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Why the best is yet to come for Canada’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander – Sportsnet.ca

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TORONTO — Shai Gilgeous-Alexander might have as a bright an NBA future as any Canadian in the game right now.

He might have as bright an NBA future as any young guard in the game, flag notwithstanding.

He certainly isn’t short of confidence.

It stems from both his willingness to work and his natural gifts — six-foot-six point guards with nearly seven-foot wingspans are a rare and valued commodity in the NBA. Throw in an innate sense of timing that just 10 days ago Hall-of-Fame bound Dwyane Wade felt compelled to comment on via Twitter after the kid from Hamilton by way of Kentucky tied his career high of 32 points against the team that drafted him — the Los Angeles Clippers — and you have a package nearly unmatched.

“Shai came into the league with the pace of a veteran. This kid is special.”

But he’s not too full of himself. For that he has friends and family, especially his mom — a former Olympic sprinter — to thank.

“I work hard, so I have confidence,” he said before playing just his second game at Scotiabank Arena and his first since he landed in Oklahoma City as the key return piece in an off-season trade that saw Paul George head to the Clippers. “And the people around me don’t let my head get too big.

“Especially my mom, she tells me I suck every day.”

But what is Mom going to say now?

Her son came to Toronto for a late Christmas with the Thunder and put up one of — if not the best — games a Canadian has ever had against the Raptors.

Is 32 points, seven rebounds and the game-winning basket in the Thunder’s 98-97 win and a spot in the record books good enough for Mama?

It should be.

No Canadian has even scored more in an NBA game on Canadian soil or against the Raptors anywhere as Gilgeous-Alexander did Sunday. Previously Rick Fox had dropped 31 in a game in Toronto way back in 1998 when he was with the Los Angeles Lakers while Andrew Wiggins put up 31 against the Raptors in 2016 in Minnesota.

Even the level-headed guard was impressed when he learned he’d not only earned a win to improve the Thunders’ record to 17-15 but a place in Canadian basketball lore.

“I did not know that, that’s cool though,” he said.

When his running mate and mentor, Thunder veteran Chris Paul heard about the significance of his teammate’s big night on the floor he grew up watching the Raptors play on, he predicted Gilgeous-Alexander would be a little less reserved in private.

“Man we aren’t going to hear the end of that,” said Paul. “He was probably modest right here … but we aren’t going to hear the end of that.”

That he showed out was no surprise. Gilgeous-Alexander arrived in Toronto on a heater, averaging 26.4 points over his last five games on 53 per cent shooting with the Thunder winning four of those to remain firmly in the Western Conference playoff picture when trading George was supposed to trigger a rebuild.

And then there was the playing at home factor.

“He’s been excited to come back,” said Paul. “Everybody here in Canada know that you got a real one. He loves home. He loves home.”

Gilgeous-Alexander was one of a record four Canadians to score in the game, another first. Chris Boucher and Oshae Brissett chipped in nine and four points for the Raptors, respectively, while Montreal rookie Luguentz Dort had three points for the Thunder.

For the season Gilgeous-Alexander is averaging 19.4 points a game, a massive leap from the 10.8 points a game he put up in his rookie season as the No. 11 pick in the 2018 draft with no decline in efficiency even if his minutes (35.2 from 26.2) and usage (24.9 from 18.3) have jumped considerably.

The best, most feel, is yet to come. It’s games like he had Sunday night that suggest why.

“He’s playing very well. I’m not sure who has a quicker first step, blow-by move in the league right now than this guy,” said Raptors head coach Nick Nurse, who will have an opportunity to coach Gilgeous-Alexander this summer with the Canadian men’s national team. “When he is [playing one-on-one] and he makes his little head-and-shoulder (move), boom, he’s by ya.”

“And then he’s got the uncanny ability to kind of slow that down at the end,” added Nurse. “It’s ultra-quick by his man and then he surveys around who is left at the basket that he’s got to side step or whatever. Or he makes such a fast move that he’s to the front of the rim right away.”

