Lowry, the Raptors were always in the game Wednesday, just barely knocking on the door before Brooklyn would then pull away and create temporary separation.

This was because if there’s one thing that’s defined the Raptors this season – streak or no streak – it’s been their commitment to the defensive end of the floor.

The Nets only shot 40.9 per cent from the field and 25.7 per cent from outside themselves, and that’s a credit to the Raptors’ defence.

Additionally, the Raptors had a guy with a hot hand in Serge Ibaka, who finished with 28 points on 10-for-17 shooting, including five three-pointers made. This was arguably Ibaka’s best offensive performance of the season, and while defensively the team was there, the rest of the squad just couldn’t provide enough support with their own shot-making to help with some of the load Ibaka was carrying.

And this is why, even with all the goodwill built up with the winning streak, this loss does leave a bit of a sour taste in the mouth. Parts of the Raptors’ winning formula was there, they just didn’t hit enough shots to get to that usual win condition.

A needed break

As mentioned before, this game was the final one before the all-star break, and if Wednesday’s performance was any indication, the Raptors really need this time off.

With the exception of Lowry and Siakam, players now have eight solid days off before the they get back to action on Feb. 21 and begin the final stretch towards the post-season.

During Wednesday’s game, a number of Raptors were leaving shots short – Siakam most noticeably – with players committing silly turnovers either because they were a little too slow making cuts or even recognizing open guys in the corner. In other words, this was a tired-looking group that, not unlike you the day before you start your vacation, was probably more or less looking ahead to any number of plans made over the next week.

Of course, there are no excuses here and fatigue especially isn’t much of a reason to play poorly, but that does seem to have been the case Wednesday, as off-putting as it may be to hear.

But with this game behind the Raptors, the R&R that’s to come will expectantly get them back and fully healthy. It’s been stated that Marc Gasol will be back after the break and hopefully this extra time off will help accelerate Norman Powell’s return to the floor, too.

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.

It’s not even just injured players this time off could help. Any additional rest for Lowry – even if it’s less because he’s participating in the all-star game – has to help, as the fresher he can be entering the playoffs, the better Toronto’s chances.

The vacation time could also do wonders for a young player like Davis, who is the only Raptor to get into all 54 of Toronto’s games this season. He’s already played 20 games more than what he saw during any of his four years at Ole Miss. The grind of the NBA season is among the toughest things for rookies to adjust to and it wouldn’t be surprising if Davis was feeling that now.

Like everyone else, sometimes even professional athletes need time to get away to recharge and come back to work strong.

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Toffoli acquisition shows Canucks believe in mounting playoff run – Sportsnet.ca

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VANCOUVER – If you didn’t understand the Tyler Toffoli trade when it was first reported, it made a lot more sense at 6:04 p.m. PT on Monday.

That’s when Vancouver Canucks general manager Jim Benning, after confirming he had surrendered Tim Schaller, a solid prospect in Tyler Madden and a second-round pick to get Toffoli from the Los Angeles Kings, announced in a press release that heavy forward Micheal Ferland is out for the season with a concussion and first-line winger Brock Boeser will miss another three weeks – minimum – with fractured rib cartilage.

The Canucks may need Toffoli to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Benning, who will explain the trade at a press conference Tuesday morning, told Sportsnet in December that he hoped to add another top-six winger this season. That search became a little more urgent when Boeser’s injury on Feb. 8 against Calgary was followed six days later by another failed comeback by Ferland, who lasted only one period of an AHL game before going back to the injured list with concussion symptoms that have limited him to just 14 NHL games this season.

Boeser has played 56 games — without any goals in the last 11 of them — and there is no way to know when he will play his 57th.

Toffoli was always one of the Canucks’ preferred options because he is a proven supporting scorer who plays the fast, direct, heavy game that Vancouver coach Travis Green preaches, and should fit instantly alongside Bo Horvat and former Kings linemate Tanner Pearson.

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After enduring his worst season last year in the NHL, with just 13 goals and 34 points in 82 games, Toffoli is having a bounce-back campaign. His hat trick in his final game with the Kings, Saturday’s 3-1 win against the Colorado Avalanche, gave the 27-year-old 18 goals and 34 points in 58 games.

His 18 goals would be third on the Canucks, one ahead of Horvat and Pearson.

Toffoli has been among the NHL’s most active shooters the last 10 weeks and led the Kings with an even-strength shots-for percentage of 57.4, which is backed up by an expected-goals-for percentage of 57.3.

