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The Toronto Raptors’ are Having Remarkable Success Shooting three-pointers and it isn’t Killing the Defence



TORONTO — Putting the Toronto Raptors’ current run of success shooting three-pointers into perspective is fairly easy. Explaining why it has happened is less easy.

The Raptors are in the midst of the 15-game stretch that has featured some all-time great long-distance shooting. And seemingly it came out of nowhere.

Yes, the Raptors have good three-point shooters, but those good shooters have in the past few weeks become lights-out Steph Curry-type shooters.

Monday’s win over Milwaukee put Toronto at 40.6 per cent for the season, which ranks them first in the NBA prior to Tuesday’s games, ahead of Cleveland’s 40.1 per cent and San Antonio’s 40 per cent. Golden State, held up as the team that is changing the game with its long-range shooting, is fifth at 37.9 per cent.

The best individual three-point mark in the NBA currently belongs to Utah’s Joe Inglis at 48.6 per cent. Since Nov. 15, when everything started to click beyond the arc for the Raptors, Toronto is shooting 46 per cent as a team.

Terrence Ross is shooting 50 per cent from three-point range in the last 15 games. For the year he’s a very respectable 46.1 per cent.

Kyle Lowry is shooting 43.9 per cent from distance on the year, and 52.8 per cent in the 15-game stretch.

Norm Powell is making the most of his opportunities shooting 48.6 per cent from long range on the year and a stunning 56.5 per cent since Nov. 15 when the Raptors three-point game caught fire in Cleveland.

Those are just crazy numbers. So crazy that to expect them to continue at that rate for much longer is also crazy. But for now the Raptors will ride this wave as long as possible.

The only thing Lowry can compare this to in his 10 years in the league is his first season in Houston.

“When I first got traded to Houston, I wasn’t a three-point shooter at all but Shane Battier wasn’t missing,” Lowry said. “Ron Artest, when he was Ron, wasn’t missing. Aaron Brooks was shooting the three well, Von Wafer … we had a good group of guys.”

But even that group never went on a run like the Raptors are currently on. The Raptors’ best three-point percentage is 39.2 per cent from the 2007-08 season. But that team only attempted 1,459 shots from behind the arc. Toronto has already hoisted 581 three-pointers in 24 games, a pace that would see them approach the franchise record of 2,060 attempts set in 2014-15.

“Early in the year we were just playing off DeMar (DeRozan) and we were like, ‘Let him run the show.’ We were winning games. Once he cooled down a little bit and teams started double-teaming him more, he started finding everyone else. Now everyone else’s confidence and rhythm is starting to be there.”

At the start of the season, DeRozan authored five straight 30-point games, drawing comparison to Michael Jordan’s start to the 1986-87 season when he did it six consecutive times.

The rest of the Raptors were firing mostly blanks from three-point range, going 3 for 18 in the opener following by two 4-for-16 efforts. Things picked up after that, but it wasn’t until that trip to Cleveland in mid-November that the bug seemed to catch all of the shooters.

The suggestion has been made over the past couple of days that it might be a case of one guy getting hot and the rest following his lead. Lowry scoffs at the notion of good shooting being contagious.

“No,” he said immediately. “We all work on our games individually. We are all individuals. We all work separately and just go out there and play basketball. Things you do on the court in the individual time, it shows up on the court (at game time).”

As if to prove his own point, both Lowry and DeMar DeRozan spent a good 15 minutes after practice on Tuesday working on their shot.

When things are going this well on the offensive side there is always the chance – and this is just human nature – that things start to slip on the other side of the ball.

Dwane Casey has been on top of that. And while he agrees that this type of seemingly nightly success can have a detrimental impact on other facets of the team game, he believes he has even managed to keep the defence moving in the right direction.

“I think that’s one thing we’ve gotta be careful of,” Casey said. “I mean I like it, we’re not gonna give it back, but we gotta make sure that our defence (doesn’t suffer), and our defence is getting better. Points per possessions are getting better, we took away the three last night, (Milwaukee is) not a great three-point shooting team. We did give up 54 points in the paint. That’s a concern, the back cuts, the rebounding is a concern. We still have come concerns defensively, but there’s areas that we are getting better in.”