“That’s been most impressive to me, and it mostly just happens in one-on-one situations,” Nurse continued. “That is what has stuck out to me the most. He’s really athletic. He’s athletic at the start. He’s athletic at the finish. People will come and he’ll hang in the air and he’ll move the ball around and then he’s shooting it really well on top of it. He’ll keep you honest so you can’t just say ‘let’s bait him into some threes or whatever,’ because he’s stroking it pretty good too. He’s been awesome, really awesome, and late in games, crunch time, overtime, all kinds of stuff. He’s been really, really good [and] there’s a lot of upside.”

Gilgeous-Alexander wasted little time putting his skills on display in front of what seemed like almost a full section of friends and family out to watch him play a rare game in his hometown.

It’s the third time he’s scored a career-high 32 points, all coming this season, but this one was a little more special.

“This one might be the best one so far, for sure,” he said. “Back at the crib.”

“… But all of it, honestly, wouldn’t have meant anything if we didn’t win, that was the best feeling, knowing that we came out of here with a win.”

He had a lot to do with it.

He scored on his first touch, loping through the paint for a lay-up, setting a tone. But the end of the first quarter he’d added a couple more hoops on his trademark, slippery, never hurried drives that he can finish with either hand off either foot. It makes him looks comfortable going over, under or around anyone to get the rim.

“I just stay in his ear all the time about being aggressive and staying aggressive,” said Paul. “He’s got it all. The mid-range, the finishes, the shooting.”

But Gilgeous-Alexander was just warming up. He sent the Thunder into halftime tied with the Raptors 47-47 after exploding for 14 second-quarter points including an eight-point flurry in the final two minutes of the half that featured a pair of deep threes.

By then he’d fulfilled his pregame mission:

“Playing in front of friends and family, and on the court you grew up watching is special every time,” he said. “Hopefully I play good.”

Hey, 12-of-21 shooting with three triples in five tries is good.

His only stumble came on a few possessions in the late third quarter and early fourth quarter when the 21-year-old appeared to be forcing his way into the paint a little too much, allowing the Raptors to collapse on him. He missed four straight shots but put the Thunder up one, 94-93, with a floater in the lane with 4:08 to play.

Fortunately, the Thunder have Paul, a 16-year-veteran headed to the hall-of-fame to help carry the load in tight moments. And after another Gilgeous-Alexander miss, Paul scored a controversial jumper after what seemed to be a held ball with under a minute left to put OKC up one.

A pair of VanVleet free throws with 54 seconds left gave the Raptors the lead but only until Gilgeous-Alexander closed out the scoring set the scoring mark at the same time.

“It felt amazing [to get a lift from Paul],” he said. “I felt myself slowing down, getting a little tired, and Chris being the kind of player that he is picked us back up as soon as we needed it. He’s the main reason we got the W tonight.”

It was a Paul play that set up what turned out to be both the game-winning basket and Gilgeous-Alexander’s new Canadian scoring mark as his floater through the lane and off glass put OKC up 98-97 with 36 seconds to play and the Raptors couldn’t reverse it.

Paul finished with 25 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists, as the Thunder guards out-played their Raptors counterparts, Fred VanVleet and Kyle Lowry, who each finished with 20 points.

As well as he played, the excitement around Gilgeous-Alexander has more to do with what he might end up achieving rather than where he is at the moment, which is saying something. He’s already earning favourable comparisons with the likes of fellow Canadians Jamal Murray and Andrew Wiggins and could emerge as the best player with a Maple Leaf passport in the league as a starting point. Given his talent and demeanour, there is no obvious end point.

“I plan on making a leap like this every year,” he said. “And then hopefully all the accolades follow after that … I focus on getting better, and everything, accolades, all the awards take care of themselves.”

That was what Thunder coach Billy Donovan said was most impressive about him in their half-season working together.

“I think one of his greatest qualities apart from his basketball skillset is his humility,” said Donovan. “I don’t mean to say he’s timid or afraid, but he’s got great humility in terms of being coached and wanting to get better.

