Connect with us


Despite DeMar DeRozan’s Return, Raptors Lose to Magic



TORONTO – The Raptors were back to full health Sunday night but also back (they really never left) were the defensive woes that have left Dwane Casey and to a lesser extent his team frustrated for much of the year.

If there is a good thing about a 114-113 loss to an Orlando Magic team that came in having lost 10 of it’s past 12 it might be that it got the players sounding as genuinely frustrated with their defence as their coach has been for a couple of months now.

Everyone seems to be on the same page where defence is concerned these days.

“We have to find five men that’s going to go out there and defend,” Casey said of what it’s going to fix the problem. “You can go right down the roster and everybody had a defensive mistake. It’s accountability, we’re bringing guys in off the bench and they’re making mistakes. It’s everybody and that’s what I told the team, everybody is involved.”

And Casey pointed the finger at himself too.

“Put me and the whole group in the room, we’re all responsible for this atrocious (performance),” Casey said not actually finishing that particular thought. “Give them credit, they made some tough shots, they made some good shots, they’re not a great three-point shooting team, they shot 43% tonight, I’m not disrespecting Orlando but most of it is us, doing your job on every possession.”

Those unfortunate enough to have paid to see this game saw the worst 6 1/2 minutes of the Raptors season as the team closed out the first half on the wrong end of a 21-2 run.

The Raps were 0-for-7 in that final 6:20 while the Magic went from down 10 to up nine by the halftime whistle.

“As bad as we’ve played all year,” Casey said. “Transition defence, we hit the floor, it’s five on four, nobody stops the ball and it’s coast to coast. The second unit comes in and they’re making mistakes,” Casey said.

“We’ve got to go back to the fundamentals, the basics, almost back to training camp to get our defence back in shape,” Casey said. “Again, some of it starts on the offensive end, tough shots, the ball doesn’t move, we’re stationary, stagnant and then they run out and we leave our offensive woes and our energy on the offensive end. It’s a little bit of everything. We’ve got to start over.”

There was not a dissenting voice in the Raptors locker room either after much of what Casey said was relayed in question form to the players.

““Yeah, it is. It is,” DeMar DeRozan said of the current funk which has seen the Raptors lose six of the past seven and fall out of second place in the Eastern Conference for the first time since the earliest stages of the season. “It’s all about how we bounce back, how we get out of it. We’ve got a lot more basketball to play, a lot more. We haven’t even made it to the break yet. Before then, we’ll figure it out, get it going. I’d rather it now than later.”

That was about as optimistic as anyone in the room was and it certainly didn’t match the overall feel in the room.

DeRozan made his return to the lineup after three games out with a sprained right ankle. He finished with 22 points on an off night for him shooting but this one wasn’t about offence.

Lowry, who had 33 and almost pulled this one off himself with 14 points in the final quarter alone, was as somber as anyone in the room.

“This is very challenging,” Lowry said. “But being a professional and a leader I am going to keep my head up and I’m going to keep going out there and working. This is a small, little thing that we can get through. We have to continue to get better. At the end of the day we still have to go out there and play games. No one is going to feel sorry for us.”

Early on the Raptors had no answer for centre Nikola Vucevic and later on couldn’t corral one-time Raptor guard and ever since Raptor-killer D.J. Augustin.

Vucevic took Jonas Valanciunas just far enough away from the basket early on to make things uncomfortable for the Raptors centre and very comfy for the Magic.

Vucevic had 19 of his 25 points in the first half after which Valanciunas only saw limited action.

It would have been more limited had Lucas Nogueira not committed his fifth foul late in the third quarter that pretty much ended his night.

Augustin, we don’t even know what to say about other than he certainly seems to get up for Toronto.

His career high is 35 points, done against the Raptors as a member of the Bulls. Sunday night he had 21 points in just 27 minutes off the bench, easily the most productive player from either bench.

Earlier this year the Magic put up one very good quarter against the Raptors in Orlando but followed it up by being toasted for the next three as the Raptors rolled to an easy win.

There was no such let-up this time around.

The Magic had six different players in double figures in the game. The Raptors had four.

Practice on Monday should be very interesting.

Read More..

Continue Reading


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.

Continue Reading


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.

Read more…

Continue Reading


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.”

Continue Reading