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Trent Jr. impresses in debut, but can’t solve Raptors’ biggest problem –



First impressions?

Gary Trent Jr. will have a better career with the Toronto Raptors than Gary Trent Sr., who back in 1998 — in one of those bizarre confluences of timing and numbers — was also traded from Portland to Toronto after 41 games of this third season with a career scoring average of about 10 points a game

But the elder Trent — a bruising post player who was perfectly built for rugged, no blood, no foul 1990s basketball — only lasted 13 games as a Raptor, although he went on to play 506 in the NBA over nine seasons.

Trent Jr. is equally suited for his era as a wing with some length whose specialty is stretching defences from deep and who is adept at switching to guard multiple positions on the perimeter. The Raptors are hoping to have him around for a while, given he’s only 22, and the team will be in a position to offer him a multi-year contract this coming summer.

He got the start against the Phoenix Suns, taking the departed Norman Powell’s place in the lineup alongside the Raptors’ other trade deadline ‘acquisition’ Kyle Lowry, who the Raptors didn’t trade.

That alone made Raptors head coach Nick Nurse’s day on Thursday.

“I found out probably like most of you guys about three o’clock when the thing shut down that he was still gonna be a Raptor,” said Nurse about finding out he’d have Lowry to coach until at least the end of the season after it was widely assumed the pending free agent would be dealt for parts and picks. “Listen, I’m happy about it. I still think that we’re in a season that’s been tumultuous at best, but we’re not out of it or anything like that and we continue to prove we can play pretty good basketball. Just hope we can string, I’m not saying a whole bunch of wins together because I just wanna string good play together and that takes care of itself, and hopefully we can get out of seemingly there’s some little road bump or pitfall or something ahead all the time since we got here. Hopefully we can get through that and get a chance to do that.”

Next impressions? Trent Jr. alone won’t save Toronto — he looked emotionally spent after a long week where he was at the centre of the NBA rumour mill, as he finished with eight points in 31 minutes. And Rodney Hood won’t either, although he hardly looked out of place, but he can’t do much to solve Toronto’s season-long struggles against teams with quality big men.

The Raptors lost 104-100 and although they can be encouraged by a fourth-quarter defensive effort where they held the high-flying Suns to 7-of-22 shooting, they still dropped their ninth game in the past 10 to fall to 18-27 as they try to scramble from 11th place into a playoff position.

Known as a shooter, Trent finished 4-of-11 from the floor and 0-of-5 from deep, including a miss on a potential go-ahead three in transition with 59 seconds left. But the career 40 per cent three-point shooter encouragingly had some of his best moments on defence, including forcing a miss from Suns veteran star Chris Paul in a one-on-one situation in the paint a couple of possessions prior to that.

The Raptors got to within two points with 2:11 to play after trailing by nine with 3:50 to play with a quick 7-0 run, but Toronto stalled at that point, counting only a lay-up by Fred VanVleet.

Pascal Siakam led the Raptors with 26 points, 11 rebounds and six assists but Toronto shot just 41.1 per cent from the floor for the game. The Suns got 19 points and eight rebounds from Paul while big man DeAndre Ayton had 19 points and nine rebounds and helped Phoenix to a 58-32 edge in points in the paint as they shot 48 per cent from the floor and help a 9-7 edge in offensive rebounds.

Wearing the same No. 33 that his father wore as a Raptor, Trent Jr. didn’t take long to show that he should acclimatize quickly. On his first touch he ran a simple pick-and-roll that ended up in a wide-open three for Siakam that went down. His first basket as a Raptor wasn’t a three but an elbow jumper on the move. Defensively he was as advertised: engaged and alert, though limited in that his only exposure to the Raptors systems and terminology came in a pre-game walkthrough.

“He’s coming into his own, little bit different style than Norman,” said Nurse before the game. “Kinda the shooting’s similar, the three-point shooting’s kinda similar percentage wise. Doesn’t maybe go to the rim maybe as explosive as Norman does, but not many do. And then we’re just gonna have to see how he fits in with the rest of it.

“You guys know what’s important to me and what’s important to making our team good is can he guard, and will he guard, and can he understand the schemes, and will he be a good chemistry piece, which, you know, that’s what we’re gonna start to find out.”

Playing the first three years of his career alongside one of the most prolific backcourt combinations in the NBA in Dame Lillard and CJ McCollum was good preparation for stepping into the lineup alongside Lowry and VanVleet.

“Coming from a two-guard set I know where to find my spots to score, know my role and [about] playing that to the best of my ability,” said Trent Jr. “I’m coming here to gel with everybody, to try to help get on the winning track and win as many games as possible and be a great teammate.”

Unfortunately, there’s not much that Trent Jr. can do about the Raptors’ biggest weakness which is finishing defensive possessions with a rebound and, too often of late, simply playing good defence at all.

The Raptors trailed 53-51 at the half but it was almost an illusion. The Suns shot 56 per cent from the floor and 41 per cent from three in part because the Raptors were struggling to make shots. Their 18-of-46 shooting meant the Suns were going the other way against scrambled Raptors defenders trying to get back in transition — the Suns were five-of-five on the break. The Suns also feasted on the Raptors’ lack of size. Ayton was 5-of-6 from the floor, facing no threat as he rolled comfortably down the lane to the rim, a big reason why the Suns enjoyed a 26-10 edge on points in the paint in the early going.

Siakam gave the Suns some matchup issues as well as he attacked Ayton and scored 17 points in the first half, but otherwise the only thing going for the Raptors was that they weren’t fouling — the Suns didn’t shoot a free throw in the first two quarters while Toronto was eight-of-eight. Toronto also benefitted from 10 Phoenix turnovers.

The Suns pushed their lead to 14 early in the third quarter as they opened the second half on a 20-6 run where they seemed to be able to access the Raptors’ paint untouched and get to the rim even more easily. The Raptors finally stiffened that point as they responded with a 16-6 run of their own to pull within four before the Suns took an 83-77 lead into the fourth quarter.

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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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