What comes next as NBA's (ir)regular season wraps up
Previewing basketball's play-in round between Blazers, Griz before playoffs begin
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Here's what you need to know right now from the world of sports:
The NBA playoffs are around the corner
The battle to stay at Disney is about to ramp up.
Today marks the final day of the NBA's (ir)regular season, and the first-round matchups are mostly set — with one notable exception.
The No. 2 Raptors already know their opponent is the seventh-seeded Brooklyn Nets, with Game 1 going Monday at 4 p.m. ET. They play every other day from there until the series is complete.
Here's everything else you should know as the bubble population begins to dwindle:
So far, everything is going according to plan. The latest round of coronavirus testing results was released earlier this week, with no players reporting positive. The next big hurdle comes when player guests are allowed in following the first round of the playoffs.
On the court, the product feels as close as possible to the real thing. The real test will arrive at the end of a close elimination game when the gym may lack atmosphere, but for now the NBA product feels almost unaffected by the absence of fans. Having no cameramen sitting underneath the basket is something players have wanted for a while now, and the piped-in crowd noise makes you forget it's an empty arena. The virtual crowd hasn't been nearly as weird as it sounded. Most importantly, the players appear not to have missed a beat after the long layoff.
It was important for the Raptors to sew up that second seed. It means a matchup with the Nets, who are missing stars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving as well as some key role players. Brooklyn's ringer roster earned a surprising 5-3 Disney record, and budding star Caris LeVert could steal a game against the Raptors. Knowing Toronto's history, that will probably be Game 1. For Kyle Lowry, the matchup against the Nets completes a full circle. The Raptors wrapped their seeding games at 7-1 after a win over the Denver Nuggets this afternoon.
Things could get testy for Toronto in the second round. There, it would face the winner of the 76ers-Celtics series. Philadelphia lost all-star Ben Simmons for the season, but would still prove a difficult out in a second-round rematch. Boston is the bigger concern: it authored the Raptors' lone loss in Disney, and the game wasn't particularly close. The teams are generally regarded as evenly matched even though the Celtics won the season series 3-1.
The main source of drama came from the West. We knew this would be likely when the NBA brought 13 West teams and only nine from the East. The East's ninth-seeded Washington Wizards promptly went 1-7, proving critics who said they shouldn't have been invited eminently correct. But those same critics also decried the Suns' inclusion, since Phoenix was six games out of the playoffs with four teams to jump. Of course the Suns promptly went 8-0, including wins over seven playoff teams. Cruelly, they were eliminated from post-season contention last night. Also knocked out were the San Antonio Spurs, who saw their 22-season playoff streak snapped.
Portland's Damian Lillard should be seeding-game MVP. OK, that award doesn't exist, but still: the Blazers guard scored 61, 51 and 42 points in his last three games, all wins, to will Portland to the eighth seed. The Blazers competed in last year's West final, but injuries ravaged their pre-pause season.
Still, the Trail Blazers have more work to do. Last night's 134-133 win against the Nets not only ended the Suns' run, but also meant Portland moved up to eighth. In a normal year, that's enough to be in the first round. But this year, there's a play-in. The Blazers will take on the No. 9 Memphis Grizzlies — who began the restart eighth, but scuffled at 2-6 — in a two-game series over the weekend. The Blazers need just one win to advance, while the Grizzlies must get both. LeBron James and the top-seeded Los Angeles Lakers await the victor.
Canadians have a chance to make an impact. Canada Basketball fans may want to hop on the Grizzlies bandwagon. Memphis occasionally rocks the Vancouver throwback jerseys and boasts two key Canadian role players in Brandon Clarke and Dillon Brooks. As a bonus, American rookie Ja Morant is one of the most fun young stars in the league. Denver's Jamal Murray and OKC's Shai Gilgeous-Alexander stand the most important Canadians on peripheral contenders, while Toronto's Chris Boucher, up 15 pounds from March, has proven his case for playoff minutes with big performances in recent Raptors wins.
The NBA also announced a tentative Finals schedule. It includes a potential Game 7 on Oct. 13. Until then, every team will play practically every other day. It's good to have sports back.
Eugenie Bouchard and Leylah Annie Fernandez may be out, but they shouldn't be discouraged. Bouchard fell in three sets to world No. 23 Elise Mertens in the third round of the Prague Open this morning. After dropping the first 6-4, Bouchard roared back with a 6-1 second set before being broken in the 6-4 decider. Still, a pair of wins over higher ranked players in Prague — including a dominant opener against the No. 40 player — could translate into more success for the 26-year-old Canadian as the WTA season gets going. The key for Bouchard, as always, is consistency. Watch highlights from Bouchard's loss here.
