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Canada could face the Dream Team in Tokyo
The draws for the Olympic basketball tournaments took place today and the NBA-star-studded U.S. men’s team landed in a group with France, Iran and the winner of this summer’s last-chance qualifier in Victoria. That’s the one Canada is in. So winning the event will not only clinch the Canadian men’s squad its first Olympic berth in more than two decades, but also its first-ever Olympic showdown with America’s best players.
The NBA started participating in the Olympics in 1992 in Barcelona, where Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Charles Barkley headlined the original (and still greatest) Dream Team. But the Canadian men’s squad has reached the Olympics only once since then — in 2000 in Sydney. Future NBA MVP Steve Nash led Canada to a first-place finish in a group that did not include the U.S., and they didn’t cross paths in the knockout round either. Canada fell in the quarter-finals to France, which went on to lose to the Americans in the gold-medal game. Vince Carter (at the peak of his powers that summer — just ask Frederic Weis) co-led the U.S. with 13 points in the final.
In order to earn a date with the Americans — which would happen on July 31 — Canada must first get out of Victoria. The June 29-July 4 qualifier has six teams in it, and only the winner gets to go to Tokyo. One of the countries Canada has to beat is Greece, which could be led by two-time reigning NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo — if his Milwaukee Bucks are eliminated from the playoffs in time.
And, of course, all this comes with the caveat that some NBA stars (not to mention the teams that pay them millions of dollars a year) might not be too keen on the idea of travelling to Japan after a long, compressed season… during a global pandemic. So this could be the softest Dream Team in quite some time, though other countries could lose NBA players too.
The Olympic women’s draw was also held today. Canada, which has already qualified for the third straight time, avoided the mighty U.S., which is heavily favoured to win its seventh straight gold. But the fourth-ranked Canadians still drew a tough-looking group that also includes No. 3 Spain, No. 8 Serbia and No. 19 South Korea.
Both the women’s and men’s tournament are made up of three groups of four teams. The top two from each group advance to the knockout stage, plus the two best third-place teams. Canada hasn’t won an Olympic basketball medal since the Hitler-hosted 1936 Games in Berlin, where a men’s tournament (and only a men’s tournament) was played on an outdoor dirt court.
Read more about the draws for Tokyo here, and read about the “virtual” training camp the Canadian women’s team is holding this week here.
Bianca Andreescu delayed her comeback again
She was supposed to play her first match in 15 months at the Grampians Trophy — one of the Australian Open warmup events happening in Melbourne. Andreescu was seeded No. 1, which entitled her to a first-round bye. After that, she was scheduled to meet the winner of a match between former U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens and Canadian teenager Leylah Annie Fernandez. But Andreescu pulled out last night, saying in a statement that she and her “team” have “decided to focus this week on training for the Australian Open,” which starts Monday.
It’s a curious move, considering Andreescu has said she’s fully recovered from the knee and foot injuries that have contributed to her being sidelined since October 2019. She indicated in an interview a few months ago that it was more than just physical issues that kept her off the court, saying “the virus kind of pushed me back, and some little personal things here and there.” But she described herself at the time as “perfectly healthy” and said she’d “100 per cent” be at the Australian Open.
The trip has been a tough one, though. Andreescu was among the 72 players forced to endure a two-week, solitary quarantine in their hotel rooms after arriving on one of three contaminated charter flights. Andreescu’s coach, Sylvain Bruneau, tested positive for COVID-19 upon arriving in Melbourne on one of those planes. He said the rest of his “team” tested negative, and there has been no indication that Andreescu tested positive. Read more about her withdrawal from the Aussie Open tuneup here.
The baseball season will be normal. That’s a relative term these days, but the players’ association rejected the owners’ interesting proposal for a modified season that would see spring training pushed back from Feb. 17 to March 22, opening day from April 1 to April 28, and each team’s schedule cut from 162 games to 154. The offer also included expanding the playoffs from 10 teams to 14, extending the DH to the National League and putting a runner on second base to start extra innings, which was first tried last year. Plus, this fun wrinkle: the higher-seeded teams involved in the first round of the playoffs would get to pick their opponents — and the choices would be announced on a television show. But, in classic baseball fashion, the offer was swiftly rejected. So we’re back to the old 162-game season, starting around the usual time. Read more about the rebuffed proposal here.
The National Women’s Hockey League lost another team. Last week, the Metropolitan Riveters dropped out of the NWHL hub in Lake Placid, N.Y., after several team members tested positive for the coronavirus. Now the Connecticut Whale have bailed for reasons unstated, leaving only four teams. They all advance to Thursday’s semifinals, which pit the top-seeded Toronto Six vs. the Buffalo Beauts, and the Boston Bride vs. the Minnesota Whitecaps. The winners of those games play for the Isobel Cup on Friday.
A defenceman who almost never scores beat one of the NHL’s best goalies — from the far blue-line. Calgary’s Chris Tanev racked up exactly two goals in each of the past four seasons. Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck won the Vezina Trophy last year. So, naturally, Tanev put one past him from about 115 feet away last night:
From downtown … Calgary 😎 <a href=”https://t.co/8XBzCeYpps”>pic.twitter.com/8XBzCeYpps</a>
Watch a better video of the blooper and read more about the game here.
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