“I think all great players, to me, always look inside first and he’s a guy who really does that, looking for ways to get better and improve.”

His big future is closer than it might appear in the mirror.

So good enough to please Mom, at least for now?

“Just a little bit,” Gilgeous-Alexander smiled. “She’ll be satisfied this time.”

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Team Mayweather sends a warning to Conor McGregor ahead of UFC 246 – BJPENN.COM

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Floyd Mayweather, Conor McGregor

Team Mayweather has sent former adversary Conor McGregor a warning ahead of his UFC 246 bout with Donald Cerrone.

McGregor and Mayweather faced off in a blockbuster boxing match back in August of 2016, with ‘Money May’ emerging victorious by tenth round TKO.

With that said, the Irishman did have his moments in the contest, especially early in the fight. Due to that success, ‘Mystic Mac’ is confident that a rematch with Floyd Mayweather would go much differently.

However, the folks at Team Mayweather do not share the same confidence in Conor McGregor. Floyd’s longtime friend and bodyguard Ray Sadeghi, can’t imagine a scenario in which McGregor would ever get his hand raised against Mayweather Jr.

“Conor talks a lot, and one thing we do know is he talks a lot, and he doesn’t back it up,” Sadeghi told MMAJUNKIE. “He can say, ‘Oh, he did this in the beginning and in the third round.’ One thing we know as a fighter is everyone starts off fresh and strong. As the rounds go on and on he’ll show the true colors of who is the better fighter and who is the more skilled fighter.

Conor McGregor, Floyd Mayweather

Conor McGregor, Floyd Mayweather

“One thing we do know: Conor McGregor, you can say what you want to say, but you got knocked out, and you got severe head trauma and a concussion that was reported by your doctor. Is the outcome going to be the same? I truly believe that no one can outbox Floyd. No one can outwork Floyd. His offense and his defense and his technique – this man is just made for this.

“His dad, his uncles have been in this for decades, and he’s been doing this since he was a little boy. You can try. If that fight happens and the negotiations go so you guys can put it together and the fight is going to happen, will I love to see that? Absolutely. Is the result going to be the same? I don’t know. It’s going to be a very exciting fight, and I’m sure Conor is going to come out stronger, but you cannot underestimate the best ever.”

Do you think Conor McGregor will try and secure another boxing match with Floyd Mayweather if he proves victorious at UFC 246 this evening? Sound off in the comments section PENN Nation!

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Game Preview 49.0: Edmonton Oilers vs Arizona Coyotes (1pm MT, SNW) – Oilers Nation

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Good morning, Nation! Here we are with yet another Saturday matinee edition of the GDB as our beloved Edmonton Oilers get set to take on the Arizona Coyotes in what will surely be a massive Pacific Division matchup.

Before the Oilers take off for their bye week, they’ve got one last piece of business to take care of as Taylor Hall and the Arizona Coyotes visit Rogers Place for a Saturday matinee, and with the Pacific Division standings being as close as they are, this is undoubtedly a huge game for Edmonton. Right now, the Oilers are chasing the Coyotes for the division lead and winning today’s game would be a huge step towards grabbing that spot as they head into a 10-day break. Now that we’re in the back half of the season, it seems like the pressure to win rises exponentially and these divisional games become as important as it gets. As of this morning, first and fifth place in the Pacific are separated by only two points and that means closing out these four pointers are crucial for not only maintaining pace but also for putting space between Edmonton and the teams chasing them. Needless to say, the Oilers need to do whatever it takes to put two more points in the bank before the break.

The other obvious storyline for tonight’s game is that Taylor Hall will be making his return to Edmonton for the first time as a Coyote after being acquired from the Devils back in mid-December. Now that he’s back in the Pacific Division and playing along with the likes of Phil Kessel, the Coyotes have a different look and feel than we’re used to, and it will be up to the Oilers to figure out a way to shut them down while also producing opportunities for themselves on the offensive side of the puck. As you’ll see in the numbers section below, the Coyotes score less than the Oilers do (they have five fewer goals in two more games), but they allow far fewer goals against which will certainly be a challenge to overcome. Basically, what I’m trying to say is that the Coyotes are still the defensive team we know and hate but they’ve found a way to add some offence into the mix which makes them a different animal to handle.