Toffoli is on an expiring contract paying him $4.6 million, which is why it was important for the Canucks to pass on to the Kings depth forward Tim Schaller and his bloated $1.9-million cap hit. But the newest Canuck is young enough to re-sign, and the team hopes that if Toffoli is successful with Horvat and his old buddy, Pearson, he will want to stay in Vancouver.

The Canucks, however, need to re-sign starting goalie Jacob Markstrom and would like to re-sign defenceman Chris Tanev, another potential unrestricted free agent, so it would be naïve for now to think of Toffoli as anything but a rental.

He should make the Canucks better, and he could prove vital if Boeser stays on the injured list. Green has replaced Boeser on the first power-play unit with checking centre Brandon Sutter. We’re pretty sure Toffoli is an upgrade.

But unless you win the Stanley Cup, all rental trades must be gauged by costs in the future.

After all, Derek Roy for a second-round pick and Kevin Connauton seemed like a reasonable idea for the Canucks as a deadline rental back in 2013.

Madden, a 2018 third-round pick who is having an outstanding sophomore season at Northeastern University, is a good prospect. But he is also a 160-pound centre who wasn’t going to play ahead of Horvat, Elias Pettersson and Adam Gaudette anytime in the next several years.

If you listed the Canucks’ top-five prospects, Madden doesn’t make it. Vancouver is keeping Vasily Podkolzin, Nils Hoglander, Olli Juolevi, Kole Lind and Mike DiPietro. There are probably at least another couple of prospects ahead of Madden.

The real cost to the Canucks is that second-round pick, which was not expected to be in play this deadline because Benning surrendered his first-rounder to get J.T. Miller from the Tampa Bay Lightning last June. Miller has merely been one of the best three Canucks all season, so no one is asking for a do-over on that one.

Toffoli was one of the better rental wingers available and Benning and his staff obviously felt in the wake of Boeser’s injury that this was a deal the Canucks needed and could afford.

The right winger is expected to practise with the Canucks on Tuesday. Vancouver plays the Minnesota Wild on Wednesday and is just 2-4-1 in its last seven games.

The Canucks were passed in the Pacific Division by the Edmonton Oilers on Sunday and the Vegas Golden Knights on Monday. Vancouver’s playoff cushion has deflated to just four points, which may be another reason Benning was motivated to move for Toffoli now rather than waiting until nearer Monday’s trade deadline to check on NHL inventory and prices.

But beyond the Canucks’ present scuffling, remember they are still further ahead in their evolution than most people expected them to be with 23 games to go. They led their division for a month, boast a potent attack driven by rising stars in Pettersson and Quinn Hughes, and still have a goalie in Markstrom under contract who should be a Vezina Trophy candidate this season.

They’ve also beaten nearly every top team in a Western Conference that is without a formidable giant. No team is fearful of what they’ll find should they make the playoffs. They just need to get there. The Canucks believe they have as a good a chance as anyone. And on Tuesday they got a little bit better.

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Astros’ Francis Martes suspended for 2020 season following drug test – Sportsnet.ca

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NEW YORK — Houston Astros pitcher Francis Martes was suspended for the 2020 season following his second positive test for a performance-enhancing substance under baseball’s major league drug program.

Martes tested positive for Boldenone, the commissioner’s office said Monday. Boldenone is sold under the brand name Equipose and is used commonly on horses.

A 24-year-old right-hander, Martes is on the Astros’ 40-man major league roster but hasn’t pitched in the big leagues since 2017.

He was suspended last March 12 for 80 games following a positive test for Clomiphene, a women’s fertility drug that has been used by some athletes to counter side effects of steroids use. Martes returned Aug. 21 and made two starts for the rookie level Gulf Coast Astros and one for Quad Cities of the Class A Midwest League. He was 0-2 with a 6.75 ERA in 5 1/3 innings.

Martes’ ban isn’t quite the Houston-related cheating punishment fans and players have clamoured for around baseball. The Astros have been pummeled via the press by opposing teams since opening spring training, with many expressing disappointment that no players were suspended for their sign-stealing scam.

Martes did not have a statement, the players’ association said.

“Throughout our system, players are educated through MLB’s drug prevention and treatment programs,” the Astros said in a statement. “We hope that Francis will learn from this experience moving forward.”

He is the second player suspended this year under the big league program. Colorado pitcher Justin Lawrence was suspended for 80 games following a positive test for the performance-enhancing substance Dehydrochlormethyltestosterone (DHCMT). Lawrence also has yet to make his big league debut.

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Ryan Newman hospitalized after fiery crash at Daytona 500 – CBC.ca

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Ryan Newman flipped across the finish line, his Ford planted upside down and engulfed in flames, a grim reminder of a sport steeped in danger that has stretched nearly two decades without a fatality.

