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Raptors’ Scottie Barnes on his early struggles: ‘I feel like I can do way better’

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BROOKLYN, N.Y. – Scottie Barnes wishes he was playing better too.

The second-year Raptors wing hasn’t followed up his rookie-of-the-year season exactly how he might have hoped. But he’s optimistic about the long stretch of basketball games yet to come.

“I feel like I can do way better than what I’m doing,” Barnes told me in a rare one-on-one conversation as the Raptors were preparing for Friday night’s game against the Brooklyn Nets, which can be seen on Sportsnet at 7:30 p.m. ET. “I can contribute better in different ways. We’re trying to get more Ws in the win column and focus on team success, we’re trying to win basketball games, but of course I feel like I can be way better, yeah.”

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It’s been a challenging week for the 21-year-old. He was pulled from the starting lineup for the first regular season game of his career on Monday against Cleveland – this after missing a pair of games with a knee sprain. The stated logic from head coach Nick Nurse was he wanted to make sure – with Pascal Siakam returning from his injury and Gary Trent Jr. also having been out of the lineup – that starters weren’t overrun with players out of their normal rhythm. Plausible logic for sure, but not something that would have happened if Barnes (or Trent Jr.) had been at the top of his game before the lineup shuffle.

Ideally, a player comes back from being pushed down the lineup with a vengeance: Trent Jr. played well against Cleveland and exploded for 35 points against New Orleans, both times while coming off the bench.

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It didn’t work out quite that way for Barnes, who arguably had the worst game of his career when he rejoined the starters on Wednesday in what ended up being a blow-out loss to the shorthanded Pelicans. Barnes was 1-of-7 from the floor and managed just one rebound in 21 minutes.

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It was a memorable game in at least one way, however. It was Barnes’ first opportunity to play against Zion Williamson, who missed all of last season with a foot injury. Barnes was suitably impressed by the Pelicans’ force of nature.

“It was more than I was expecting,” he said of Williamson, who had 33 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, four steals and two blocks and got to the rim with ease against the Raptors. “He had an incredible performance. He had a big impact on the game and how it went. He did multiple things on the floor. He gave us a problem, for sure. I just remember him running in transition super fast, going down the floor, getting rebounds, pushing it. Being able to impose his will in the paint … he’s (one of the) top-three most athletic guys I’ve seen. He’s just very explosive. At his size? It’s impressive.”

Comparing Barnes to Williamson is hardly fair – the Pelicans star, when healthy, is a player like few others in NBA history. But the Raptors would love to see Barnes have more games where he imposed his will in the paint and elsewhere.

It’s not Barnes’ lows that have been head-scratching this season, it’s the lack of highs. The player who had a 31-point and 17-rebounds double-double against LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers or stripped Kevin Durant multiple times on his way to 28 points, 16 rebounds, five steals and four assists or went into Boston for the second game of his NBA career and put up 25 points and 13 rebounds, has not yet shown himself through 21 games.

Barnes had high hopes too, after a hardworking summer. But he’s trying to keep the bigger picture in mind.

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Other than his up-close view of the show Williamson put on, Barnes said the loss to Pelicans and his role in what was a team-wide lack of competitiveness is firmly in the rearview. He understands the temptation to dwell on a poor outing or get caught up in a great one, but with another game always coming, even in a career that’s barely 100 games old, he’s learned to keep looking ahead.

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“After each game, I really just try to leave it alone,” he said. “In this league, you can’t get too high or too low. I feel that’s when it really gets to you, when you get too high or too low. So, I just try to move past it after the game is over and keep it one game at a time.

“It’s something I’ve been working on. I’m not too worried about that performance. It’s just one game, we got a long season. We’ve got a game ahead of us. It’s a long season, so focus on today, that game is gone.”

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In some ways, Barnes’ second-year struggles – to the extent he’s going through them – are a product of the expectations his rookie-of-the-year season. He’s not all that far off the benchmarks he set last season. He’s a little less efficient – shooting 42.9 per cent, compared with 49.2 – but part of that is him taking more threes. His playmaking numbers are up, but his offensive rebounding numbers are down, which speaks to a shift in role as more primary ball-handler, especially in stretches when Fred VanVleet and Siakam have been hurt.

But the expectations are there for a reason: Barnes looked a like a superstar-in-the-making a season ago, it’s just turning out that making that jump is a little harder than most thought. As good as the rookie class Barnes was part of, and as the No. 4 pick has been, none of the headline names have avoided headwinds in Year 2.

