These are the facts as currently stand for the Toronto Raptors.
- Despite losing 10 of 11 games, the Raptors are still only 5.5 games out of fourth in the East. They are closer to playoff contention than tanking, especially after keeping Kyle Lowry. Phoenix has the third-best winning percentage in the league right now. They’re a legit team. Losing to them is no shame. And if Toronto plays to this level going forward, they are going to make the playoffs with room to spare.
- Gary Trent Jr. cannot be judged on one game. He missed defensive rotations, yes, at one time failing to leave his man to cycle to Cam Johnson — a 38 percent 3-point shooter — in rotation and gave up an easy triple. But for players new to teams, accurate or inaccurate defensive rotations are not reflections of much. They are not reflections of effort, or energy, or ability, or intelligence, or any of those other defensive tools. They are merely reflections of familiarity with scheme. And of course Trent is not familiar with Toronto’s scheme yet. He hasn’t even practiced. So no criticism there. Otherwise, he missed all five threes he took. Okay. That’s the bad. But he has a long history as a good-to-great shooter. He also had some incredible defensive stands in isolation against Devin Booker and Chris Paul, and he was solid at filling lanes in transition. He didn’t lift to the correct spots at times in the half-court, but as with defensive rotations, offensive rotations are more a comfort thing than anything else. Don’t be fooled by the numbers; this was a promising start for Trent, as his teammates confirmed after the game, and he’ll have plenty of opportunity to improve as the games keep coming hot and heavy.
- Toronto still needs a center. Like, bad.
The Raptors are -108 in 766 Aron Baynes minutes this season.
They are +109 in 1346 minutes he has sat. https://t.co/mDLuBsKheN
— Daniel Hackett (@dhackett1565) March 27, 2021
- Heavy Hands Win Games. Specifically, Fred’s hands. At one point, he stripped DeAndre Ayton as he turned in the post. He does that approximately one to two times a game to unsuspecting bigs. At another point, he stripped Devin Booker off his knee: ball, Toronto. VanVleet’s hands are maybe the best in the business right now. Technically, yes, Toronto lost this game. But imagine where they’d be without VanVleet’s ability to rip the ball.
- Pascal Siakam is still a star. Like, an absolute monster. Toronto needs rim pressure with Powell out of town, and Siakam delivered in a big way. He attacked the rim from every conceivable angle, with both hands, floating, falling, fading: you name it. He was phenomenal in this one. It’s been said many times, but when Siakam is aggressive — driving — he is an elite offensive player. He showed just how elite against Phoenix.
- Rodney Hood does stuff that no one else on the bench can do (except maybe Paul Watson, who is out in the health and safety protocol). He can create his own shot, off the dribble or in the post, which is not something that even impressive bench pieces like DeAndre’ Bembry or Yuta Watanabe or even Chris Boucher have in the bag. Yes, Hood is having a down here. But there’s a role in Toronto needs filling, and he likely will get time purely on his theoretical ability to fill it. Toronto needs punch off the bench. That lack, perhaps as much as any other single reason, caused Toronto’s loss to Phoenix. Hood’s gonna have a chance.
- OG Anunoby is going to get a lot more touches now with Norman Powell in Portland, and he is going to do wonders with them. At one point, Anunoby caught in the post, faced up, and delivered a quick blow-by. Instead of trying to take it in soft, he launched himself at the rim with two hands. Only a foul stopped him from the yam. He rained triples when Ayton was late in closeouts. Anunoby is a low-usage, high-efficiency offensive player, and he has been for a long time. We’re finally about to find out what he can do with more opportunity. Odds are he’ll do great things.
- Raps get Blazers on Sunday. Expect an emotional return for Norman Powell, who was the second-longest tenured Raptor before being dealt.
