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Toronto Raptors 2021-22 Early Season Preview, Predictions

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2020-21: A Lost Season Season

 

Following the most successful run in franchise history — seven consecutive playoff berths, six division titles and an NBA Championship — the Toronto Raptors find themselves in reset mode.

In last year’s Orlando bubble, the Raptors fell just one game short of a second consecutive Eastern Conference Finals appearance, bowing out to the rival Boston Celtics in seven games.

The Raptors never found their rhythm in 2020-21, which saw them play all of their games south of the border. The Canadian federal government wouldn’t allow the Raptors to play in Toronto, so they had to use the Amalie Arena in Tampa Bay, Florida as their temporary home.

Toronto finished with a disappointing 27-45 record, 12th overall in the East. Their four Atlantic Division rivals (Boston, Brooklyn Nets, New York Knicks and Philadelphia 76ers) all qualified for the postseason.

This marked Toronto’s first losing and non-playoff season since 2012-13. The .375 winning percentage was their worst mark since 2011-12 (.348).

Offseason Recap: Ujiri Extension, Barnes, Trent Jr., Lowry Departs

To say that this was a news-filled offseason for the Raptors would be a massive understatement.

Masai Ujiri, the well-respected and beloved executive, signed a new deal that now gives him the title of “vice chairman” to go along with his role as the team president.

Ujiri, who has been with the Raptors since 2013, is responsible for the Raptors’ rise to the NBA’s elite. He made bold trades for Serge Ibaka (2017) Kawhi Leonar (2018), Danny Green (2018) and Marc Gasol (2019) that fueled the 2019 championship run.

He made the gutsy decision to fire Dwane Casey in 2018 despite the latter winning Coach of the Year honors. Casey was replaced with Nick Nurse, who led the Raptors to a title in his first season on the job.

Ujiri also hit home runs with the draft selections of Pascal Siakam (27th overall in 2016) and OG Anunoby (23rd overall in 2017). The championship season likely doesn’t happen without Fred VanVleet, who signed as an undrafted free agent in 2016.

The track record of Ujiri, simply put, shows that the Raptors’ future is in good hands. Few executives can match his overall success at the draft table or in the trade and free agent markets.

News of Ujiri’s extension came a week after the Raptors used the No. 4 draft selection on Florida State forward Scottie Barnes. Toronto passed on Gonzaga guard Jalen Suggs, a consensus top-four prospect in the class.

It remains to be seen if Barnes will be a starter, and how much action he’ll see as a rookie. Nurse has a good problem here: Too many options in regards to constructing his starting five.

The Raptors re-signed guard Gary Trent Jr., acquired from the Portland Trail Blazers in the Norman Powell trade, to a three-year deal worth $54 million. It’s been widely viewed as an overpay, but Trent Jr. flourished in a 17-game audition with averages of 16.2 points and 3.6 rebounds per game.

Retaining Trent was a necessity because the Raptors bid farewell to franchise icon and All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry, who left for the Miami Heat in free agency (a three-year deal worth $85 million).

Trent isn’t going to replace Lowry’s leadership, playmaking abilities or reliable scoring ways. But he will reduce some of the damage of Lowry’s departure.

 

 

 

2021-22 Season Predictions

The hope and expectation is that the Raptors will be granted permission to return to Scotiabank Arena for their 2021-22 home games, but nothing has been formally announced.

The Raptors have enjoyed one of the greatest home advantages in the Ujiri era. And it’s safe to say that Toronto would have fared much better last season if they got to play their home games at Scotiabank Arena in front of a boisterous sellout crowd.

On one hand, improvement feels inevitable — especially if the Raptors return to Toronto this season. But the problem is that their division features four likely playoff teams and two bonafide championship contenders, Brooklyn and Philadelphia according to the odds on 888sport Canada.

The Bucks, Heat and Atlanta Hawks feel like playoff locks. The Celtics and Knicks improved their respective rosters and should be in the running again. The Chicago Bulls added Lonzo Ball and former Raptor DeMar DeRozan. The up-and-coming Charlotte Hornets, who earned a play-in berth last year, should be better as the young core continues to grow.

Add it all up, and the best-case scenario for the Raptors is probably a play-in berth. Brooklyn, Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Miami, Atlanta and New York will almost certainly finish higher in the standings.

Theoretically speaking, this would leave the Raptors, Celtics, Bulls, Hornets and the always pesky Indiana Pacers in the mix for the No. 7 and No. 8 seeds plus the two play-in berths.

