SUNDAY’S BIGGEST GAMES:
• Miami at Toronto (Noon ET, NBATV). If Miami is going to make the playoffs and extend Dwyane Wade’s last dance, it basically has to win out. Which on Sunday means waking up early and beating Toronto in a game north of the border. The Raptors are locked into the two seed so they may rest guys.
• Charlotte at Detroit (4 ET). If Detroit wins they will eliminate the Hornets from the playoff chase. However, if Charlotte wins they would be just one game out of the playoffs with one game to play, and the Detroit loss could tie them with Miami for that final playoff spot (if Miami wins Sunday).
• Brooklyn at Indiana (5 ET). The Nets, on the second night of a back-to-back after beating the Bucks, now have a chance to take a big step toward a playoff berth that before the season would have seemed a crazy longshot. The Pacers need the win to keep alive any chance of home court in the first round.
• Orlando at Boston (7:30 ET). The Magic enter Sunday a playoff team and the six seed, but they need more wins to secure that spot. Boston comes in as the four seed on a three-game win streak and just 1.5 games back of the Sixers for the three seed (Boston is just one game up on Indiana for the four seed, but the Celtics also have the tiebreaker).
• Denver at Portland (9 pm ET). Portland is supposed to get C.J. McCollum back, and it couldn’t come at a better time — the Trail Blazers sit as the four seed but are just one game up on red hot Utah (seven wins in a row) for the four seed and home court in the first round. Portland also could catch the Rockets for the three seed, but Houston would have to help out.
Expanding opportunities for Toronto’s youth was the focus of a meeting between prominent black business leaders and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Saturday.
“Most people expressed some of their concerns, some of their struggles and some of their successes,” said Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri, who helped host the event as well as a practice for youth with some members of the playoff-bound basketball team.
Ujiri said the discussions have to continue to create more opportunities for more youth by examining the needs in different communities rather than taking a generalized approach.
Joining in on the practice was Xavier Trudeau, the Liberal leader’s 11-year-old son, who did basketball drills inside the Raptors’ practice facility.
Ujiri told the 20 invited youth they can succeed in life even if they don’t become professional athletes.
“Somewhere, somehow one day you’re going to remember this day and it’s going to inspire you, not because of maybe the people that are here but maybe the moment that you have,” he said.
Trudeau applauded the efforts to break down barriers. He also noted a lot of thoughts were focused Saturday about the importance of teams, since the day marked the first anniversary of the Humboldt Broncos tragedy.
Sixteen people were killed and 13 were injured after the Saskatchewan hockey team’s bus collided with a semi driven by a novice trucker who had blown the stop sign at a rural intersection.
“We know that 16 people lost their lives and a community was devastated but it was also an opportunity to see how strong communities come together, how the town of Humboldt, as devastated as it was, was supported by 37 million Canadians right across the country who came together,” he said.
“Support is there through tragedies, but it’s also there for youth in communities around and across the country.”
Not a huge deal for the locals but winning is far better than losing and they didn’t really defend well for most of the game and that’s a bit troubling. But, they locked into second, there were some good things to come out of the night and Charlotte’s win kept their faint playoff hopes alive and that’s good for them.
The rest the East remains super cloudy: Orlando won, Detroit and Miami lost so with tiebreakers today it goes Magic-Nets-Pistons in, Heat-Hornets out and even that doesn’t matter because there are days to go before anything is decided. We’re going to be sitting here Wednesday night watching results roll in before we have to write a short story on the first round opponent, I just know it.
And today we’ve got some writing to do because the Raptors are scheduled to practice for the first time in like forever so I’ve got to go and suss out a story, and I haven’t even started the mail and I’ve probably got to be out of Casa Doug by around 8 a.m. tomorrow for the noon start and the traditional Saturday afternoon stool time with Baseball Steve seems like it’ll be cut back.
The big man was humbled by the honour, but also cracked a few jokes in a scrum to the side of the stage.
“They’re in first and we’re in the second position. So my hope is we get to the conference finals and we’re facing the Bucks and then I’ll kind of keep my thoughts to myself a little bit,” said a smiling Sikma. “Let’s get both teams to the conference finals and then just kind of see what happens.
