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DJ Wilson making most of opportunity to impress with Raptors on 10-day deal

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TORONTO — Midway through the third quarter of the Toronto Raptors’ hard-fought 114-109 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday, Toronto was running a little simple pick-and-roll action at the arc. Pascal Siakam first made a dribble handoff to Gary Trent Jr., who was coming left to right before he reversed course giving Siakam time to slip past a double-team that was heading Trent’s way and allowed Trent to get a pass off to Siakam to the middle of the key.

This attracted four different 76ers’ attention to Siakam with Tobias Harris, in particular, stepping up trying to thwart any scoring opportunity from the Raptors star. That ended up leaving a cutting D.J. Wilson – who was actually retreating to the three-point line until he recognized Harris had stepped up, thus exposing the baseline – for an easy dunk.

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A couple minutes later, Siakam forced a turnover and it was Wilson, a six-foot-10 big man, who went from around a step inside the free-throw line to ahead of the pack, as he received an outlet pass from Siakam, made one dribble and stepped through past a scrambling-back Seth Curry for an easy layup, to pull the Raptors within two with 3:06 left to play in the period.

Two simple, well-executed plays from Wilson and two reasons why he’s got Raptors head coach Nick Nurse’s attention.

Of the four 10-day contract signees the Raptors have added for hardship purposes over the last week, Wilson has impressed the most with Nurse making a point to praise the 25-year-old after both games he played with the Raptors.

“I thought D.J. Wilson played really solidly, he was solid, worked hard, took only shots that were kind of there for him,” Nurse told reporters after Toronto’s blowout loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Boxing Day. “I thought he rebounded the ball well and seemed to be in the right place. Fought out there.”

“That’s two good games for him, he’s shown some rebound, he’s shown some bounce, some IQ,” Nurse added about Wilson after Tuesday’s defeat to the 76ers. “Right place, right time type of guy. Pretty good.”

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A former first-round pick (17th overall) of the Milwaukee Bucks in the 2017 draft out of Michigan, Wilson has never been able to stick anywhere he’s landed. Given the 15-point, eight-rebound, six-of-eight shooting showing he put up on Boxing Day and then the limited nine-point, six-rebound game he had Tuesday – because he didn’t clear protocols in time to play in the first half of that game – glimpses of that first-round talent is readily apparent.

He’s a smart, mobile big with fluid athleticism to his game that makes you think, if given a greater opportunity, he could really help out long-term with this Raptors team, which lacks a true centre outside of Khem Birch.

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The issue, however, is he’s only on a 10-day contract. Given the fact he appears to have signed his 10-day deal on Dec. 21 — due to expire just as the clock turns midnight Friday on the new year — meaning he may only have one more game to impress, against the Los Angeles Clippers, and that comes with a whole other complication.

Namely: The Raptors are, essentially, fully loaded for the first time all season long.

This is obviously good news for the Raptors themselves, but it’s not a great situation for a player like Wilson and something Nurse acknowledged after his team practised on Thursday.

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“He has done a good job. I think that’s gonna be a wait-and-see situation,” Nurse said when asked how he might fit into the rotation with the Raptors’ regulars returning. “I think he’s played well enough to earn a crack somewhere along the line. However, I don’t know where that sits right now. Both Khem and Precious (Achiuwa) are expected to be back, there’s Chris (Boucher), there’s Pascal, there’s a lot of guys, OG (Anunoby), and I don’t know.

“If the situation calls for it, I’d love to see him play. If it doesn’t then we go with our regular guys, and that’s also a possibility.”

Further complicating matters for Wilson is even if the Raptors wanted to sign him for the rest of the season, doing so would be incredibly difficult as he would complicate the team’s luxury tax situation.

As things stand right now, the Raptors are about $268,000 below the tax threshold, and there’s little doubt they want to remain that way for this season. Signing Wilson even to a minimum deal would put the Raptors over the threshold, meaning they would have to find other money-saving opportunities via trade, which could be risky because the Raptors would then likely have to make a deal at or around the deadline — something opposing teams could take advantage of.

Will Lou and Alex Wong talk all things Raptors live on Sportsnet 590 The FAN weekdays from 2 p.m. – 3 p.m. ET.

For as well as he’s played and as much as it seems the Raptors like him, there’s a chance Friday could be Wilson’s final game as a Raptor – and even then he may not even play.

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This is the harsh reality of the NBA.

Of all the players being given an opportunity at the moment with 10-day hardship exception contracts, only a minuscule number of them might actually stick around after those 10 days are up, Wilson included.

That doesn’t mean the effort these 10-day warriors are putting in is fair game to be ridiculed, as Raptors guard Fred VanVleet tweeted about and expanded upon Thursday.

“That was just moreso based off the conversation that was going around about the product that we were seeing on the floor,” VanVleet said. “All of these people that nobody knows who they are, but these guys are pros in their own right. They’re playing at different levels. A lot of G League, some overseas guys, some old vets, and I felt appreciative that we were able to do that because there was a time when we just shut the whole season down and there was no basketball.

