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Siakam steps up as Raptors snap skid with win over Kings – Sportsnet.ca

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SACRAMENTO — The Toronto Raptors aren’t without their issues. They’re young. They don’t shoot the ball very well and they don’t have much in the way of high-end NBA big men.

Meaningful depth has yet to materialize on even a semi-consistent basis.

There are things that can be done to mitigate some of those challenges but none of them can outweigh against one unassailable fact: if Pascal Siakam doesn’t play well and do it regularly, none of it really matters.

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It’s just NBA math: there are virtually no rosters deep enough to thrive consistently without their highest-paid player contributing significantly.

Siakam wasn’t exactly invisible in the first five games he had played since he returned from off-season shoulder surgery. He’s had some very nice outings offensively — in losses to Detroit and Portland this week he averaged 22.5 points, nine rebounds and 6.5 assists on 55 per cent shooting. But he seemed heavy-legged — at best — defensively. Too many times he was late to rotate or in the wrong spot or simply not energized enough when he was there as he got turnstiled more than once. Charitably, getting into the kind of shape required to play both ends for 36-plus NBA minutes or more isn’t an overnight thing.

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But in the Raptors’ loss to the Utah Jazz on Thursday, Siakam was highly visible for how poorly he played: 2-of-14 shooting, four turnovers and seemingly a step slow or worse in every rotation and every transition from offence to defence or vice versa. Given it was Toronto’s first game without leading scorer OG Anunoby — likely to be out of a couple of weeks with a hip pointer – the timing couldn’t have been worse.

Siakam looked shaky enough that I wondered if he might have been under the weather.

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“Not that I’m aware of; not that I’m aware of.” said Raptors head coach Nick Nurse before his club took on the Sacramento Kings on Friday. “[But] I talked to him this morning. My take on him right now is sometimes you have a stinker, man. It’s why they made back-to-backs. Flush that one down and let’s go out and get a performance like you know you can play and go after it tonight.”

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The Raptors limped into Sacramento having lost six of seven and three straight. Fortunately, the Kings were wobbling as well, having lost five of six themselves, with head coach Luke Walton widely expected to be fired sooner rather than later.

Simply put: the Raptors needed a win, Siakam needed a good game and Sacramento was a good place to reach both goals.

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Siakam did his part, and then some as the Raptors (8-9) cruised to a welcome 108-89 blowout win in a game Toronto led by as much as 30 at one point in the second half.

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Siakam had already helped the Raptors off to a strong start with a strong first quarter to set the tone, but after halftime, he went for blood, perhaps inspired by the bandage he had to wear after getting his head cut late in the second quarter.

Siakam hit a 17-footer and then stroked a pair of deep threes before the half was two minutes old. Suddenly the Raptors were up by 26 and the blowout was on. Siakam added another trip to the line and another pair of jumpers and suddenly he had 28 points on 9-of-11 shooting, including 3-of-3 from deep and 7-of-8 from the line. He finished with a season-high 32 points on just 12 shots.

It wasn’t just his shooting and scoring, Siakam looked bouncier when he picked up his man just over half. He was quick out in transition. He looked like himself again.

Siakam got Toronto started, but not without some hiccups. He had two turnovers on his first two touches and you had to wonder if it was going to be one of those nights. Again.

But Siakam stepped into a three at the top of the circle; drove the lane and got fouled and seemed to settle down from there. He put the ball on the floor aggressively but was able to adjust when he ran into traffic in the paint and finish with a nice mix of floaters and leaners. He took some easy mid-range jumpers when they were there. Next thing you know Siakam had 13 first-quarter points on four shots and four free throws and the Raptors were up 30-27.

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One of the problems the Raptors have — and why Siakam turning his game around is so imperative — is that when Fred VanVleet is off the floor, they struggle mightily. According to cleaningtheglass.com the Raptors score 17.4 points more per 100 possessions when VanVleet plays than when he sits. Since he can’t play 48 minutes a night, that’s a problem.

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“We’ve got outplayed by the second units a couple games in a row,” said Nurse. “My first answer to that is we need our guys to play better, the guys we’re giving chances to, because they can play better. Our challenge as coaches is to give them confidence to play better …”

That came to pass as well. With VanVleet sitting the first four minutes of the second quarter the Raptors extended their lead with Precious Achiuwa — back from his shoulder injury — Svi Mykhailiuk and Dalano Banton all chipping in.

VanVleet never really got on track offensively, but for once he didn’t need to. Gary Trent Jr. continued his red-hot shooting as he scored 15 points in the second quarter on 5-of-9 shooting and 3-of-6 from deep as Toronto took a 63-45 lead into the third quarter. Trent Jr. finished with 23 points and hit five threes for the second straight game.

It made for the rarest of Raptors wins: one in which VanVleet wasn’t at his best. Perhaps feeling the effects of 35 hard minutes at altitude in Utah on Thursday night, VanVleet made an uncharacteristic seven turnovers to offset his 13 points and six assists. But VanVleet being VanVleet, he still found a way to be one the Raptors’ leaders in plus/minus at +23.

