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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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Boston Bruins Add Offense With Solid Taylor Hall Trade – Boston Hockey Now



The Boston Bruins clearly understood they had serious deficiencies on their NHL roster this season and credit them for going and doing something about it.

The B’s finished off their Sunday night fireworks ahead of the NHL trade deadline by sending a second round pick and Anders Bjork to the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for top-6 winger Taylor Hall and bottom-6 forward Curtis Lazar. TSN’s Darren Dreger, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman and ESPN’s John Buccigross were the first to report about the completed deal between the Bruins and Buffalo Sabres in the hours following the B’s getting stomped by the Washington Capitals, 8-1, at TD Garden.

The Buffalo Sabres retained half of the $8 million salary that Hall signed for prior to the start of the 2021 hockey season.

The 29-year-old Hall is having a terrible season in Buffalo with just two goals and 19 points in 37 games along with a minus-21 rating after he chose to sign a one-year deal with the Sabres during the offseason. But he brings legitimate offensive talent as a former No. 1 overall pick and Hart Trophy winner to a Boston Bruins team that’s ranked in the bottom third of the NHL offensively all season.

The Bruins were one of the suitors for Hall prior to him choosing the Sabres months ago, and now they get him for a deep discount while keeping their own first round picks after making their deadline deals.

Holding onto their own first round pick was a priority for Boston Bruins GM Don Sweeney after spending first rounders at the deadline in two of the last three deadlines in trades for damaged goods Rick Nash and Ondrej Kase.

The 26-year-old Lazar has five goals and 11 points in 33 games as a bottom-6 forward for the Sabres this season and is signed for $800,000 for next season. It seemed clear that something was going on with the 24-year-old Anders Bjork over the last couple of weeks as he was a healthy scratch for five straight games, including Sunday night against Washington, and heads to Buffalo hoping to further develop a game built on speed and skill level that hasn’t translated into offense as of yet.

Hall should fit right into the top-6 with the Bruins as a skilled winger for playmaking center David Krejci, but it remains to be seen how he’s going to fit as another left winger on a team with Nick Ritchie and Jake DeBrusk.

Either Ritchie or DeBrusk is going to have to play the off wing with a Krejci/Hall combo, but that’s a problem that Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy will gladly figure out after being forced to piece together lineups all season due to injuries and offensive inconsistency. With the acquisition of Hall, Lazar and left-handed defenseman Mike Reilly on Sunday night, it would appear the Boston Bruins are largely done with deals ahead of Monday’s NHL trade deadline.

Interestingly enough, the Boston Bruins are set to play the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday night at TD Garden.

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Drouin must return to mentality that’s led to success this season –



It was something Dominique Ducharme said after his Montreal Canadiens played an abysmal game against the Ottawa Senators last week, something that only truly resonated after they lost 3-2 to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday — a game that emboldened the struggle Jonathan Drouin’s currently enduring.

“Ninety per cent of the mistakes we made were mental, and the rest of it was above our shoulders.” the coach said after the 6-3 loss to Ottawa last Saturday, somewhat channelling New York Yankees legend Yogi Berra with this bit of wit and wisdom.

It was hard not to think of those words watching Drouin play the way he did on Wednesday. For much of this season, the talented left winger has played a primary role in Montreal’s success. He’s led them with 19 assists, been tenacious on the forecheck, physically engaged all over the ice, cerebral as always in his execution and, as he’s said on several occasions, relatively unconcerned by whether or not his name has been featured on the scoresheet.

But it seemed clear, after watching Drouin dump a breakaway into Jack Campbell’s chest with one of 32 shots the Maple Leafs goaltender turned aside to set a franchise record with his 10th consecutive win, he had diverted from that. And that affected the way he played the rest of the game.

It was Drouin’s fifth in a row without a point, his 18th without a goal, and he’d have to be a robot not to be suffering the mental wear of not seeing the puck go in more than twice since the season started, the torment of seeing only three per cent of his shots hit the back of the net through 36 games after 10 per cent of them resulted in goals through the first 348 games of his career.

“It is weighing on me where, when I have a chance and miss the goal, I might be trying to score too much,” Drouin said. “It’s something I obviously think about — every player would — and I’ve just gotta put it past me and just keep shooting pucks.”

Ideally, the 26-year-old wouldn’t be thinking about any of this. These are thoughts that weigh a player down and right now the Canadiens are in tough without Brendan Gallagher for the rest of the season and Drouin needs to be light and free to help account for that loss. And in order for him to do that, he needs to focus on what he does best.