The early prediction is that the Celtics and Hornets claim the final two seeds, while the revamped Bulls and well-coached Pacers find their ways into the two play-in spots. This will be another non-playoff year in Toronto as Ujiri slowly tries to build a new contender. Short-term pain is required.

 

Prediction: Raptors Finish 35-47, 11th In Eastern Conference

 

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Early game, massive opportunity, especially for two Edmonton Oilers prospects – Edmonton Journal

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This in from Reid Wilkins of 630 CHED, the Edmonton Oilers expected line combos tonight against the Calgary Flames, a game that will live-streamed on EdmontonOilers.com.

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Benson-McLeod-Marody
Perlini-Shore-Turris
Sceviour-Ryan-Bourgault
Hamblin-Cracknell-Lavoie

Koekkoek-Bouchard
Broberg-Berglund
Lagesson-Kemp

Skinner
Konovalov

My take

1. It’s the first pre-season game, but first impressions are huge for at least two young-ish Edmonton Oilers prospects who need to put on a big show if they’re finally going to crack the Oilers roster. They will have other chances to do so, yes, but the clock is ticking, all Oilers organizational eyes are on them, and it’s time to shine if they hope to stick in Edmonton. They both have golden opportunities.

2. Tyler Benson is the first of the two. The kid was drafted in 2016, five years ago. Indeed, Benson is no longer a kid. He’s 23, and all kinds of fellow forwards from that draft have established themselves as NHLers, like Auston Matthews, Matt Tkachuk and Patrik Laine from the top of the draft, but also forwards taken late in the first round or in the second round and after, such as Alex DeBrincat, Jordan Kyrou, Jesper Bratt, Tage Thompson, Max Jones, and Brett Howden. It’s Last-Chance-Gas for other relatively high picks like Sam Steel, Rasmus Asplund, Nathan Bastian and Boris Katchouk. Can they finally grab an NHL job?

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3. Oilers GM Ken Holland said this past week in a radio interview that Benson is penciled into the line-up and that it’s his job to loose. That’s good news for the young forward, but as the old saying goes, that and $2.00 will get him a coffee at Tim Horton’s. Benson has to earn it now on the ice, Holland said. So far in camp, the reports have been good, with Benson coming to camp in excellent shape and looking quicker on the ice.

4. Benson has been teamed up in camp with his AHL linemates Ryan McLeod and Cooper Marody. They were arguably the AHL’s best two-way line last year. McLeod has already made the jump to the NHL and played OK two-way hockey there late last season. He earned a spot in some playoff games. Marody, like Benson, is in Last-Chance-Gas territory as a prospect. But the trio can wheel on the attack and defend effectively. They need to do both tonight against Calgary. There is an outside shot, say 20 per cent, that the trio could somehow find their way forward together as the Oil’s third scoring line to start the year.

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5. The other Oilers prospect on the hot seat is “Wild” Bill Lagesson, who has played seven full seasons since he was drafted 91st overalll in 2014. If he makes it, he’ll be a super rarity, a player who eventually makes the NHL as 25-year-old who is still with the original team that drafted him. It’s such a glorious storyline that one has to think whichever entity is running The Simulation will align things to make it happen.

6. Lagesson got an early boost heading into camp, with veteran Kris Russell still injured and with even more veteran Duncan Keith out until his COVID quarantine ends next Friday. Lagesson is going to get some exhibition games, maybe a few more than anyone had originally planned, but what will he do with them? Will he be the player who looked like he might just hand in there as a shut-down d-man when he played so well with Adam Larsson early in the 2020-21 season? Or will he be the guy who struggled as that same season went on and he got hurt? Injury is a major factor in any player’s career, of course.

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7. Right now, Benson is slotted into the fourth line left wing spot. Lagesson ranks fifth on the left d-man chart, after Darnell Nurse, Keith, Slater Koekkoek and Russell. But injuries happen. Veterans slide. And sometimes a long-time prospect turns the corner and plays the kind of impactful hockey that allows him to stick in the NHL for a season or two or five.

8. The Flames have plenty of Big Bobby Clobbers in their line-up — Erik Gudbranson, Nikita Zadorov, Milan Lucic, Brett Ritchie and Martin Posisil — while the Oilers are going with skill. It will be an interesting test to see if Edmonton’s skill can stand up to and get the best of Calgary’s muscle. Rock beats scissors, so the Oilers will have to do more than make fancy plays. They’ll have to fight through the rough stuff and be all over these Flames, harassing and covering them at every turn. Paper beats rock.