At the finish line, Denny Hamlin made history with a second straight Daytona 500 victory in an an overtime photo-finish over Ryan Blaney, a celebration that quickly became muted as word of Newman’s wreck spread.

“I think we take for granted sometimes how safe the cars are,” Hamlin said. “But number one, we are praying for Ryan.”

Roughly two hours after the crash, NASCAR read a statement from Roush Fenway Racing that said Newman is in “serious condition, but doctors have indicated his injuries are not life threatening.”

WATCH | Ryan Newman involved in terrifying crash at Daytona 500:

Ryan Newman was leading the race when he was involved in a crash that sent his car spinning before it caught on fire. 2:08

NASCAR scrapped the traditional victory lane party for Hamlin’s third Daytona 500 victory, rocked by Newman’s accident 19 years after Dale Earnhardt was killed on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500. Earnhardt was the last driver killed in a NASCAR Cup Series race.

Newman had surged into the lead on the final lap when Blaney’s bumper caught the back of his Ford and sent Newman hard right into the wall. His car flipped, rolled, was hit on the driver’s side by another car, and finally skidded across the finish line in flames.

It took several minutes for his car to be rolled back onto its wheels. The 2008 Daytona 500 winner was placed in a waiting ambulance and taken directly to a hospital, and the damage to his Mustang was extensive. It appeared the entire roll cage designed to protect his head had caved.

Drivers were stricken with concern, including a rattled Corey LaJoie, the driver who hit Newman’s car as it was flipping.

“Dang, I hope Newman is ok,” he posted on Twitter. “That is [the] worst case scenario and I had nowhere to go but [into the] smoke.”

Hamlin is the first driver since Sterling Marlin in 1995 to win consecutive Daytona 500s, but his celebration in victory lane was subdued.

Hamlin said he was unaware of Newman’s situation when he initially began his celebration. It wasn’t until Fox Sports told him they would not interview him on the frontstretch after his burnouts that Hamlin learned Newman’s incident was bad.

“It’s a weird balance of excitement and happiness for yourself, but someone’s health and their family is bigger than any win in any sport,” he said. “We are just hoping for the best.”

Team owner Joe Gibbs apologized after the race for the winning team celebration.

“We didn’t know until victory lane,” Gibbs said. “I know that for a lot of us, participating in sports and being in things where there are some risks, in a way, that’s what they get excited about. Racing, we know what can happen, we just dream it doesn’t happen. We are all just praying now for the outcome on this.”

Runner-up Blaney said the way the final lap shook out, with Newman surging ahead of Hamlin, that Blaney got a push from Hamlin that locked him in behind Newman in a move of brand alliance for Ford.

“We pushed Newman there to the lead and then we got a push from the 11 … I was committed to just pushing him to the win and having a Ford win it and got the bumpers hooked up wrong,” he said. “It looked bad.”

Track workers attend to Ryan Newman, driver of the #6 Koch Industries Ford, following a crash during the NASCAR Cup Series 62nd Annual Daytona 500. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Hamlin had eight Ford drivers lined up behind him as the leader on the second overtime shootout without a single fellow Toyota driver in the vicinity to help him. It allowed Newman to get past him for the lead, but the bumping in the pack led to Newman’s hard turn right into the wall, followed by multiple rolls and a long skid across the finish line.

Hamlin’s win last year was a 1-2-3 sweep for Joe Gibbs Racing and kicked off a yearlong company celebration in which Gibbs drivers won a record 19 races and the Cup championship. Now his third Daytona 500 win puts him alongside six Hall of Fame drivers as winners of three or more Daytona 500s. He tied Dale Jarrett — who gave JGR its first Daytona 500 win in 1993 — Jeff Gordon and Bobby Allison. Hamlin trails Cale Yarborough’s four wins and the record seven by Richard Petty.

This victory came after just the second rain postponement in 62 years, a visit from President Donald Trump, a pair of red flag stoppages and two overtimes. The 0.014 margin of victory was the second closest in race history, and Hamlin’s win over Martin Truex Jr. in 2016 was the closest finish in race history.

That margin of victory was 0.01 seconds. The win in “The Great American Race” is the third for Toyota, all won by Hamlin. Gibbs has four Daytona 500 victories as an owner.

“I just feel like I’m a student to the game. I never stop learning and trying to figure out where I need to put myself at the right time,” Hamlin said. “It doesn’t always work. We’ve defied odds here in the last eight years or so in the Daytona 500, but just trust my instincts, and so far they’ve been good for me.”

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