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Raptors fall to Celtics as reality of log-jammed Eastern Conference setting in

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The fight is on.

After a charming five-game winning streak, the Toronto Raptors have lost three straight. After blowing out the Boston Celtics three weeks ago, the Raptors weren’t up for a repeat.

The Eastern Conference is deep and the Raptors’ path to the promised land of a top-six spot and thus avoiding the play-in tournament is going to be fraught. Even finishing in the 7-10 range isn’t a given.

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It’s not news — it would be if it was otherwise. But after a slow start and a promising surge and now a road-heavy schedule approaching, reality is setting in.

The Raptors fell to 6-6 after dropping a 104-88 rock fight to the Celtics, who were eager to avenge the surprising 32-point blowout the Raptors put on them in October.

The Celtics (5-6) are finding their game after an awful start and all that means is they’re joining an already log-jammed Eastern Conference playoff picture.

“It’s funny, I was just talking to Bobby Webster, our GM, on the way over and I said, ‘Man, the league is competitive this year,’” Raptors head coach Nick Nurse said. “Just watching games on a night-to-night basis, teams are really playing hard and I think there is a lot going on.

“He kind of started a conversation about the East. I won’t repeat it exactly but this will give you a sense. He started going through the teams, listed a whole bunch of them, and he forgot like four. That’s kind of what you do: Brooklyn and Milwaukee, and then you forget four teams that are pretty good. It’s really deep, super competitive. The games each night are really good.”

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Against Boston, the Raptors’ effort was fine, but their execution never quite rose to the required level. They trailed all game and by 12 heading into the fourth quarter and could never get over the hump. They pulled within eight with seven minutes to play but never closer. Their five fourth-quarter turnovers all seemed to come just when the Raptors were gathering some form of momentum, which was a problem.

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“It just takes the momentum, it takes the energy [away],” said Raptors point guard Fred VanVleet. “You know we’re trying, we’re playing hard, but sometimes it doesn’t go your way, so there’s like the normal turnovers that’ll happen, and there’s the unforced turnovers, and I just thought we didn’t have a great rhythm offensively or defensively all night.

“We’ve got to find ways to create it when it’s not there and then usually we can do that on the defensive end, but every stop we got it felt like they got an offensive rebound, when we got a breakout in transition, sometimes the ball just ended up out of bounds, or missed a layup … it was one of those nights.”

On the night the Celtics stole liberally from the Raptors preferred formula: They gathered 12 offensive rebounds — eight by Robert Williams III — to six for Toronto while the Raptors turned it over 18 times to 15 for Boston, the latter a low number for the Raptors, who lead the NBA in opponent turnovers.

Scottie Barnes finished with 21 points, seven rebounds and four assists, one of the few bright spots as Toronto shot 42.9 per cent from the floor and just 6-of-24 from deep, off-setting a decent defensive effort as they held Boston to 44.7 per cent.

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Overall, the Raptors are still trying to find their bearings with Pascal Siakam working himself back into the lineup after off-season shoulder surgery. Siakam remains on a minutes restriction — he played 30 minutes and may be held out of Thursday’s back-to-back in Philadelphia. He contributed defensively, giving the Raptors one more switchable defender while his two steals hinted at his activity on defence, offensively he was clearly out of sync with four turnovers through three quarters, having a hard time simply finding shots and spots on the floor. He finished with eight points on seven shots.

Patience will be required.

“I was just was trying to reassure him and keep telling him: just keep going ’till you figure it out. He’s finding himself, finding his legs,” said VanVleet. “It’s a different lineup, you know, without a big out there most of the time and the spacing is a little different. … I think it’s gonna take some time, obviously, and we would all like for it to be tonight or yesterday or whatever. But, you know, that’s not how those things work. So we just got to stay together and keep working.”

Before the game Nurse was expecting the Celtics would be looking to respond after the Raptors tore them to pieces on the Celtics home opener, which simultaneously suggested Toronto might have a little more upside than pre-season projections would indicate and revealed some cracks in the Celtics foundation.

Boston ended up starting the season 2-5 and had to resort to a players-only meeting to gain their bearings. They responded with blowout wins over Orlando and Miami.

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“I would expect this to be a little bit of a street brawl tonight, I really would. They’re gonna come with some physicality,” Nurse said.