Fernandez, nearly a decade younger than Bouchard at 17, lost a tough one to wild card Shelby Rogers in the second round of the Top Seed Open in Kentucky. The Montrealer, already down a set, went up 5-2 in the second before crumbling apart in her 2-6, 5-7 loss. The good news: Fernandez, a qualifier, had already beaten World No. 37 Sloane Stephens, and the broader picture of her tournament paints a success. The bad news: She missed the chance to play her first match against Serena Williams in the quarters. Serena seems beatable right now after grinding through a pair of long wins to begin her tournament — the latest against sister Venus. Read more about Fernandez's tough defeat and the Williams sisters' battle here.
Kia Nurse found a band-aid for her shooting struggles. The Liberty lost again, and Nurse shot just 4-of-15 from the field, but she still managed 21 points thanks to 12 trips to the line and 11 makes. Free-throw shooting can serve as an indicator for future performance from the field, so despite the 86-79 loss to the Indiana Fever, Nurse can walk away with something positive. On the other side, Canada's Natalie Achonwa posted eight points and six rebounds in her best game of the season for the Fever.
Meanwhile, a pair of Canadians continued to make waves for the Minnesota Lynx. Despite falling to the Las Vegas Aces, centre Kayla Alexander enjoyed her most impactful game of the season with 11 points and a pair of blocks off the bench. Bridget Carleton played 23 minutes as her rotation role appears here to stay, though the 23-year-old's offensive contributions against Las Vegas were limited. The Lynx's next game comes against Nurse's Liberty on Saturday. Read more about Thursday night's WNBA action here.
The 2020 Olympics didn't happen, but we're still talking about an Oleksiak. That would be swimmer Penny's hockey-playing brother Jamie, a defenceman for the Dallas Stars who broke a tie with 39 seconds left in Game 2 to even the series against the Calgary Flames. The teams are back on the ice tonight, but Calgary could be missing Matthew Tkachuk, who was speared in the groin before leaving the game permanently after a hit that left him woozy. Read more about the Flames' outlook here.
Elsewhere in the NHL, the Hurricanes tied things with the Bruins as Dougie Hamilton exacted some revenge on his old team, the Blue Jackets rebounded from their 5OT loss to beat the Lightning in just three periods and Vegas needed a little more time than that to go up 2-0 over Chicago. Watch Rob Pizzo's two-minute recap of the day's action here.
The Diamond League season got back underway today. The main event of the track and field season's first event in Monaco was the men's 200, where American star Noah Lyles cruised to victory as the only runner to break 20 seconds. Lyles' parents were probably extra happy when brother Josephus finished less than a tick behind in second. In the men's 5,000, Joshua Cheptegei of Uganda broke a 16-year-old world record at 12:35.36. Only two Canadians were entered in Monaco: Sudan-born, Edmonton-raised Marco Arop placed third in the 800 with a personal best one minute 44.14 seconds in the 800, while steeplechaser Matt Hughes, of Oshawa, Ont., placed fifth in the 3,000 at 8:16.25. Read more about the season-opening track meet here.
The St. Louis Cardinals are about to get busy. After not playing for 17 days due to a coronavirus outbreak, the Cards get back in action Saturday with a doubleheader against the White Sox. They'd better get used to it: in MLB's altered schedule, the Cardinals will play 10 additional doubleheaders to help make up for all the games they missed. St. Louis' current record is 2-3.
This weekend on CBC Sports
NHL playoffs continue on Hockey Night in Canada. Tune in to CBCSports.ca tonight to catch Game 3 of Dallas-Calgary at 10:30 p.m. ET. The action is also available on CBC TV over the weekend, with Vegas-Chicago Game 3 at 8 p.m. ET Saturday night before a Sunday doubleheader featuring Dallas-Calgary at 2 p.m. ET followed by Philadelphia-Montreal Game 3 at 8 p.m. ET.
The first Saturday CPL doubleheader of the season starts at 1 p.m. ET. That match features the expansion Atletico Ottawa taking on York9 FC. At 3:30 p.m. ET, it's HFX Wanderers vs. Pacific FC. You can watch both games on CBC TV, CBCSports.ca, CBC Sports app and CBC Gem. Click here for the full schedule.
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