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Up and Coming Sports Stars to Look Out for in 2020



Every year, a raft of exciting new players come onto the scene across all of the major US sports. With the MLS season getting underway and the NFL and MLB drafts not too far away, now is a great time to look at the young sports stars that could have a very bright future ahead of them, and the ones that are already proving they are destined for greatness.

Theo Bair (MLS)

This MLS season is looking like it could be one of the best yet, with David Beckham’s Inter Miami team adding some extra dazzle to the league. Whilst Beckham might be able to attract a lot of new players to his MLS team, there are a lot of young stars on their way through such as Theo Bair at Vancouver Whitecaps. Bair has already made an impact on the first team and after impressing at under-20 and under-23 level for the national team, he has made two appearances for the senior team, well before his 21st birthday. This year could see Bair make a real name for himself in the MLS.

Source: Pixabay

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (MLB)

Montreal-born Vladimir Guerrero Jr has one MLB season under his belt but it looks like the best is still yet to come from him at the Blue Jays. He was heavily backed to take the league by storm but he failed to live up to the hype that surrounded him. Without the pressure of being the top-ranked prospect, this season could see Guerrero play with some weight lifted off his shoulders. He has been working very hard on his fitness over the offseason, something that his manager Montoyo has been quick to comment upon.

Baseball by andrewmalone, on Flickr

Baseball” (CC BY 2.0) by andrewmalone

Connor McDavid (NHL)

McDavid has already established him as a top hockey player but at 23, he has the potential to go on to do so much more. The player was born in Ontario and was the first overall draft pick, showing how much expectation was already on him at that stage but he has gone on to prove that he is one of the best players in the NHL. McDavid could go on to be one the NHL’s best-ever hockey players and this season could be the year that he shows the world, not just the NHL.

Chuba Hubbard (College Football)

The Oklahoma State Cowboys running back has been making the headlines for several years now. He continues to improve and grab more attention for his impressive stats and performances. He was close to being a sprinter and nearly made the Canadian Olympic team before switching over to football. He is passing up the 2020 NFL draft to play his senior season at Cowboys. He should give them a good chance of winning the College Football Championship, though they’re trailing at the seventh spot in the latest American football odds at +2400.00, with Clemson as the current betting favorites.

2020 will definitely be a very exciting time with some of these young stars looking to breakthrough in their respective sports and show the world what they are capable of.

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Bob Baffert is back at the Kentucky Derby – and looking to break the Curse of Apollo



Bob Baffert is back at the Kentucky Derby with early favourite Justify after watching the race from his sofa in Southern California last year.

The Hall of Fame trainer’s ability to produce Derby contenders year after year is an enviable feat and why his absence a year ago stood out. It was just his second since 2009 and occurred because his lone candidate got hurt.

Baffert will saddle Justify and 30-to-1 shot Solomini in Saturday’s Derby.

Justify is one of the greenest colts Baffert has brought to Churchill Downs. He’s won all three of his starts by a combined 19 lengths. If Justify wins, he’d be the first to do so since Apollo in 1882 without racing as a two-year-old.

“The thing about the Kentucky Derby, you have to have the right horse. It just happens. You can’t force it,” Baffert said. “All of a sudden, you have good horses and you’re there. So I’ve been really fortunate to have some really good horses.”

Baffert’s four victories are tied for second-most in Derby history. He’s finished second three times, too, including in 2012 with Bodemeister, also the last time he had two starters in the same year.

Like Justify, Bodemeister didn’t race as a two-year-old. He set a blistering pace and led the Derby until the final 150 yards when I’ll Have Another overtook him to win by 1 1/2 lengths.

Magnum Moon, the 6-to-1 third choice, also is unbeaten and didn’t run as a two-year-old.

“It’s going to happen,” Baffert said, referring to the curse being broken. “Whether it happens this year or whatever, but it will happen because Bodemeister almost got away with it. But I don’t really worry about that.”

Baffert almost had a third starter this year until McKinzie developed a hind-end issue that knocked him off the Derby trail.

“When McKinzie got hurt, I wanted to throw up,” he said. “I really think McKinzie would probably be second choice here. We’d really have a 1-2 here.”

Justify cleared the biggest pre-Derby hurdle by drawing the No. 7 post. Jockey Mike Smith can use the colt’s early speed to position him well for the long run to the chaotic first turn. Solomini ended up in the No. 17 post; no horse has ever won from there.