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The Celtics were without Jaylen Brown, their leading scorer so far, but scanning through their key players — Jayson Tatum, Marcus Smart and Al Horford — all came into the game shooting well below their career averages. As a team, the Celtics were shooting just 33.2 per cent from three, 20th in the league.

That can’t last all season and the Celtics were able to find their rhythm in the early going. They shot 5-of-9 from three in the first quarter as Boston jumped out to a 33-25 lead. Toronto going 6-of-14 in the paint – an area of concern all season – also worked in the Celtics’ favour.

But that was hardly the most important statistical advantage Boston staked out. In their first meeting of the season, Toronto had a 21-10 advantage on the offensive glass and a 25-11 edge in turnovers. The result was a massive 100-82 edge in field goals attempted.

The Celtics weren’t going to let that happen a second time on their home floor. The Celtics opened up an 18-point lead and went into the half with a 62-46 edge thanks in part to a 9-4 edge in offensive rebounding and a 6-5 edge in turnovers and a 54-44 advantage in shot attempts.

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The Raptors were missing Khem Birch for the second straight game due to a swollen knee and his absence was felt. He’s not a “true” big but his combination of size, quickness and hoops IQ gives allows him to figure things out most nights.

But without Birch there weren’t any lineup configurations Nurse tried that provided an answer for the blunt force that is Celtics big man Williams, who was 7-of-8 from the floor in the first half and gathered seven offensive rebounds on his own.

The Raptors only counter was rookie Barnes, who had 13 points and six rebounds at half. Take away his numbers and Toronto shot just 37 per cent from the floor and going 3-of-14 from deep didn’t help.

The Raptors showed some fight in the third quarter as they were able to turn the Celtics over with four early steals that gave them a chance to get out in transition. A jumper from Gary Trent Jr. cut Boston’s lead to 11 midway through the quarter and a VanVleet triple trimmed it to nine with 3:44 to play in the quarter. But the Celtics held their ground, taking an 80-68 edge to start the fourth.

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The Raptors couldn’t reel them in from there, and their challenge in the East will be holding their ground against a deep field, Boston just one of many.



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SEC college football picks, odds in Week 5: Arkansas stays tight with Alabama, Georgia takes out frustration

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The calendar will flip from September to October as the Week 5 college football action takes center stage on Saturday, which means that SEC division title races are starting take shape. No. 2 Alabama will head to Fayetteville, Arkansas, to take on No. 20 Arkansas in a battle between SEC foes. It was anticipated this could be a battle of undefeated title contenders, but the Razorbacks’ loss to Texas A&M last week erased that possibility. No. 7 Kentucky will travel to Oxford, Mississippi, to take on No. 14 Ole Miss in a clash of cross-division, undefeated teams that are looking to break through on the national stage. 

There are intriguing games for other reasons, too. Auburn will take on LSU at Jordan-Hare Stadium in a game that could determine the future of Tigers coach Bryan Harsin. The second-year coach was rumored to be on the brink of receiving a pink slip had the Tigers lost to Missouri last week, but they escaped in overtime in one of the sloppiest games of the year. 

What else is going on around the conference in Week 5? Let’s take a spin around the league and make some picks in this week’s edition of SEC Smothered and Covered.

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Hurricane Ian hitting the East Coast has forced changes to SEC games in Week 5. Keep up to date with all of the movement at this link here

Appetizer: Drew Sanders, the double agent?

Arkansas linebacker Drew Sanders has established himself as one of the best players in the conference regardless of position. The former five-star prospect out of Denton, Texas, has 31 tackles on the season and is tied for third in the SEC in tackles for loss per game (1.63). He’s also a former member of the Alabama Crimson Tide. 

Could he be a secret agent? Well, not officially, but Razorbacks coach Sam Pittman knows that his star transfer isn’t going to be surprised by anything he sees.

“I would assume, for him, there would be some familiarity with what Bama is doing,” Pittman said. “We’ll try to downplay that as much as possible, because it is about shedding blocks and tackling and doing his assignment.”

This was shaping up to be a battle of undefeated teams prior to last weekend, but a reeling Texas A&M squad and a Hogs’ field goal attempt off the top of the goal post put an end to that plan. It didn’t erase the interest level in this game, though. Pittman’s squad absolutely has to win Saturday’s game vs. the Crimson Tide, otherwise its hopes of winning the West will disappear like a rack of ribs at a tailgate party. 