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Tonight’s contest marks the third of four meetings between these two clubs with the next coming up on February 4th in Glendale. Over the first two games, each side has secured a win with both contests requiring extra time to reach a conclusion.

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Numbers courtesy of Natural Stat Trick (fancies at 5×5)

Oilers

Neal – McDavid – Archibald
RNH – Draisaitl – Yamamoto
Nygard – Sheahan – P. Russell
Gagner – Haas – Chiasson

Klefbom – Larsson
Nurse – Bear
K. Russell – Jones

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Smith

Over the past couple of weeks, the Oilers have really started to hit their stride in terms of producing offence from through their lineup and it’s a trend that I’m really hoping can continue after this afternoon and beyond the bye-week break. The lines shown above were what the Oilers were rocking at practice, but there haven’t been any updates since but I’ll go ahead and update things if anything changes.

Coyotes

Hall – Dvorak – Garland
Keller – Soderberg – Schmaltz
Course – Stepan – Kessel
Grabner – Richardson – Hinostroza

Ekman-Larsson – Demers
Chychrun – Goligoski
Oesterle – Hjalmarsson

Hill

Looking at the Coyotes’ stats page, the thing that stuck out to me was the balanced scoring they have from through their lineup, and that the real battle could come from how the depth lines match up against each other. If the Oilers’ third and fourth lines can outscore what the Coyotes can produce then we should be in line for a nice little afternoon here. At least, that’s the theory anyway.

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From Howlin’ Hockey:

When the ‘Yotes played deep and cycled in their “O” zone, it posed problems for the Canucks’ “D” men. Unfortunately, there was too much puck-watching by the Coyotes and not enough support for their linemates or movement away from the puck to generate many scoring chances.

In essence, there was too much “one and done” and loss of the precious puck to the home team. Many of the ‘Yotes seemed invisible at times, mere passengers on a slow-moving train to a destination called defeat. It seemed a blessing that the Canucks were at times just as inept as the Coyotes were.

It was certainly disappointing to watch the Coyotes’ performance against the Canucks, especially after they made it clear the day before and again pregame that this contest was going to be approached as if it was a playoff game. Coach Tocchet stated that with the NHL break coming up after Saturday’s matinee game in Edmonton, the Coyotes needed to “empty the tank.” Instead, it looked as if the tank was empty from the start.

Let’s hope there’s an effective “response” game that reminds us all of the desert dogs’ resilience come Saturday afternoon in Edmonton. Win and come home to warmer weather, boys. Let’s go Coyotes!

Photoshop: Tom Kostiuk

Game Day Prediction: Oilers take it 3-2 and head off into the sunset to enjoy their bye week. I believe.

Obvious Game Day Prediction: Seeing as it is a tundra outside right now, Rogers Place sells twice as much alcohol as normal as Oilers fans will do anything to keep themselves warm. Or, at least, numb the pain a little bit.

Not-So-Obvious Game Day Prediction: Gregor predicted he’d score on Tuesday night against the Predators and it never happened, so I’m going to go ahead and call Patrick Russell’s first NHL goal here and now. One of us needs to get this one. 

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Daily news and chat: The last Leafs game before bye-week is tonight – Pension Plan Puppets

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The Maple Leafs are getting ready for vacation. The team will be released from any immediate obligations shortly after playing tonight against the Blackhawks for their annual bye week. This year the end of the bye week coincides with the All-Star Game break, so there is extra time off, except for Frederik Andersen, Mitch Marner, and Auston Matthews who will be participating in that game.

Yes, it’s going to be a long time until the next gamen on Monday January 27th, so enjoy tonight while you can.

We’ll have a preview of the game out later this morning. And don’t worry, we have lots of interesting things planned for you to read here next week.

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