Because the reality is that even though Drouin can score more, scoring isn’t what he needs to do in order to be at his best and really help this team.

“When his feet are moving and he’s making plays, Drou’s a pass-first guy,” explained Jake Allen, who made 29 saves in Carey Price’s absence. “When his feet are moving, his head’s always in it. When his feet are moving, he’s controlling the play, controlling the puck. He’s a guy who really can control the play for a whole line. You want the puck on that guy’s stick and let the other guys do the dirty work and he’ll find them.”

But when Drouin’s feet aren’t moving, there just isn’t enough of that other stuff happening.

When Drouin’s feet weren’t moving, he lost a battle for the puck in the offensive zone and allowed the NHL’s leading goal scorer to start the rush that resulted in the winning play of Wednesday’s game.

Auston Matthews to Mitch Marner, back to Matthews, off Allen and slammed into Montreal’s net by Zach Hyman with 9:39 remaining in the third period, with Drouin watching from just inside his own blue line.

“You give a 3-on-2 to the Matthews line and it’s the kind of play they’re going to make you pay on,” said Ducharme.

Was Drouin still thinking about that shot he didn’t bury in the second period?

It’s understandable if he was, but those are the kind of thoughts he needs to shake right now.

“He wants to do well, and I’m sure it’s getting a little bit in his head,” said Ducharme. “I think the best remedy for him is to be scoring that goal or making that big play, and I think he’s going to be energized by that and less thinking, more acting.

“It is a fine line. Those kind of thoughts is not something that you want to happen. But when you receive that puck and you see the opening and stuff, (the slump) comes back to (your mind). That’s why the mental part of the game is something that’s very tricky. It’s not his will to be thinking that way. Every player who’s going through a time like that will have that thought and scoring that goal will take him to a different level. At those kind of times you need to make it even simpler and being even more inside going at the net and finding a garbage (goal) right there and you put it in and sometimes you go on a little run. It might be that kind of goal that he needs to get that monkey off his back.”

It’s the kind of goal Corey Perry scored twice to give the Canadiens a chance in this game.

But Drouin isn’t Perry, who rightly pointed out after the game he’s made a career of scoring goals that way. And even if Drouin can borrow from what Perry does next time he has a chance like the one Brett Kulak set him up with for that breakaway, there are other ways he can positively impact the game.

You can appreciate that Drouin said he’s putting pressure on himself to score more and help make up for the goals the team will be missing with Gallagher sidelined, but that might not get him to where he needs to be mentally to contribute as much as he already has this season.

What would, though, is a sharp turn towards the mentality he described just days ago. The one that’s enabled him to be a much more consistent player this season than he has in seasons past.

“When I was younger, I’d stay on one game or stay on one play for too long and wouldn’t be able to let it go for a bit or a couple of days,” Drouin said. “But I think for me now it’s can I look at myself in the mirror after a game and did I give my good effort? Was I a part of this game? Was I doing something right in a lot of areas?

“That’s what I do now. I think points are there, goals are there, assists are there, but it’s just about playing that real game and playing to help your team win.”

Drouin’s done a lot of that this season and has a chance to get right back to it when the Winnipeg Jets visit the Bell Centre Thursday.

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Scioscia to lead U.S. baseball bid for spot at Tokyo Olympics



(Reuters) – Mike Scioscia, who won World Series both as a player and manager, was named manager of the U.S. men’s national baseball team on Tuesday, as they seek a spot at the Tokyo Olympics.

After 19 seasons as manager of the Anaheim Angels, guiding them to their only World Series win in 2002, Scioscia will make his international coaching debut in June when the United States hosts the Baseball Americas Qualifier in Florida.

For the tournament the U.S. will be grouped with the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Nicaragua in Pool A while Canada, Colombia, Cuba, and Venezuela will make up Pool B.

The top two teams from each pool will advance to the Super Round, where the country with the best overall record will earn a spot in the Tokyo Olympic tournament.

Second and third-place finishers will advance to a final qualifier, joining Australia, China, Taiwan, and the Netherlands.

“Mike’s tenure with the Angels’ franchise was nothing short of spectacular, creating and celebrating a culture of success with six division titles, an American League pennant, and its first-ever World Series title,” said USA Baseball Executive Director/CEO Paul Seiler in a statement. “More impactfully, his leadership, integrity, and character are unparalleled in our game, making him the perfect fit for the USA Baseball family.”

The Olympic tournament will take place from July 28-Aug. 7 in Fukushima City and Yokohama.

Hosts Japan, Israel, South Korea, and Mexico have already secured a berth in the six-team field.


(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto. Editing by Toby Davis)

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