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Main course: Chris Rodriguez’s impact

Kentucky is typically a juggernaut at developing stud offensive linemen who are effective as run and pass blockers. This year … not so much. The Wildcats have given up more sacks than any other team in the SEC (16) and allowed Northern Illinois to sack quarterback Will Levis five times last weekend. Nothing against the Huskies, but that shouldn’t happen. 

They will get running back Chris Rodriguez back from his early-season suspension this week, though, and he should at least provide more of a threat in the running game to help Levis work off play-action. The preseason All-SEC selection rushed for 1,379 yards and nine touchdowns last season while adding three touchdowns as a receiver out of the backfield. Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said Monday that Rodriguez has prepared to make an impact over the last couple of weeks.

“For Chris, it was just a matter of managing him while he was out. Just getting him the reps that we needed to. The last week or two, as I mentioned last week, he was getting reps with the first and second team — mainly the second team or different quarterbacks just to make sure he wasn’t totally removed from practicing our plays, along with staying in shape, being on the scout team, doing whatever was necessary for staying in good shape.” 

Dessert: Do or die for Bryan Harsin

Reports surfaced last week that Harsin could be fired as early as the day after the Missouri game if his team lost to the visiting Tigers. That didn’t happen; Auburn used a Missouri missed field goal at the end of regulation and a walk-off touchback in overtime to escape with a win. Or a “non-loss,” considering how sloppy the game was. 

In essence, it was the worst possible scenario for all parties. Harsin’s incredibly ugly win against Missouri the week after getting blown out by Penn State made it impossible for the powers-that-be to get rid of him last Sunday, which also gave him another week to “coach back into” his job if he can figure things out. Could that start this week against LSU? Harsin’s Tigers are nearly double-digit underdogs, which suggests that there isn’t much faith in him surviving beyond this weekend. Even if he does, Georgia looms next weekend prior to the bye week. 

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Simply put, Harsin needs to dominate LSU and upset Georgia to stay employed. Otherwise, those who staged the attempted coup in February will likely get their way and move into a new era of Auburn football.

Picks

Straight up: 38-8 | Against the spread: 19-21-1
*Previous picks were made on Instagram since SEC Smothered & Covered starts in Week 3

No. 7 Kentucky at No. 14 Ole Miss

Featured Game | Ole Miss Rebels vs. Kentucky Wildcats

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The Rebels have settled on Jaxson Dart as their No. 1 quarterback, and he will provide a nice complement through the air and on the ground to a rushing attack that is second-to-none in the conference (280.75 YPG). That will wear down a Kentucky defense that isn’t as deep or consistent as it has been in previous years. The Rebels defense, which is third in the SEC in tackles for loss per game (7.0), will keep Levis in third-and-long situations — leading to an Ole Miss cover. Pick: Ole Miss (-6.5)

No. 2 Alabama at No. 20 Arkansas

Featured Game | Arkansas Razorbacks vs. Alabama Crimson Tide

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The 17.5-point spread is interesting, due in large part to the hook. If a 17-point Bama win cashes an Arkansas ticket, I’m all in for the Hogs. Alabama has played one-score games in four of its last five true road tilts, and the combination of Hogs quarterback KJ Jefferson and running back Raheim Sanders will bust enough big plays to at least keep this game close into the fourth quarter. The Crimson Tide will win it by two touchdowns when all is said and done but won’t get the cover. Pick: Arkansas (+17.5)

Featured Game | Mississippi State Bulldogs vs. Texas A&M Aggies

The Bulldogs are home favorites over a ranked Aggies team for good reason. Opposing quarterbacks are completing just 44.4% of their passes on third downs (17th nationally), which sets up well against an Aggies team that will be without star wide receiver Ainias Smith. Texas A&M topped Arkansas essentially because of a fumbled punt return and a freak fumble recovery/scoop-and-score, but even those won’t save them in the land of the cowbells. Pick: Mississippi State (-3.5)

