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Poeltl, Nogueira Step up as Raptors Knock Off Lakers



LOS ANGELES — All that concern about finding a replacement for the injured Patrick Patterson’s minutes got rather quiet for about nine minutes Sunday night.

Raptors coach Dwane Casey, true to his word, looked far and wide for a solution to Patterson’s absence and, with about two minutes to go in the third quarter, trotted out the duo of Jakob Poeltl and Lucas Nogueira as his two bigs.

The Raptors were up by two at the time. That duo didn’t leave the court again until the lead was 16, some nine minutes later, as the Raptors pulled away, limiting Los Angeles to just 14 points in the almost nine minutes they played alongside one another.

The move helped Toronto snap a two-game losing streak with a 123-114 win over the Lakers.

L.A. was right there with the Raptors through most of three quarters. They even had a 12-point lead earlier in the game, but the duo of Poeltl and Nogueria proved to be the Lakers’ Kryptonite.

Casey chalked it up to finally finding the proper physical element to introduce to the game.

“I thought Poeltl came in and gave us a presence, hitting people, banging people, clogging up,” Casey said. “They tried to get to the rim, he did a great job of going vertical but mostly his physicality in the paint on the boards I thought was huge. I thought we just got pushed around too much in the first half.”

You have to go back all the way to November 18 to find a game in which Poeltl played anything but garbage minutes. But with Patterson unavailable, he knew his number might be called.

“Yeah, it was one of those deals,” the Austrian-born rookie said. “I didn’t know for sure but I knew it was a possibility so I tried to stay ready.”

Not only did he stay ready but he changed the course of the game proving to be a nice option alongside Nogueira.

“It kinda worked out,” Poeltl said of the rare pairing with Nogueira.

“We tried it in practice one time and it worked out pretty well in practice also. I think it was good. I think we can work well together, especially on defence because we can switch around. I can help him out, he helps me out so it works.”

But as much as he liked what he saw in those nine minutes, the two were on the court together — the Raptors were a plus-15 over that span — Casey said nothing is settled in terms of filling Patterson’s minutes, however long that will be.

“We’re guessing,” Casey said. “I’m telling you right now, we’re guessing. We’re trying to find that combination and it’s not going to be just putting a guy in there … practice and the real McCoy are two different things so we’re going to be searching and, again, it’s going to be who steps in and gets the job done.”

Which sounds very much like Casey needs to see this pairing work more than once before he is convinced.

Offensively, the load Sunday night was handled almost exclusively by another duo: Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan.

Lowry, in particular, was on fire at Staples Centre, finishing with a season-high 41 points, including six three-pointers in seven attempts to tie a season high.

DeRozan chipped in with 31 of his own.

Things did get a little tense in the final minutes as the Lakers closed what had been a 19-point lead to six with 21/2 minutes to go.

That it happened with the Poeltl-Nogueira duo back on the bench is only going to have he second guessers screaming louder.

Lowry, with 20 in the fourth quarter, made sure things didn’t get too far out of hand.

“That’s my time to go out there and be more aggressive,” Lowry said, explaining the late-game explosion.

“We’ve got to win and at the end of the day I want to win games and if it’s taking the extra shot or making more shots or trying to create more shot then I want to do it. It’s just a chance to go out there and play basketball. I think Isaiah Thomas said it the other day, fourth quarters are fun. Playing in the fourth quarter is fun.”

Poeltl finished up with four points in nine minutes. Nogueira had four of his own in 19 minutes but when the two were together the Lakers were hard pressed to find any room to score.

DeRozan did most of his damage in the first and third quarters, Lowry in the second an fourth and it worked to perfection.

Pascal Siakam, who continued to start at power forward, looked extremely active in his first game with Patterson in street clothes. That he got overshadowed by those nine minutes with Poeltl and Nogueira on the floor had nothing to do with his play.

In the first half alone, Siakam had eight rebounds to lead the Raptors and while his shot wasn’t exactly falling, he was moving the defence around enough that he was creating lanes for his teammates.

He finished the night with three points and a team-high 10 rebounds, the same number as Jonas Valanciunas.

Before the game, Casey was asked if there were any update on Patterson.

He began by describing him as questionable. Pressed if that meant there was a possibility Patterson and his injured knee could play in the game, Casey replied by saying he would probably err on the side of caution and keep him out.

That’s a far cry from what Patterson himself was conveying Thursday night in Phoenix when he described his injury as a sharp pain and then as an inability to do what he needed to play.

Perhaps this isn’t as bad as it first appeared.

If that is the case, the Raptors have dodged a potential nasty bullet. If it isn’t, expect to see a little more of that Nogueira/Poeltl pairing.

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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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