In addition to Siakam finding some rhythm, Trent’s fine play and some bench contributions, the other encouraging sign was the Raptors’ overall defensive effort. They’ve been last in the NBA in defence over the past seven games and had let their last three opponents shoot 54 per cent, 56 per cent and 55 per cent from the floor, respectively.

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The Kings might have represented a soft case but the Raptors did give up 127 points to the lowly Detroit Pistons last Saturday, so it’s not like Toronto can’t give it up to a shaky opponent.

In any case, Toronto was better than it has been, holding Sacramento to 38.1 per cent shooting and forcing 18 turnovers.

“The questions [about our defence] are justified because we’ve had three or four or maybe even more games where the defence hasn’t quite been itself,” said Nurse. “That’s a little bit concerning. You say is the effort there? Maybe it wasn’t one game. I think it was other games. There’s a little bit of a lack of chemistry. Moving pieces has a little bit affect it. I think losing our size for a while with Khem and Precious — this is the first time they’ve been back for eight games maybe. One has been out or the other one. That I thought immediately when we had those two guys and they started sharing that possession gave us some good defensive punch with some rim protection. We know we’re capable of it. This group knows we’re capable of it. We’ve got to get back and locked in and get that connectivity that we’ve shown.”

No complaints there on Friday. Birch had four steals and two blocks to go along with his 10 points and nine rebounds in his 23 minutes, and Achiuwa was steady in his 25 minutes after missing three games with shoulder tendinitis.

Improved defence, some strong bench play and a revitalized Siakam? The Raptors couldn’t hope for much more, and the timing is perfect as they head to San Francisco to play the 14-2 Golden State Warriors on Sunday night.

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Indiana reaches No. 2 in women’s AP Top 25; South Carolina still No. 1

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South Carolina remains No. 1 in the AP women’s college basketball poll, while Indiana moves up to No. 2, its best ranking in school history.



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Graphic Shows MLB Stars In Potential Dominican Republic WBC Lineup

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(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

 

We’re now just one week away from the start of spring training, and almost a month away from the return of the World Baseball Classic.

The Classic was last played in 2017, with Team USA coming out on top.

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It was originally scheduled to return in 2021, but was put on hold due to COVID-19.

At long last, the Classic will be making its return.

Each country has a stacked roster full of MLB stars, especially the Dominican Republic.

Stars such as ALCS and World Series MVP Jeremy Pena and American League Rookie of the Year Julio Rodriguez are featured on the roster.

A graphic on Twitter shows just how dangerous their lineup could be this spring.

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Interestingly enough, Pena is projected to hit seventh in the order, with Rodriguez projected to hit ninth.

But beyond those two, the lineup is completely stacked with sluggers and other talented players.

Starling Marte and Juan Soto will likely round out the outfield and play on either side of Rodriguez in the Classic.

But the team also has two elite options at third base in Rafael Devers and MVP candidate Manny Machado.

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Jose Ramirez and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. on the right side of the infield should be a deadly combination.

In addition, they’ll have Gary Sanchez behind the plate.

Simply put, this lineup is loaded with talent and will not be fun for any opposing pitcher to face, regardless of how it is constructed, even if Pena and Rodriguez are down near the bottom, which still speaks to the star power that the lineup possesses.

The post Graphic Shows MLB Stars In Potential Dominican Republic WBC Lineup appeared first on The Cold Wire.





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MLB Insider Reflects On Beloved Twins Scout

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Late last week, the MLB world was hit with some sad news when it was revealed that longtime Minnesota Twins scout Mike Radcliff had passed away.

Radcliff was often praised for his ability to draft and develop talent within the Twins organization and help to build a strong homegrown team.

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Some players that were drafted under his watch include Torii Hunter, Michael Cuddyer, and Joe Mauer.

He is often also praised for his constant belief in the talent that he drafted and helped rise through the ranks of the Twins organization.

This afternoon, MLB analyst and close friend of Radcliff, Jon Morosi, spoke to MLB Network about what Radcliff meant to the game and the Twins organization.

Morosi talked about Radcliff’s ability to mentor young scouts.

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Of course, his reach extends beyond just the Twins organization.

Morosi talked a lot about his character and how he represented the game and the Twins with class and dignity and was a great friend and mentor to those around him.

The players selected during his tenure also speak volumes to what Radcliffe was able to accomplish during his time as a scout.

Morosi also praised him for his graciousness to team personnel and media members, and how he saw beyond just the players he drafted, but appreciated those around him.

The belief in his players was something that was also touched upon.

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Hunter, Mauer, and Cuddyer were not necessarily sure things, but Radcliff saw something special in them and believed they could help the Twins.

Morosi closed his statement by expressing how much of a loss Radcliff’s death is for baseball and how important he was to the game.

The post MLB Insider Reflects On Beloved Twins Scout appeared first on The Cold Wire.





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