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“Obviously, I think we’re definitely in a transitional period of the NBA of kinda figuring out what the next chapter of the league’s gonna look like and for this time being right now, with guys being out and wanting to keep the games going, this is what we’ve got.

“I think all of those guys deserve some credit.”

For men like Wilson who are still out there chasing the impossible dream of playing in the world’s greatest basketball league, seeing so many get a shot has been a shining silver lining in what has been a deluge of negative COVID-related news that has seemingly held the NBA hostage for the last couple weeks.

That is something for us to be grateful for.





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Drew McIntyre and Roman Reigns finally clash on SmackDown! | WWE on FOX

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Drew McIntyre and Roman Reigns finally stepped into the ring face-to-face, leaving The Universal Champion on the ground without his titles. 



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‘It’s everything’: Johnson leads Canada through semifinal for chance at gold – Sportsnet.ca

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EDMONTON — After an undefeated run through their first six tests at the 2022 World Junior Championship, Canada will meet its biggest on Saturday night, under the lights at Rogers Place. The red and white are going for gold.

“It’s everything,” Canadian standout Logan Stankoven said of the opportunity awaiting them, a wide grin spread across his face after his side took down Czechia 5-2 on Friday to advance. “There’s no place I’d rather be than playing for the gold tomorrow, on our home soil, in front of the fans.”

For the second straight game, it was Stankoven and his linemates who played a lead role in guiding Canada to the win column, he and wingers Kent Johnson and Tyler Foerster keeping their crown as the team’s most dominant line heading into the tournament’s finale.

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After Stankoven took his turn at a dominant performance to clinch Wednesday’s quarterfinal, Friday’s tilt was Johnson’s time to show the world what he can do.

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The Columbus Blue Jackets prospect was certainly due for a big night. Entering this semifinal with the most shots of any skater in the tournament, and only one goal to show for it — albeit a spectacular one that saw him pull off The Michigan — Johnson finally saw the floodgates creak open a little bit more on Friday.

It started as it has for his line the past few games — a dominant shift in the offensive zone in which he, Stankoven and Foerster whirled around the opposing defenders looking for the right moment to strike. Eventually, it came on the heels of a Stankoven-to-Foerster look, the chance leading to a rebound that found Johnson in the slot. After pouring on shot after shot every game for the past two weeks, the 19-year-old made no mistake.

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But it was as a setup man in the second period that Johnson truly flexed his offensive muscle. Ten minutes into the frame, he was dancing along the wall and drawing defenders towards him before flipping a beautiful backhand over to a streaking Stankoven, who put it away. Five minutes later, he was loading up a slapper at the top of the point on the power play, only to fake out the Czech defenders and instead dish it softly to a waiting Mason McTavish, who wired home the signature one-timer he’s burned many a goalie with during this tournament.

“It’s just incredible some of the passes he makes,” Stankoven said of Johnson post-game. “The things he does are crazy, and it just goes to show how great of a player he is. He’s pretty nifty.”

Added Connor Bedard, who added to Canada’s goal tally with a gorgeous snipe of his own in the first period: “He’s probably the smoothest player I’ve ever seen, just the way he can find seams and look guys off.”

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Key to Johnson’s standout performance over the course of the tournament has been the two players he’s been able to hop over the boards with, too. While the rest of Canada’s lineup has seemed in constant flux, with head coach Dave Cameron shuffling his lines in search of the right combination of skill-sets — even splitting up Bedard and McTavish for Friday’s semifinal — the trio of Johnson, Stankoven and Foerster has been a no-doubter game in and game out.

“I think [it’s] just our compete level, and being able to create chances off the forecheck,” Stankoven said of why his line has been able to emerge as the squad’s best. “I thought at the beginning of the tournament there wasn’t as much of that, but as the tournament’s gone on we’ve found our chemistry and know where each other are, so it’s been great.”

Even with the sterling night from the trio, putting away Czechia — who entered Friday’s game fresh off upsetting the similarly-undefeated Americans — was no easy assignment. Things got particularly dicey in the second period, as the Czechs picked up steam and started making a strong push, peppering Dylan Garand from all angles.

The netminder stayed calm and composed, looking as unflappable as he has each time he’s been in the cage over these past two weeks, holding the Czechs at bay.

In the third, though, Czechia finally made things interesting, sniping twice in a two-minute span to cut the host’s lead in half, before Joshua Roy tucked home Canada’s fifth to put his team’s minds at ease.

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“They’re a good team and they didn’t get away from their game at all. They pushed back, and they wanted to climb their way back into the game,” Stankoven said of that late chaos. “Obviously when they made it 4-2, we realized, ‘Hey, we’ve got to shut this thing down and make sure that we play well enough defensively.’ And that fifth goal sealed the game.”

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With Czechia dispatched, the page now turns to Saturday night, where months of preparation and weeks of toil out on the Rogers Place ice will culminate in one 60-minute chance at history.

“We’re going for the gold. That’s what we come for,” coach Cameron said of the task at hand. “It’s not going to be easy. I mean, the last couple of games showed the nitty gritty of it — it’s a grind. So, we’re excited about the challenge, but we also realize it’s going to be a battle.”