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LSU at Auburn

Featured Game | Auburn Tigers vs. LSU Tigers

Auburn’s offensive line has been a disaster this year, and now its quarterback position is an unmitigated disaster. Meanwhile, LSU’s defense has given up just 39 plays of 10 or more yards this season (tied with Georgia for third in the SEC). It’s going to make Auburn put together multiple sustained drives, and that’s unlikely considering Harsin forgot that running back Tank Bigsby exists during the majority of the Missouri game. The visiting Tigers will win by double-digits. Pick: LSU (-9)

No. 1 Georgia at Missouri

Featured Game | Missouri Tigers vs. Georgia Bulldogs

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The Bulldogs have to be embarrassed after Kent State stayed within 10 points into the fourth quarter last week, and they’ll take it out on Missouri on Saturday night in Columbia. The Tigers average a league-worst 5.62 yards per play, and the way to hang with the Bulldogs is to capitalize on shot plays. Coach Kirby Smart’s crew will take out its frustration on Missouri and win by at least 30 points. Pick: Georgia (-28)

SEC teams vs. FCS opponents

*No lines have been published

Which college football picks can you make with confidence in Week 5, and which top-10 favorite will go down hard? Visit SportsLine to see which teams will win and cover the spread — all from a proven computer model that has returned more than $3,100 in profit over the past six-plus seasons — and find out.

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Canada crushes Puerto Rico in FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup quarterfinal – Sportsnet.ca

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Canada has advanced to the semifinals at the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup for the first time since 1986.

After going 4-1 in first-round play, Canada hammered Puerto Rico 79-60 in quarterfinal action on Thursday in Australia.

The Canadians will be heavy underdogs in the semis on Friday against the top-ranked United States. The Americans defeated Serbia 88-55 in the first quarterfinal.

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The Americans have won 28 consecutive games in World Cup play since losing to the Russians in the 2006 semis — the tournament is held quadrennially.

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Canada will try to win its first medal since capturing bronze in 1986. That result matched its previous best of third in 1979.

Kia Nurse led Canada with 17 points, one of five players to score in double figures for her team. Bridget Carleton had 15, while Laeticia Amihere and Natalie Achonwa had 12 apiece. Kayla Alexander had 13 rebounds for Canada.

Canada jumped out to a 26-11 lead after the first quarter and never was threatened.

China faces France and Belgium meets Australia in the other quarterfinals.

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College football odds, picks, predictions, best bets for Week 5, 2022: Proven model backing Oklahoma, Oregon

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Kentucky and Kansas are often known for their basketball prowess, but the Wildcats and Jayhawks both enter the Week 5 college football schedule undefeated. The Wildcats survived an upset bid from Northern Illinois last week and will now go on the road to face the Ole Miss Rebels in an SEC showdown. Kansas, meanwhile, notched its fourth win of the season after beating Duke 35-27 and will battle Iowa State at 3:30 p.m. ET on Saturday. Before this season, the Jayhawks recorded three wins or fewer in each of the past 12 years. 

The Week 5 college football odds from Caesars Sportsbook list the Jayhawks as 3.5-point underdogs against the Cyclones. The Wildcats are 6.5-point underdogs against the Rebels in an 12 p.m. ET kickoff in Oxford. Should your Week 5 college football picks include backing Kansas or Kentucky as underdogs, or should you look elsewhere on the CFB odds board for value? Before locking in any Week 5 college football picks on those games or others, be sure to see the latest college football predictions from SportsLine’s advanced computer model.

The SportsLine Projection Model simulates every FBS college football game 10,000 times. Over the past six-plus years, the proprietary computer model has generated a stunning profit of more than $3,100 for $100 players on its top-rated college football picks against the spread. Anyone who has followed it has seen huge returns.

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Now, it has turned its attention to the latest Week 5 college football odds from Caesars and locked in picks for every FBS matchup. Head here to see every pick.

Top college football predictions for Week 5

One of the college picks the model is high on in Week 5: No. 18 Oklahoma (-5) goes on the road and covers against TCU at noon ET on Saturday. The Sooners were upset by Kansas State, a team that has been very tough on the Sooners recently, in Week 4. But the Sooners have a much better track record against the Horned Frogs. Oklahoma has won eight straight against TCU, and all but two of those wins have come by more than five points. The last two wins in the series have come by an average of 20 points.

