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Trail Blazers outgun Raptors as Powell flashes potential with Portland –



The Portland Trail Blazers didn’t need Norman Powell to have a revenge game against his old team. And they didn’t have to worry about the newest Toronto Raptors causing them any problems.

Nope. Portland had too many weapons and the Raptors were outmanned and outgunned in the first meeting between the two teams that connected on one of the highest-profile moves on Thursday’s trade deadline day. Portland left Tampa Bay with a 122-117 win that was both hard-fought and seemingly never in doubt once the Trail Blazers took control midway through the third quarter.

Playing his first game against the team with whom he had played his entire six-year career, Powell finished with just 13 points and took six shots in 27 minutes, while Rodney Hood and Gary Trent Jr., who came the other way in the deal, chipped in with 19 points – 13 and six, respectively. Trent Jr. started and ended up guarding Powell, and vice versa, but the pre-game subplot never really materialized in any meaningful way, save for one moment in the third quarter when the emotions bubbled up a bit.

Powell broke up a dribble hand-off at the top of the circle midway through the third quarter and took it the other way for a dunk, making sure to stare down the Raptor bench as he circled back. The play gave Portland the lead and it never trailed again.

“I thought he was looking at me, but he said he wasn’t,” said Fred VanVleet, his good friend. “I told him, ‘I didn’t trade you. I don’t know what you are mad at me for.’ But Norm is such an emotional guy in a good way. He wears his heart on his sleeve and it was good to see him. It was really weird playing against him, but, obviously, wish him nothing but the best going forward.”

The game did tighten up down the stretch. The Raptors were down 11 with 7:40 to play and stormed back to within a point with 2:28 to go before Blazers guard CJ McCollum scored seven quick points. But the Raptors had it down to five with 26 seconds left and remained alive when Powell missed two free throws that could’ve iced it. Powell ripped his jersey in frustration. But after VanVleet drove past Powell for a layup to make it a three-point game, the latter made his next two free throws and Toronto couldn’t pull off a minor miracle in the waning seconds.

Otherwise, Powell made some slow-footed fouls in the first half – a familiar theme – and never got rolling the way Toronto knows he can.

The Raptors did well against Portland’s Damian Lillard and McCollum, holding one of the league’s best backcourts to 43 points, or about 22 under their combined season average. But Portland had five other players in double figures, including their entire starting lineup. It seemed like Toronto was trying to patch holes everywhere and when one was covered up another would spring open.

“It’s tough, man but you got to take away something,” said VanVleet, who scored 11 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter, but was just 3-of-13 from the floor in the other three periods. “I thought, for the most part, we guarded Dame pretty well, 7-for-21, I think he shoots a pretty good percentage, so we made it tough on him. He got a lot of that in the second half. CJ got at least six or eight late in the fourth. We guarded those guys pretty well. It’s just Derrick Jones 7-for-9, (Enes) Kanter 5-for-8, some of those guys made some big shots, but you got to give up something. We’re selling out trying to take away two of the better scorers in the league and we just got to do a better job of rotating and cleaning up the offensive glass and things like that. All in all, we’re fighting hard enough. It’s just at some point we gotta turn the switch here to see how we can clean it up.”

The Raptors got 26 points and eight rebounds from Pascal Siakam and 19 points from OG Anunoby, although his seven turnovers hurt. They were clearly missing some offensive punch at times, not only with Powell playing for the other team but with Kyle Lowry out with a sore foot. Pat McCaw (knee) and DeAndre Bembry and Paul Watson (health and safety protocols) were also out.

The Raptors dropped to 18-28 with the defeat, which is their 13th loss in their past 15 games and leaves them mired in 11th place. Portland improved to 28-18.

The game unravelled in the third quarter when the Raptors’ offence fell off a cliff. After going up by seven midway through the period, the Raptors managed just one field goal in the next five minutes and found themselves down by 10 as Portland put together a 19-2 run that was more indicative of the Toronto’s offensive woes than what the Trail Blazers were doing offensively. Toronto held Portland to just 37 per cent shooting in the third, but still fell behind as it shot just 4-of-22 and scored 10 points.