“I enjoy being involved in basketball, I want to continue to do that, so my time with the Raptors here the last few years has been very gratifying. But it’s a competition. You get on the floor, you strap them up and do whatever you can to win,” he said.
Sikma used to work closely with Jonas Valanciunas, but after the blockbuster trade that brought Marc Gasol to Toronto, his role has changed slightly.
“Well, first of all, there’s a lot of things that Marc has got to absorb at this point in time so I’m staying out of his way,” Sikma told Postmedia. “There’s a lot of good help and teaching he’s getting from the staff. The fact that Sergio (Scariolo) is very familiar with him from their days with the Spanish national team and again Nick (Nurse) is very good at implementing things. I’m sure he’s had his people look at a lot of (Memphis tape) of how they used Marc.” Sikma was one of the best passing big men of his time, so he says he can appreciate the way the massive Gasol can move the ball around.
“Yeah, I think so. (Gasol has) a broad base of skills. The fun thing. The reason you do it (pass the ball) is so you can touch the ball once in a while,” Sikma said, again grinning.
We should start by noting that we don’t really know who is going to be playing for Toronto Sunday afternoon. With their win Thursday night the Milwaukee Bucks secured the No. 1 overall seed and that in turn locked the Raptors into the No. 2 spot in the East, but Toronto is still trying to secure home-court advantage in a potential Finals series over every team in the West and, as it stood Saturday night, appeared ready to play all of their guys. We’ll see.
The Raptors have certainly been a problem overall, just as they have for every team in the league. The HEAT have generally played them a little closer than they have recently against Milwaukee, with the post-Christmas game coming down to a final Danny Green shot, and Miami had scored reasonably well against Toronto until the last outing which was tilted by 21 made Raptors threes, but it’s been getting stops that has proved most difficult. Toronto’s deadly combination of attacking guards, skilled bigs and plenty of shooting all around makes it very tough to play zone against them and there’s no real direction they can tilt their defense since there are always capable scorers on the floor. Toronto is as tough a team to scheme for as there is in the league, which forces a HEAT team that typically prepares as well as any for their opponent often has to approach them in a fairly straight-up fashion. The pressure, then, falls on the individual defenders to be at their best and for everyone to be ready to cover up for everyone else, which starts with communication.
There are no secrets to beating Toronto. Barring outlier offensive performances, you have to expect to need your best to beat them.
Wade can still play at a high level, making his first shots from the field Friday night in a loss when the ball was in Wade’s hands late with a chance to win it from distance.
“A hall of famer,” began Raptors shooting guard Danny Green on Saturday when asked about Wade. “A champion. A guy who has pretty much done it all. It’s crazy.
“He wasn’t that tall, more of a smaller, explosive guard. He’s been doing it for many years. Even now I still feel he has years left, but he’s calling it quits when he wants to call it quits. Not everyone has that opportunity, but when you’re great you can pretty much do what you want. He still has our respect.
“The last time he came into our building he had a 35-point show. Hopefully, we can limit that.”
Miami is desperate to continue Wade’s season, while the Raptors continue to eye home court if they are able to win the East and play for a title.
After graduating, Sikma was the eight pick in the NBA Draft in 1977 and scored 17,287 points and 10,816 rebounds with the Seattle SuperSonics and was a key member of the Sonics’ 1979 championship team. His jersey has been retired by both Seattle and Illinois Wesleyan.
He was inducted into the Small College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2017, the NAIA Hall of Fame and was a member of the NAIA 50th & 75th All-Anniversary Teams. He was also a two-time Academic All-American and was selected in 1999 to the CoSIDA Academic All-American Hall of Fame.
He has worked as an assistant coach for Seattle, Houston and Minnesota and currently serves as a coaching consultant for the Toronto Raptors.
The remainder of the 2019 Hall of Fame class includes Paul Westphal (player), Bobby Jones (player), Sidney Moncreif (player), Vlade Divac (player), Teresa Weatherspoon (five-time WNBA all-star), Linda Price (Wayland Baptist women’s college team), Al Attles (contriibutor), Carl Braun (player), Chuck Cooper (player), Bill Fitch (coach), 1957-59 Tennessee A&I (team). The induction ceremonies will be Sept. 5-7 in Springfield, Mass.