At the Cult

LEAVINS: The Archibald conundrum

McCURDY: Day 3 of on-ice at Edmonton Oilers camp and the first cuts come down

STAPLES: What the Josh Archibald situation mean for the Edmonton Oilers

LEAVINS: Oilers off-season makeover made with an analytics brush

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Is this it as a Ryder Cup player? Lee Westwood shares singles win with son as caddie – Golf Channel

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Whether or not Lee Westwood will captain the European Ryder Cup team in Rome, Italy in 2023, he seemed resigned to the fact that this was his last competition as a player.

“Listen, this match I played this afternoon, it might be the last match I’ve played in the Ryder Cup. I’d rather it wasn’t, but I’m 49 next April, and the likelihood is it is. I got to share it with my son. Won my point,” Westwood said Sunday evening, pausing to hold back tears.

“I hate this tournament. It makes you so emotional, but that’s what makes it great as well.”

Westwood’s son, Sam, was his caddie this week as the 48-year-old Englishman won his singles match, 1 up, over Harris English.


Match scoring for the 43rd Ryder Cup


Westwood went 1-2-0 at Whistling Straits, moving his all-time record to 21-20-6. His 11 appearances tie him with Nick Faldo for most ever, on either side.

Westwood was one of four 40-somethings on this year’s European team, along with Ian Poulter, 45, Paul Casey, 44, and Sergio Garcia, 41. While this may mark the end of Westwood’s career as a player (he’ll most certainly be a future captain), Poulter, Casey and Garcia weren’t ready to concede to the future.

The Europeans were routed at the Ryder Cup. Here’s a look at the individual player records for the away team.

When asked by a reporter, “For the veteran guys, I don’t want to suggest for a second that you won’t be back, but do you find yourself taking it in more just in case?”

Garcia responded, I’m not answering this one. I’m not a veteran.”

To which Westwood followed, “I guess that’s me, then, is it?”

If this is it for Westwood, he leaves as a member of seven victorious European teams.

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Blue Jays beat Twins; stay two back in AL wild-card race – TSN

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Teoscar Hernández, Marcus Semien and George Springer homered, and the Toronto Blue Jays held their position in the playoff chase by beating the Minnesota Twins 6-1 Saturday night.

Robbie Ray (13-6) scattered three hits in six innings as the Blue Jays ended a three-game slide.

Toronto stayed two games behind Boston and New York in the AL wild-card race with seven games remaining.

Semien hit his 43rd home run in the sixth for a 3-1 lead. That tied him with Dave Johnson of Atlanta in 1973 for the most home runs in a season by a second baseman.

Springer snapped an 0-for-16 skid with a two-run shot in the seventh. It was his 18th of the season and first since Sept. 11.

Ray, who leads the AL with a 2.68 ERA and tops the majors with 244 strikeouts, gave up one run and fanned six.

Minnesota scored on a sacrifice fly in the first and had runners on in four of the next five innings. Ray escaped a two-on, one-out jam in the sixth, ending his outing by getting Miguel Sanó to foul out and Nick Gordon to line out. The Twins were 0 for 6 with runners in scoring position.

Hernández homered and Santiago Espinal scored on a double by Randal Grichuk, coupled with an error by right fielder Brent Rooker, for a 2-1 lead in the second.

Out since Sept. 14 with a left abdominal strain, Minnesota starter John Gant (5-10) came off the 10-day injured list and allowed two runs — one earned — in three innings.

MINNESOTA’S MORNEAU

Former 1B Justin Morneau was inducted into the Twins Hall of Fame.

The native of New Westminster, British Columbia, hit .278 in 11 years with the club. Morneau ranks second on the Twins all-time list in games played at first base (1,124), third in home runs (221), sixth in RBI (860), and eighth in hits (1,318) and walks (501). The American League MVP in 2006 also was a four-time All-Star. He finished his 14-year career with stints in Pittsburgh, Colorado and with the White Sox, and was inducted in the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2020. He remains with the Twins as a special assistant to baseball operations and part-time analyst on the team’s television broadcasts.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Blue Jays: RHP Joakim Soria was placed on the COVID-related injured list and LHP Kirby Snead was recalled from Triple-A Buffalo. … Manager Charlie Montoyo said OF Lourdes Gurriel Jr. might not return to the lineup until Tuesday. Gurriel’s hand was stepped on by a teammate during an outfield play Thursday and he received stitches in his middle finger.

Twins: To make room for Gant, RHP Joe Ryan was placed on the family medical emergency/bereavement list.

UP NEXT

Toronto RHP Alek Manoah (7-2, 3.36) and Twins RHP Griffin Jax (3-4, 6.75) are Sunday afternoon’s scheduled starters. Manoah has allowed just two earned runs and six hits over 14 innings across his past two starts.

___

More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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