Powell didn’t exactly put on a show against his former team, but it takes little imagination to see how his ability to score at a high rate with the kind of efficiency that meshes well with other high-usage scorers will make the Trail Blazers a tough out in the playoffs.

The Trail Blazers, having seen Powell put up 22 points in 13 shots in his debut Friday, see big things ahead and a chance to double down on one of the most guard-heavy attacks in the NBA

“I think the quality of shots, the quality of our three-point shots will improve,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “Because of him, I think the one thing that he really adds in addition to shooting is he really moves well without the ball and when Dame and CJ are able to penetrate, he’ll find open spots. So I think from an offensive standpoint, it makes us even harder to guard.”

The half couldn’t have worked out better for the Raptors, and, in particular, those with a vested interest in the trade working out in their favour as they led 41-32 after the first quarter and 74-68 at the half.

With Powell likely to decline his player option and head into free agency, Toronto had to calculate what the market might be for someone who has averaged 21 points a game and shot 45 per cent from three over 58 starts going back to last season. The concern was that Powell would be shopping for a deal in the $18-million to $20-million range annually and Toronto didn’t want to have to go that high for a player it had deemed increasingly one-dimensional as his attention to detail on defence faded as his offensive game grew.

As if on cue, there was Powell picking up two quick fouls, one getting beaten to the spot by Trent Jr., who he started out guarding, and then an unwise reach in against his old pal Siakam that saw Powell head to the bench before the game was five minutes old. Any possibility that Powell would show up his old team with one of his trademark first-quarter explosions was out the window.

Better to replace his production with the younger Trent Jr. and maybe even a rehabilitated Hood, who averaged 13 points a game and provided solid, switchable defence in the previous six seasons in Utah, Cleveland and Portland before he tore his Achilles early in the 2019-20 season.

If there was an encouraging development for the Raptors on the night, it might have been Hood, who looks like a good two-way addition and more like the player who averaged 13 points a game over the previous eight seasons than the one who had struggled to find his confidence in his return from the devastating injury. His best moment came just before halftime when he hounded Lillard into a miss, sprinted the floor to set up for a corner three and knocked it down – complete with a fist pump – just before the horn.

“I think that could be a significant part of the trade,” said Nurse. “Some points it already kind of looks like it might be and I think it’s given some flexibility to some subbing and being a little bit bigger around the edges.”

At this stage of the Raptors’ season, they’ll take their bright spots where they can find them.

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Sabres select Owen Power with No. 1 pick in 2021 NHL Draft –



The NHL draft turned Michigan maize and blue Friday night. And there’s a Hughes sibling reunion set to happen in New Jersey.

The Buffalo Sabres opened the draft by selecting Wolverines defenceman Owen Power with the top pick, and were immediately followed by the expansion Seattle Kraken choosing Michigan centre Matthew Beniers at No. 2. It marked the first time since 1969 that teammates went with the first two selections.

Three picks later, the Wolverines became college hockey’s first program to have three teammates go in the first round after the Columbus Blue Jackets selected Michigan winger Kent Johnson fifth.

“Extremely excited for Owen, Matty and their families. Its’ already a great night for Michigan Hockey. Go Blue,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson texted to The Associated Press after the Kraken made their selection.

That’s not all, however. Luke Hughes, who is committed to playing at Michigan, was chosen fourth overall by the the Devils, where the defenceman is united with brother Jack, who was the No. 1 pick in the 2019 draft.

Hughes watched the draft on his family’s living room couch with both of his NHL-playing brothers, rounded out by Quinn, who was selected seventh overall by Vancouver in 2018. Jack Hughes immediately jumped up and began hugging Luke upon hearing Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald announce the pick.