“After every season, everybody tries to come and at the beginning of the season tries to show how they’ve developed their game, show what they’ve been working on,” he said. “But me, I don’t feel any pressure on me to do too much. I’m just trying to play my game and develop each and every day and knowing that I’m trying to get better and trying to do what it takes.”

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Internally, there is understanding that Barnes’ development can’t be rushed. The organization sees him working on his game, sees that his passion hasn’t wavered in that respect and recognizes that patience is required.

Barnes’ plan remains unchanged: “Just continue to be me. Focus on those little things. It always starts on defense for me. Try to stay active, stay involved. I feel like that’s what really keeps me going, keeps me in that attitude, being aggressive. I feel like I got keep being me. I take what the game gives me, but I got keep being me on the floor.”

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With a quarter of the season gone, he’s not seeking improvement in any particular area, but he knows he can be better than he’s been.

“It’s not a specific thing. Some days shots don’t go in, some days they do. I don’t really focus on scoring,” he said. “That’s something other people focus on. I don’t really focus on those areas. I focus on every aspect. I’m more an all-around player, but I just gotta make better reads, make better improvements, keep learning the game, keep wanting to get better. I feel that’s the main thing, keep trying to get better, wanting to get better. I feel like the coaches and the staff are just going to help me get where I want to be.”

Does he feel pressure?

“I always put pressure on myself to go out there, play hard,” he said. “I feel I’m never really satisfied with how I’m playing, I feel like I can always be better and try to find those things I can correct myself and be better at.”

He gets another chance against the Nets.

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Seton Hall dominates and takes the 70-49 win over Butler on home court

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The Seton Hall Pirates take home a win over the Butler Bulldogs, with strong performances by Dre Davis and Al-Amir Dawes, among many.



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Canadian Stephen Eustaquio scores to help FC Porto win Portuguese League Cup

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LEIRIA, Portugal — Canadian international Stephen Eustaquio scored from distance to help FC Porto hoist the Portuguese League Cup with a 2-0 win over Sporting Lisbon on Saturday.

Taking a layoff from a teammate outside the Sporting penalty box, Eustaquio hammered a right-footed shot that a diving Adan, Sporting’s Spanish goalkeeper, got his hands to but could not stop.

Sporting were reduced to 10 men with 18 minutes remaining when Paulinho was shown a second yellow card for catching a chasing Porto player in the face with his arm.

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A header by an unmarked Ivan Marcano in front of the goal in the 86th minute sealed the win for Porto.

The 26-year-old Eustaquio, a midfielder, has won 28 caps for Canada and played in two of Canada’s World Cup games in Qatar before being sidelined by injury.

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Newhook scores birthday goal, helps Avalanche double up Blues

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DENVER — Alex Newhook scored on his birthday for the second straight season, and the Colorado Avalanche beat the St. Louis Blues 4-2 on Saturday for their seventh win in eight games.

Evan Rodrigues, J.T. Compher and Matt Nieto also scored for Colorado, and Logan O’Connor had two assists. Alexandar Georgiev stopped 26 shots.

The Avalanche had won six in a row before Thursday night’s 5-3 loss to lowly Anaheim. But the reigning Stanley Cup champions bounced back nicely in their final game before their bye week and the NHL All-Star break.

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The banged-up Avalanche (27-18-3) could get some key players back after they return. Defensemen Josh Manson and Bowen Byram have been sidelined with lower-body injuries, but they have started skating in non-contact jerseys.

Ivan Barbashev and Brayden Schenn scored for St. Louis (23-24-3) in its fourth consecutive loss. Jordan Binnington made 27 saves.

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The Blues were without second-leading scorer Robert Thomas, who left Thursday’s loss at Arizona with a lower-body injury.

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Newhook, who turned 22 Saturday, scored his 12th of the season and third in the last four games at 9:22 of the first period.

Compher made it 2-0 when he scored on a rebound at 11:36, and Rodrigues made it 3-0 with his 11th goal 4:48 into the second.

Schenn scored on the power play at 16:27 of the second to get St. Louis on the board. Barbashev trimmed Colorado’s lead to 3-2 when he scored on a partial breakaway at 9:40 of the third. It was Barbashev’s ninth of the season.

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Binnington came off for an extra skater with 1:26 left and Nieto scored into the empty net with 2.7 seconds left, his ninth of the season.

WORTH NOTING

Avalanche RW Valeri Nichushkin missed his second straight game with an upper-body injury. … With Thomas sidelined, Nikita Alexandrov centered St. Louis’ fourth line after being recalled from the minors. … The Blues have lost four or more games in a row three times this year.

UP NEXT

Blues: At Winnipeg on Monday.

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Avalanche: At Pittsburgh on Feb. 7.

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