- Just to reiterate, this is a good team that’s built to win. That’s what retaining Lowry means; this team is trying to make the playoffs, not win a high draft pick. The Raptors have weaknesses, of course, but they are not going to play into those weaknesses. Not while Lowry’s a Raptor. Which brings us to
This is the question mark as currently stands:
- Who is going to play center minutes for the Raptors? They don’t need a lot of them. It’s clear that Toronto is fantastic with Anunoby and Siakam manning the front-court spots together, which is significant; that’ll eat up the lion’s share of game minutes. Boucher will get some time, but rebounding remains a serious issue when Boucher is the lone big. That leaves some center minutes remaining. Baynes has had enough of a chance at those minutes. It’s fairly clear, at this point, that the Raptors are handicapping their winning chances by playing him 10-20 minutes. He was working well alongside Boucher, but it seems like that lineup is fairly dependent on Boucher’s jumper dropping. That has been true for much of the season, but it’s not what you want to bet entire lineups’ success on. So Toronto needs someone from the buyout market. Realistically, Andre Drummond and LaMarcus Aldridge will have too many suitors for Toronto to woo. But Gorgui Dieng was recently bought out by the Memphis Grizzlies, and he’s a center shooting 52 percent from deep who can block shots and grab rebounds. He would be a massive upgrade. Kelly Olynyk and Hassan Whiteside haven’t actually been bought out, but if they are, expect Toronto to come calling. Same for Mike Muscala. Any of those guys getting 10 minutes a game over Baynes would help Toronto, but Dieng or Olynyk would probably make Toronto a shoo-in for the fourth seed.
Maple Leafs' goalie Petr Mrazek exits with groin injury vs. Senators – The Athletic
Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Petr Mrazek exited after the second period of a 3-2 loss to the Ottawa Senators on Thursday with what the team called a groin injury. The team had no further update on his status after the game.
Mrazek went down awkwardly on the final shot of the period from Ottawa’s Victor Mete, then hobbled down the tunnel at the end of the period. Mrazek made 26 saves but allowed three first-period goals. Jack Campbell came on for the Leafs in goal to start the third period.
Mrazek, 29, was making his debut with the Leafs after signing a three-year deal in the offseason.
(Photo: Chris Tanouye / Getty Images)
Umpire's 'Blown' Check-Swing Call Ends Epic Dodgers-Giants Series And Stuns Fans – Yahoo
The Giants’ Wilmer Flores struck out on what many believed was a blown check-swing call by first base umpire Gabe Morales. The out preserved the Dodgers’ 2-1 victory in Game 5 on Thursday, allowing the team to advance to the National League Championship Series against Atlanta.
The chances of a Giants rally appeared dim at the time. The count was 0-2, there were two outs, a runner on first, and three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer was pitching. Not to mention that Flores had never gotten a hit off Scherzer before, the San Francisco Chronicle noted.
But the anticlimactic ending to the momentous playoff clash between the historic rivals angered fans. Reporters and Major Leaguers, including the New York Mets’ Kevin Pillar (a former Giant), chimed in, too.
Check out the reactions of what some called “the check swing heard round the world.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.
Cardinals acquire Pro Bowl tight end Zach Ertz from Eagles – Sportsnet.ca
The undefeated Arizona Cardinals have added another weapon to their arsenal.
The Cardinals, who are the only 5-0 team in the NFL, acquired three-time Pro Bowl tight end Zach Ertz from the Philadelphia Eagles on Friday for cornerback Tay Gowan and a 2022 fifth-round draft pick.
Ertz played with the Eagles since they selected him in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft. He set an NFL record for most receptions by a tight end in a single season with 116 catches and also had a career-high 1,163 yards during the 2018 season. Ertz, who was selected to the Pro Bowl three consecutive years from 2017-19, caught the game-winning touchdown during Super Bowl LII to help the Eagles defeat the New England Patriots 41-33 and capture their first Super Bowl.
“Zach Ertz built a special legacy in Philadelphia,” Eagles chairman and CEO Jeffrey Lurie said in a statement. “Talented, tough, and passionate, he helped to establish our team’s culture and played a vital role in our success over the years.
“Zach created so many memories that will live on forever, from setting numerous franchise and league records, to reaching across the end zone for the game-winning touchdown in our first-ever Super Bowl championship. He will always be a member of the Eagles family, not only because of what he accomplished on the field, but also because of the wonderful person, dedicated leader, and exemplary role model that he was for nine seasons in Philadelphia. We wish Zach and Julie nothing but the best.”
The 30-year-old Ertz has 18 receptions for 189 yards and two touchdowns in six games this season. Philadelphia lost 28-22 Thursday night to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with Ertz hauling in a touchdown catch.
The Cardinals play the Cleveland Browns on Sunday.
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