Ontario junior centre Mason McTavish was the only player without Michigan ties to round out the top five, after he was selected third overall by Anahiem.

The draft was held remotely for a second consecutive year due to the coronavirus pandemic, with commissioner Gary Bettman hosting the draft in New Jersey, where he introduced teams to make their selections from their home arenas.

On a day the Sabres traded Rasmus Ristolainen to the Philadelphia Flyers, general manager Kevyn Adams continued his offseason bid to overhaul a struggling franchise by choosing the stalwart defenceman’s heir apparent. Power is listed at six-foot-six and 213 pounds and was the NHL’s Central Scouting Bureau’s top-ranked North American prospect. After scoring three goals and adding 13 assists in 26 games during his freshman season at Michigan, the 18-year-old Power cemented his draft stock by helping Canada win the world hockey championships.

From Mississauga, Ontario, Power is leaning toward returning to school for his sophomore season, something Adams has said would not play a factor into his selection.

“Not thinking about it too much right now, trying to enjoy the night. That’s something I’ll worry about later,” Power said of his future, while surrounded by his family and friends in his backyard.

As for a message to Sabres fans, he said: “I’m super excited to be part of the franchise and ready to get going.”

Power was the third player drafted first directly out of college, joining Michigan State forward Joe Murphy in 1986 and Boston University goalie Rick DiPietro in 2000. And he became the 16th defenceman to go No. 1 since 1970, and first since the Sabres chose Rasmus Dahlin at No. 1 in 2018.

Power and Dahlin have similar two-way, play-making skills, and will have the opportunity to form the backbone of a retooled defensive unit for years to come.

Beniers was ranked sixth overall among North American prospects. He had 14 goals and 24 points in 24 games for the Wolverines.

In 1969, Rejean Houle and Marc Tardif were Montreal Junior Canadiens teammates, who were selected with the first two picks by Montreal. In 1963, Garry Monahan and St. Michael’s Juveniles teammate Peter Mahovlich were selected first and second.

The Sabres made a splash earlier by adding a second first-round pick, 14th overall, and defenceman Robert Hagg in dealing Ristolainen to Philadelphia.

The trade is part of Adams’ bid to rebuild through youth after Buffalo finished last in the overall standings for a fourth time in eight seasons and extended its playoff drought to an NHL record-matching 10th year.

The acquired pick from Philadelphia is actually 13th in the draft order after the NHL stripped the Arizona Coyotes of their first-round pick, 11th overall, for testing players in violation of league’s combine policy.

The Coyotes, however, moved back into the first round by acquiring the Canucks’ pick, ninth overall, in a five-player trade that sent Arizona captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson to Vancouver earlier in the day.

The first European players selected were from Sweden in back to back selections. Defenceman Simon Edvinsson went sixth to the Detroit Red Wings, followed by under-sized forward William Eklund, who was chosen seventh by the San Jose Sharks.

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More people watched Seattle NHL expansion draft on ESPN2 than Cubs-Cards on ESPN – Awful Announcing



In the grand scheme of things, 637,000 viewers nationally is not a huge number for a cable channel with any level of significant distribution. Most things on broadcast TV not only beat that, but beat it by quite a bit, and that kind of number isn’t usually even amongst the top cable broadcasts. However, the news that ESPN2 pulled that number in for its (NHL-produced, but featuring ESPN figures) coverage of the NHL expansion draft for the Seattle Kraken Wednesday night was certainly interesting, especially as so much of the actual news around that draft was reported in advance, and also given that their main-network coverage of the MLB game between the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals drew fewer viewers. Here’s a comparison of Wednesday night sporting events from John Ourand of Sports Business Journal:

On the negative side, that draft didn’t even draw the numbers of studio show Pardon The Interruption (however, that airs on ESPN rather than ESPN2; they’re similar in distribution, but many people turn on main ESPN first). It also didn’t draw the numbers of early Olympic programming from NBCSN. On the positive side, it outdrew a national MLB game. And it drew more than the Vegas Golden Knights’ expansion draft five years ago (595,000 on NBCSN for a combined broadcast of that draft and the NHL Awards). And it’s a good sign for ESPN, as this is their first big NHL event they aired under their new deal.

