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Toronto Raptors 140, Washington Wizards 111

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Beating the Washington Wizards into the ground never gets old, does it? That playoff sweep was four-and-a-half years ago, and John Wall has been hurt forever and Bradley Beal is the only other player left from that roster. But still… every time the Toronto Raptors down the Wizards — six in a row now! — it still feels pretty good!

Like the Raptors of Old (uh, Two Months Ago)

One of the best things about the early season (aka, healthy) Raptors was seeing them turn defense into offense. They defended the paint incredibly well, the got their hands into the passing lanes, and they turned turnovers into transition opportunities.

The Wizards turned it over 28(!) times, leading to 30 Raptors points, and the Raptors racked up 34 fast break points.

I can’t credit one person for all of it, but having Marc Gasol back sure does help, doesn’t it? Having him anchor the D, and push the ball ahead off of stops, really gets this Raptors team going.

And speaking of Gasol getting things going…

Marc Gasol, Offensive Beast

20 points!? On nine shots, seven of them three-pointers!? Who is this guy?

Marc Gasol has been a source of frustration for Raptors fans, and definitely this column, all year long. He’s been hesitant, and we want him taking shots!

Well it looks like we’re finally getting just that. That’s two games in a row Marc’s taken nine shots, just the seventh and eighth time he’s reached that many attempts in his 29 games this season. Maybe, finally, after almost a year, he’s getting comfortable enough with this group to assert himself? I guess I can’t judge. It definitely takes me time to warm up to new groups of people too!

No Letting Up (Well, Mostly)

Much like Wednesday night, and so many other nights lately, the Raptors jumped out to an early lead. And as I wrote about following Wednesday’s game, you just can’t feel safe with a lead right now, given Toronto’s recent history of letting teams back into games.

So it was great to see the Raps hang on to, and in fact build on, that lead, throughout the game… mostly. The Wizards made a brief run in the third to cut the lead to nine, but — unlike in the past few games — the Raptors were able to immediate respond, going on an 8-0 run, and then, after trading a handful of buckets, another 9-0 run to end the third quarter and the rout was on.

Now, can they do that against any of the better teams in the league? We’ll have to wait a couple games to find out, but last night was a step in the right direction.

Beal’s 0-for Trip

Early in the first quarter last night, Bradley Beal — who I don’t have to tell you has been deadly against the Raptors — gave us an indication of how the night might go for his team.

He stepped behind the arc for a three that missed — with a good contest from Serge Ibaka. But with Serge out of position, Isaac Bonga was able to snag the board and dish it right back to Beal… who missed another three, but got his own rebound… and missed a short baseline J.

0-for-3 on one trip from the assassin Beal? You had to feel good about the Raptors’ chances after that one.

Is Swingin’ Wings Over?

I started the weekly Swingin’ Wings column to track who on this Raptors team would most ably fill the shoes of the departing Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. The offseason favourites would have been OG Anunoby and Norman Powell, but some inconsistency from Anunoby and the injury to Powell left lots of room for debate.

But, over the past three games, Anunoby and Powell have really started to bring it. True, Powell has come off the bench in two of the games (with OG starting at the 2-guard spot) but productivity-wise, the numbers don’t lie:

Anunoby: 15.7 points, 4.7 rebounds, 3 assists, 2.7 steals, 61%FG / 46%3FG

Powell: 19.8 points, 3.3 rebounds, 2 assists, 1.3 steals, 64%FG / 55%3FG

Now, three games don’t make a trend, and those shooting numbers will come back down to earth. But if they can play consistently solid ball like this? I may have to retire that column!

********

It’s right back at it tonight for the Raptors as they travel to Minnesota. Can they make it three wins in a row?

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Raptors’ Powell to return vs. Hornets; Ibaka, VanVleet out with injury – Sportsnet.ca

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The Toronto Raptors will be without Serge Ibaka and Fred VanVleet when they take on the Charlotte Hornets on Friday, however Norman Powell will make his return from injury, Raptors coach Nick Nurse said before the game.

Nurse also stated that Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Powell will start in place of VanVleet and Ibaka.

Ibaka was previously listed as doubtful due to right knee soreness. He struggled in Toronto’s loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday, finishing with five points on an abysmal 2-for-15 shooting, including a 1-for-10 mark from three-point range.

Overall, the 30-year-old has enjoyed one of the best seasons of his career in 2019-20. He’s averaging a career-best 15.9 points to go along with 8.0 rebounds per game.

VanVleet had not previously been on the injury report, however he is also listed as out due to left shoulder pain.

The 26-year-old is averaging 17.6 points and 6.6 assists per game in 48 appearances this year.