Sports curses are like villains in action movies: after you put them down, you better make sure they’re dead or they will come back to haunt you.
This is increasingly relevant as the Raptors and Maple Leafs head into the playoffs, because while newer fans may be enjoying the ride, long-time aficionados — a.k.a. real Toronto fans — know that local sports is really all about suffering and heartbreak. There’s a chance, however, that Toronto’s playoff-bound siblings have learned some lessons when it comes to dealing with the curses that rear their ugly heads.
Of course, the thing to remember is that sports curses only exist if you actually believe in them. Otherwise they aren’t real, even if you ask some of the hexers. Which we did.
Here’s a taxonomy of Toronto sports curses and how they have been disposed of — or might be exorcised.
City of losers
This is more myth than curse, and we have all heard that the Leafs have the longest Stanley Cup drought dating back to 1967 — 50-plus years and counting. The Raptors have recently had the most success in franchise history, but after five years of playoff heartbreak it’s NBA final or bust this time. The Raptors are one of 12 NBA teams that have never won a championship.
In the four major North American pro leagues, though, Toronto has won 15 titles — 13 Stanley Cups and two World Series — which puts us in the top 10 cities. Toronto FC also won the MLS Cup in 2017, the same year the Argonauts captured their 17th Grey Cup. Toronto has absolutely had its share of playoff heartbreak, but let’s keep some perspective, people.
Speaking of Lowry, so much was made of the grand experiment last year to make sure he was spry for the playoffs (which worked since Lowry was superb in the post-season), but he has only averaged 1.7 more minutes per game and has played in fewer games in 2018-19. Plus he has had a less demanding role on offence, with Pascal Siakam emerging as a hub. Lowry’s usage rate is down 2%.
Is it concerning that Toronto left the Charlotte players wide open far too often or that they seemed a bit lazy at times? Who knows. I guess we’ll find out soon.
Again, let’s retire both the all-bench and Siakam-plus-bench units. One of Lowry, Danny Green, or Kawhi Leonard need to be out there at all times the rest of the way (or at least once the playoffs start).
The bad, old Raptors reappeared a bit in this one, you know, the guys who got all kinds of open shots and proceeded to miss shot after shot, especially late in the game. They were making the right passes, they just weren’t getting the desired results.
Jeff Weltman’s Orlando Magic is really making quite the playoff push isn’t it? The Magic dropped 149 points on an Atlanta team that had been playing pretty well. Orlando has missed the playoffs for six straights seasons and hasn’t won a round since 2009-10.
Wade — the iconic Miami Heat guard who is paying his last regular-season visit to Toronto on Sunday afternoon, a star in every possible way, an enduring symbol of basketball excellence and longevity, a guy who, as they say, “plays the game right way” — could be seen as underappreciated by too many for what he’s done, how he’s played, what he’s won and what he’s meant to his franchise and his league.
Sure, he’s going to the hall of fame and his No. 3 will hang from the rafters of the arena he’s owned for more than a decade, but still, he’s too often thought to be “the other guy.”
“I think he had kind of a really bright light on him there for a couple of years (and) it probably should have stayed brighter for a few more, would be a way of looking at it,” was how Raptors coach Nick Nurse put it Saturday afternoon.
Danny Green, who had some epic battles with Wade when the San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat were trading championships earlier this decade, takes only a split-second to answer a question about whether or not the 37-year-old guard truly gets his due.
“I think a couple times in his career he was, not to say overlooked, but he could have been an MVP player at least once in his career,” Green said. “He could have been rookie of the year. He could have been a max player, but in that organization he’s always been the guy to take the cut.
“They brought him in, they took care of him and respected him. But there’s been a lot of times where he was kind of looked at as the other guy.”
Wade is not going quietly into the night, though. He has the Heat in the throes of a playoff race with three games left in the regular season, and his 24-point performance in Minnesota on Friday proved yet again he’s not fading from the light. He dropped 35 points on Toronto in a game last November and still has enough explosiveness — and more than enough smarts — to play for years, one would imagine. Yet the chance to retire on his own terms has to be alluring. He’s not limping off into the darkness because of injuries and the ravages of time. He’s not being forced out by an organization that wants to move on without him. He decided before the season began that this would be The Last Dance, as it’s been termed, and he seems fine with it.