And yes, as Ourand noted in a follow-up tweet, that Cubs-Cards game didn’t have regional sports network blackouts, so Cubs and Cardinals fans could still watch it on their local RSNs. And most probably did, so it likely primarily pulled the national audience that didn’t have those RSNs. But it’s still interesting to see an ESPN2 event outdraw an ESPN event, especially when the ESPN event is a live game and the ESPN2 event is a one-team expansion draft (and one where most of the information was previously available to the public).

If ESPN versus ESPN2 programming decisions were made strictly from a standpoint of what they thought would draw more viewers, this result would go against that. That’s not entirely the case here, as the MLB on ESPN package comes with some restrictions on where games can air. But it’s still interesting to see the NHL expansion draft on ESPN2 outdraw a live MLB game between two prominent teams.

That is also perhaps further evidence that draft “spoilers” don’t always damage the ratings that much. That’s long been a debate, from the NFL’s heavy pushes against pick-tipping to the NBA’s more moderate approach (which sees pick-tipping still happen with some different language, and which hasn’t really led to obvious ratings losses).

In the case of this draft, figures who don’t work for expansion draft rightsholders Sportsnet (Canada) and ESPN (U.S.) reported many of the picks early, with Frank Seravalli (formerly of TSN, now of Daily Faceoff) and Pierre LeBrun (TSN/The Athletic) getting many of those, other national figures getting some more, and local reporters getting some others. So a mostly-full picture was available before the broadcast for those who wanted to find it. But that didn’t stop a significant amount of people from watching this, and that maybe shows that the league pushes against pick-tipping aren’t always that impactful.

[John Ourand on Twitter]

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Cleveland changes MLB team nickname to Guardians after months of discussion –



Known as the Indians since 1915, Cleveland’s Major League Baseball team will be called Guardians.

The ball club announced the name change Friday with a video on Twitter narrated by actor Tom Hanks, ending months of internal discussions triggered by a national reckoning by institutions and teams to permanently drop logos and names that are considered racist.

The choice of Guardians will undoubtedly be criticized by many of the club’s die-hard fans.

The organization spent most of the past year whittling down a list of potential names that was at nearly 1,200 just over a month ago. But the process quickly accelerated and the club landed on Guardians.

Social unrest spurred name change

Team owner Paul Dolan said last summer’s social unrest, touched off by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, spurred his intention to change the name.

Dolan is expected to provide more details on the choice and background on the change at a news conference at Progressive Field before Cleveland hosts the Tampa Bay Rays.

Dolan said the new name mirrors the city and its people.

“Cleveland has and always will be the most important part of our identity,” he said in a statement. “Therefore, we wanted a name that strongly represents the pride, resiliency and loyalty of Clevelanders. ‘Guardians’ reflects those attributes that define us.”

In 2018, the team stopped wearing the contentious Chief Wahoo logo on their jerseys and caps. However, the team continues to sell merchandise bearing the smiling, red-faced caricature that was protested for decades by Native American groups.

The name change has sparked lively debate among the city’s passionate sports fans. Other names, including the Spiders, which is what the team was once called, were pushed by supporters on social media platforms.

But Guardians does seem to fit the team’s objective to find a name that embodies Cleveland’s ethos while preserving the team’s history and uniting the community.

Not far from the downtown ballpark, there are two large landmark stone edifices — referred to as guardians — on the Hope Memorial Bridge over the Cuyahoga River.

The team’s colours will remain the same, and the new Guardians’ new logos will incorporate some of the architectural features of the bridge.

The change comes as the Washington Football Team continues to work toward a similar makeover. The franchise dropped its name before the 2020 season and said it will reveal a new name and logo in 2022.

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