Powell, who hasn’t played since Jan. 31 due to a fractured fourth metacarpal on his left hand, figures to shoulder a heavy minutes load right off the bat due to VanVleet’s absence.

Earlier this season, Powell also missed a stretch of 11 games after dislocating his shoulder.

Through 38 games this year, the 26-year-old is averaging a career-high 15.3 points and 3.9 rebounds per game.

The Raptors will also be without Marc Gasol, who continues to be sidelined with a left hamstring injury.

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Zamboni driver turned NHL goalie David Ayres given his own hockey card – CTV News

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TORONTO —
The Toronto-area Zamboni driver who became famous after suiting up at the last minute for the Carolina Hurricanes has now been awarded a hockey card in his honour.

David Ayres, a 42-year-old from Whitby, Ont., joined the Hurricanes as an emergency goalie on Saturday after both their regular goalies left the game due to injury. Ayres went on to make eight saves on 10 shots to help the Hurricanes beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 6-3.

Since the win, Ayres has become an internet sensation, leading to appearances on the TODAY show and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, to name a few. He was went to Raleigh, N.C., where he celebrated “David Ayres Day” in the city by signing autographs from Hurricanes fans and ringing the “siren sounder” before the game.

The stick Ayres used in the game has also been sent to the Hockey Hall of Fame, due to the fact he is now the oldest goalie to win in their NHL debut and the only emergency goalie to ever record an official win in the league.

Ayres’ 15 minutes of fame is not yet over, however, as the trading card company Upper Deck has created a hockey card in his name.

“When we saw the moment, we were blown away by how special it was,” Chris Carlin, head of customer experience at Upper Deck, said in a phone interview with CTVNews.ca.

Ayers is featured in Upper Deck’s “Game Dated Moments” collection, which are cards unveiled on a weekly-basis that highlight notable performances from the past week. Ayres’ card features him standing in the Hurricanes’ net, wearing the team’s jersey and Maple Leafs equipment, while the back of the card tells the story of the game.

Other cards in Ayres’ pack include an Alexander Ovechkin card highlighting his 700th career goal and one about Los Angeles Kings forward Gabriel Vilardi, who scored his first NHL goal just 10 seconds into his first shift.

Carlin said the cards for each week are chosen based on fan requests and that calls for an Ayers card were “like something we’ve never seen before.” It’s already one of their top-performing weekly designs.

“We knew it was a special moment, so it was important for us to dedicate all the resources we had to acquiesce to our fans,” he said.

“There is surprisingly huge demand for a 42-year-old rookie.”

Creating the card didn’t come without its own challenges, however. Because Ayres is not a member of the NHL Players Association, Upper Deck had to secure a deal with Ayres directly for permission to make the card.

“I was surprised myself that we were able to get this done in three days,” Carlin said. “Our window is so tight on these ‘Game Dated Moments’ cards that it’s really a tough one to get done. It’s not the hardest thing to go out and get an image rights deal with someone, but to get it done within three days is pretty much unheard of.”

Carlin said Ayres will also have a “Young Guns” rookie card in his name, which is set for release in mid-May and some autographed cards at a later date.

“We disputed perhaps calling it an ‘old guns’ given his age, because typically the players are anywhere from 18 to 20,” he joked.

Carlin added certain versions of Ayers’ rookie card will only be printed 10 or 100 times, meaning they could hold some serious value.

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Oilers' Green (sprained MCL) out 3-4 weeks – TSN

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EDMONTON — Newly acquired Edmonton Oilers defenceman Mike Green will miss three to four weeks with a knee injury.

The Oilers announced Friday that Green has a sprained MCL. He was hurt in a loss against Vegas on Wednesday.

The Oilers acquired Green in a trade with the Detroit Red Wings early Monday, hours before the NHL’s trade deadline.

Green was playing his second game with the Oilers when he suffered the injury.

The 34-year-old Calgary native has three goals and eight assists in 50 combined games with Detroit and Edmonton this season.

According to TSN’s Ryan Rishaug, Kailer Yamamoto and Kris Russell will be game-time decisions tomorrow after being re-evaluated. Both players took regular reps in practice.

Trade deadline acquisition Andreas Athanasiou, who left last game with a lower-body injury, is good to go. James Neal skated but is still a ways away from playing and defenceman Oscar Klefbom didn’t skate with the main group. 

Zack Kassian returns tomorrow from a seven-game suspension and Mike Smith is expected to start on Saturday against the Winnipeg Jets. 

The Oilers (33-23-8) entered Friday night’s action holding the third and final playoff spot in the Pacific Division.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 28, 2020.

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