If there’s any solace to be taken, it’s that the red and white will march into the tournament’s finale with some experience under their belt, a number of this 2022 group’s leaders having claimed gold at last year’s U18 Championship in Texas.

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Bedard, Stankoven, and Brennan Othmann all put up goals in the gold-medal game during that championship run. That education is crucial, Cameron explained, because there’s simply no other way to get it.

“One of the things you can’t practice is pressure,” the coach said. “You can talk about it all you want, but the pressure of the game, the pressure of a shootout, and all that — you can practice it until hell freezes over, but you can’t duplicate that pressure.”

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On Saturday night, Canada will find out just how battle-tested they are, just how much they’ve learned on the paths that led them to this moment. For McTavish, the team’s captain, who’s dominated this tournament to the tune of eight goals and 15 points through six games, that final battle for gold can’t come soon enough.

“It’s something special,” he said Friday at Rogers Place, a maple leaf-adorned hat pulled low over his curls. “You know, it’s why you play the game. Every kid dreams about the gold-medal game.

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“Hopefully we can take advantage of the opportunity.”

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NFL preseason Week 2 scores, highlights, updates: Packers rookie Romeo Doubs continues to impress vs. Saints

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The NFL preseason has reached the midway point with Week 2, which serves as the de facto “dress rehearsal” for starters to prepare for the beginning of the regular season — which is just three weeks away. For teams that don’t have joint practices this week, Week 2 of the preseason is critical.

The Carolina Panthers won’t play Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold against the New England Patriots Friday, yet New England will play its starters after the joint practices this week. Jordan Love will start for the Green Bay Packers against the New Orleans Saints, who will be without Jameis Winston (foot). Capping off the night will be the Houston Texans at Los Angeles Rams

Below, we will track all the must-see highlights from Friday’s action, the appetizer for the main course of games this weekend. 

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Schedule

Thursday

Bears 27, Seahawks 11 (Takeaways)

Friday

Patriots 13, Panthers 10 (fourth quarter –  Live blog)
Packers 13, Saints 10 (third quarter – Gametracker)
Texans at Rams, 10 p.m. ET (Gametracker)

Saturday

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Broncos at Bills, 1 p.m. ET (Gametracker)
Lions at Colts, 1 p.m. ET (Gametracker)
Commanders at Chiefs, 4 p.m. ET (Gametracker)
Steelers at Jaguars, 7 p.m. ET (Gametracker)
Raiders at Dolphins, 7 p.m. ET (Gametracker)
49ers at Vikings, 7 p.m. ET (Gametracker)
Buccaneers at Titans, 7 p.m. ET (Gametracker)
Cowboys at Chargers, 10 p.m. ET (Gametracker)

Sunday

Eagles at Browns, 1 p.m. ET (Gametracker)
Bengals at Giants, 7 p.m. ET (Gametracker)
Ravens at Cardinals, 8 p.m. ET (Gametracker)

Monday

Falcons at Jets, 8 p.m. ET (Gametracker)

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Chris Olave scores his first touchdown

Olave is giving Saints fans a preview of what’s to come when he lines up alongside Michael Thomas and Jarvis Landry this fall. The first-round pick connected with Ian Book on a 20-yard touchdown with 12 seconds left in the first half — his first in a Saints uniform. 

Olave had just one catch for four yards last week, but had two in the first half of this one. 

Patriots quarterback Bailey Zappe made a dangerous throw rolling to his left, and Hayes read the pass to take the ball the other way and tie the game. Zappe hasn’t been as sharp in his second outing this preseason, one in which Matt Patricia is calling plays. 

Romeo Doubs touchdown

There’s a spot for Doubs to earn snaps with the first team this year, and this touchdown catch from Jordan Love demonstrates why. Doubs came up with this impressive four-yard touchdown reception over Brian Allen to put the Packers up, 10-3, over the Saints in the second quarter. Love is starting to show trust in the fourth-round rookie. 

59-yard field goal from Wil Lutz

Lutz missed all of 2021 with a core muscle injury, as the Saints missed his reliability in the kicking department. He certainly looked like his old self with this 59-yard field goal to close out the first quarter.

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Just 13 of 23 on 50-plus yard field goals in his career, Lutz hitting this kick is very encouraging.

Romeo Doubs making his case to move up the depth chart

Doubs was one of the young wide receivers Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers criticized during the week, so he was in the spotlight with the second teamers participating in the majority of this one. A 17-yard catch on the opening drive on a Jordan Love throw makes a strong impression, even if Doubs failed to corral a third-down pass earlier. 

No longer a quarterback for the Saints, Hill has shifted his focus to tight end for the 2022 season. The No. 2 tight end in New Orleans, Hill made an early impact by catching a 10-yard pass from Ian Book. Hill adds an extra dimension to the Saints offense in his new role, and can still play wide receiver and running back in short-yardage situations. 

The Patriots averaged just 1.9 yards per play in the first quarter with just 21 yards of offense, but Nelson Agholor changed that with this 45-yard catch on an impressive throw from Mac Jones. Going against a second-team defense or not, this is what Patriots fans want to see from their new-look offense.

New England scored a touchdown — a two-yard run from Ty Montgomery — three plays later.

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