Baffert turned 65 in January, making him eligible for Medicare and retirement at most other jobs. However, he entertains no such thoughts.

“I work hard at it. I just don’t give up,” the white-haired trainer said. “I’m constantly meeting people. They’re sending me horses. If you don’t have success, you’re not going to get those opportunities.”

After a successful run in the quarter horse ranks, Baffert switched to thoroughbreds. He started with one horse.

“After 25 years, I’m finally getting horses that I don’t have to buy,” he said. “The big guys are sending me horses.”

None was bigger than American Pharoah in 2015. The colt swept the Derby, Preakness and Belmont to become racing’s first Triple Crown winner in 37 years.

Baffert has compared Justify to American Pharoah, citing the colt’s imposing physical presence and big stride. Still, Justify has yet to encounter the kind of traffic the Derby’s 20-horse stampede creates and the talent as he’ll run against on Saturday.

“I’d rather have a really talented horse than one who’s seasoned and just on par with the rest of them,” Baffert said.

Early on, Baffert knew Justify had the goods.

“The first time I worked him at Santa Anita, I knew he was a really good horse,” he said. “The track was really deep that morning, and he went around there effortlessly. His first race, he ran incredibly and showed how special he was.”

That kind of intuition is what separates Baffert from his rivals, fellow Hall of Famer trainer D. Wayne Lukas said.

“Bob’s got a great feel for it,” he said.

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Matthews ready to return to Maple Leafs lineup after missing a month



NASHVILLE — The hurtin’ tune that Auston Matthews has been singing for the past four weeks finally can be put in the remainder bin in Music City.

The Maple Leafs’ top centre on Wednesday declared himself set to return to the lineup after recovering from a right shoulder injury.

Wonderful timing, of course, considering the Leafs will take on the No. 1 club in the National Hockey League, the Nashville Predators, on Thursday night.

“In my mind, I think I’m ready to go and taking it as I’m getting ready to play (Thursday),” Matthews said after resuming his normal role, between William Nylander and Zach Hyman, during practice at Bridgestone Arena.

“It felt good, nice to get in all the reps and everything. (Wednesday) was a good step forward in that process, going through the line rushes.”

It seemed probable that the Leafs also will have defenceman Nikita Zaitsev, who missed the past five games as he recovered from an illness, against Nashville. Zaitsev was paired with Jake Gardiner, his regular partner, at practice.

For Matthews, it has been 10 games as a spectator with his latest injury, his third of the 2017-18 regular season after he missed four games in November with a back issue and then sat for six in December because of a concussion.

Thursday will mark four weeks since Matthews was hurt when he was sandwiched by the New York Islanders’ Cal Clutterbuck and Adam Pelech in a game at the Air Canada Centre.

A major bonus for Matthews in his recovery has been the fact he has been able to skate though much of his recuperation. That was not the case when he was out with his previous two injuries.

It’s worth noting that Matthews scored two goals versus the Montreal Canadiens upon returning on Nov. 18 from his back injury; in his first two games upon coming back from a concussion, he scored a goal in each.

Mike Babcock said a final decision on the participation of Matthews and Zaitsev against the Predators would be made on Thursday morning, but the Leafs coach was talking as though it would be a rubber stamp.

“This is going to be the best opportunity for (Matthews) because he has been able to skate and compete,” Babcock said. “The other times he was not able to do anything.

“To get him back … it’s still going to be going way faster than he has been practising, so there is going to be an adjustment period, but he’s a good player and he will figure it out.”

Defenceman Morgan Rielly didn’t think Matthews will take long to find his footing. Rielly missed six games in late January/early February with an arm injury, so knows what Matthews could be feeling.

“You’re nervous and you just want to get back into it,” Rielly said. “You play your first shift a bit hesitant, but after that it’s important you get back to yourself.

“It’s never easy, but Auston is one of those guys that I will imagine it won’t take long for him to get back into a rhythm.”

And there’s the trickle-down effect through the forward lines with Matthews in uniform.

“Guys are used to playing with certain players and when everyone is healthy, I think you get better chemistry throughout the entire lineup,” centre Nazem Kadri said. “Certain guys don’t have to play with different guys constantly and it’s just more of a set group, so I think it’s going to help us.”

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