The model sees this as a great bounce-back spot for Oklahoma as it is favored by less than a touchdown against a relatively unproven TCU squad. Dillon Gabriel throws for 300 yards in the simulations, with Marvin Mims leading the way with more than 60 receiving yards for OU. The Sooners win more than 60% of the time, making them one of the teams to include in your Week 5 college football best bets. 

Another one of the model’s top college football picks: No. 13 Oregon (-16) has no trouble with the double-digit spread against Stanford in Saturday’s 11 p.m. ET kickoff in Eugene. The Ducks are coming off a thrilling 44-41 come-from-behind victory over Washington State last week. Quarterback Bo Nix was the star of the show, throwing for 428 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. Nix has now accounted for at least three touchdowns in each of his last three games. For the season, Nix has thrown for 1,100 yards, 10 touchdowns and three interceptions, while also averaging 4.6 yards per carry. 

Oregon is averaging 198.2 rushing yards per game this season, which ranks 29th in the nation. Stanford, meanwhile, is giving up 30.33 points per game this season. The Cardinal have also allowed 40 or more points in back-to-back Pac-12 games. SportsLine’s model is projecting the Ducks to rush for over 200 yards against Stanford on Saturday. That helps Oregon control possession and post 41 points in this one as they cover in almost 60% of simulations. See which other teams the model likes here.

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How to make college football picks for Week 5

The model has also made the call on who wins and covers in every other FBS matchup in Week 5, and it says a top-10 favorite will go down hard in one of the week’s biggest games. You can only get every pick for every game at SportsLine.

So what college football picks can you make with confidence? And which top-10 favorite goes down hard? Check out the latest college football odds below, then visit SportsLine to see which teams win and cover the spread, all from a proven computer model that has returned more than $3,100 in profit over the past six-plus seasons, and find out.

College football odds for Week 5 (via Caesars)

See full Week 5 college football picks, odds, predictions here

Thursday, Sept. 29

Utah State at BYU (-24, 60.5)

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Featured Game | BYU Cougars vs. Utah State Aggies

Friday, Sept. 30

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Tulane at Houston (-2.5, 55)

Featured Game | Houston Cougars vs. Tulane Green Wave

UTSA at MTSU (+5, 63)

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Featured Game | Middle Tenn. Blue Raiders vs. UTSA Roadrunners

San Diego State at Boise State (-5.5, 40)

Featured Game | Boise State Broncos vs. San Diego State Aztecs

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Washington at UCLA (+2.5, 65)

Featured Game | UCLA Bruins vs. Washington Huskies

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New Mexico at UNLV (-16, 45.5)

Featured Game | UNLV Rebels vs. New Mexico Lobos

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Saturday, Oct. 1

Michigan at Iowa (+10.5, 43)

Featured Game | Iowa Hawkeyes vs. Michigan Wolverines

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Kentucky at Ole Miss (-6.5, 55.5)

Featured Game | Ole Miss Rebels vs. Kentucky Wildcats

Oklahoma at TCU (+5, 67.5)

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Featured Game | TCU Horned Frogs vs. Oklahoma Sooners

Oregon State at Utah (-11, 56)

Featured Game | Utah Utes vs. Oregon State Beavers

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Wake Forest at Florida State (-6, 66)

Featured Game | Florida State Seminoles vs. Wake Forest Demon Deacons

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Rutgers at Ohio State (-41, 60)

Northwestern at Penn State (-25.5, 52.5)

Featured Game | Penn State Nittany Lions vs. Northwestern Wildcats

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Alabama at Arkansas (+15.5, 61.5)

Featured Game | Arkansas Razorbacks vs. Alabama Crimson Tide

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Oklahoma State at Baylor (-2.5, 55)

Featured Game | Baylor Bears vs. Oklahoma State Cowboys

Texas A&M at Mississippi State (-3, 46)

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Featured Game | Mississippi State Bulldogs vs. Texas A&M Aggies

NC State at Clemson (-6.5, 46)

Featured Game | Clemson Tigers vs. NC State Wolfpack

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Georgia at Missouri (+27.5, 55.5)

Featured Game | Missouri Tigers vs. Georgia Bulldogs

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Arizona State at USC (-24, 61.5)

Featured Game | USC Trojans vs. Arizona State Sun Devils

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Stanford at Oregon (-16, 62.5)

Featured Game | Oregon Ducks vs. Stanford Cardinal

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