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Canada’s Olympic basketball hopes took a big hit
The men’s national team lost one of its best potential players today when it was confirmed that star guard Jamal Murray suffered a devastating knee injury last night.
Murray’s left knee buckled and bent awkwardly as he drove to the basket in the final minute of the Denver Nuggets’ 116-107 loss to Golden State. He immediately crumpled to the floor and was in significant pain before being helped off. The Nuggets announced today that Murray was diagnosed with a torn ACL in his left knee and “will be out indefinitely.”
The typical recovery time for a basketball player with this injury is something like nine to 12 months. Murray is only 24 years old, which might help him come out on the quicker end. But, based on the cautious approach most NBA teams take toward their injured stars these days, there’s a chance we don’t see him play until late next season.
Besides being a brutal blow to Murray, this is a massive loss for a surging Denver team that has climbed to fourth in the Western Conference and was eyeing another deep playoff run behind Murray and MVP-calibre big man Nikola Jokic. Last year, Murray became the breakout star of the opening round by dropping 50, 42 and 50 points on Utah in consecutive games. He averaged 26.5 points and 6.6 assists for the playoffs as the Nuggets made a surprising trip to the conference final. Despite being banged up this season (he missed the four games prior to last night’s with, ironically, right knee soreness), Murray was averaging regular-season career highs in points (21.2) and assists (4.8) while making shots at a higher rate than ever before — particularly from three-point range.
Murray’s injury is also tough news for the Canadian men’s national team. It knocks him out for the last-chance, must-win Olympic qualifying tournament starting June 29 in Victoria. If you’re looking for a positive spin, that’s right around the time the NBA’s conference finals should be taking place, so there’s a chance Murray would have missed the qualifier anyway. And Canada still has far more NBA talent than any other team in the tournament. With the exception of Greek two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, who may not be available due to NBA playoff duty, there’s a dearth of recognizable players on Greece, China, Uruguay, Turkey and the Czech Republic.
But Murray’s absence obviously makes it harder for Canada to win the qualifier, and he’ll really be missed if Canada makes it to Tokyo. Its group-stage opponents in the Olympic tournament would be France, Iran and the United States. The top two teams in each of the three groups advance to the quarter-finals, along with the two best third-place teams. A starting backcourt of Murray and Oklahoma City Thunder rising star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (23.7 points, 5.9 assists this season) would have given Canada a solid chance of reaching the knockout stage and even making a run at the podium.
Now Murray is lost, and Gilgeous-Alexander has been out for three weeks with plantar fasciitis in his right foot. There’s a chance the Thunder are being overly cautious with the injury because they’re nowhere near a playoff spot and they’re incentivized to keep their star out — losing more games down the stretch could improve their draft position. But it’s still pretty discouraging that, 11 weeks away from a golden opportunity to qualify for the Olympic men’s tournament for the first time in two decades, Canada’s two best players are currently out with injuries — and one of them is for sure not coming back in time. Read more about Murray’s injury and see the play that caused it here.
The Memorial Cup is cancelled again. The Canadian Hockey League announced today that, for the second straight year, the pandemic will prevent the national junior hockey championship tournament from taking place. This year’s was supposed to be played in either Oshawa or Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., but the CHL said that travel/border restrictions and quarantine requirements triggered the decision to cancel. Two of the three leagues under the CHL umbrella — the QMJHL and WHL — are playing their 2020-21 seasons, but both have seen their schedules disrupted in various ways. The OHL season hasn’t started and looks more doubtful since Ontario tightened its restrictions last week. Read more about the cancellation of the Memorial Cup here.
The women’s hockey world championship is still on in Nova Scotia — probably with fans. The province’s chief medical officer said today that the plan is to allow a limited number of spectators at the May 6-16 tournament in Halifax and Truro, N.S. Much like the men’s world junior championship in Edmonton a few months ago, teams arriving from around the world will be required to quarantine before the tournament, and they’ll be kept in a bubble-like setting away from the public. Team Canada’s selection camp starts tomorrow in Halifax. Read more about the plan for the women’s worlds here.
Marv Levy earned a rare football honour. The 95-year-old Chicago native, best known for guiding the Buffalo Bills to four consecutive Super Bowls in the 1990s, became just the third person named to both the Canadian and Pro Football Halls of Fame. CFL/NFL quarterback Warren Moon and Bud Grant, who played and coached in both leagues, are the others. Levy coached the Montreal Alouettes for five years in the ’70s and won two Grey Cups before heading to the NFL. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio in 2001. He’ll go into the Canadian Hall in November, during Grey Cup week in Hamilton, Ont. Read more about Levy and the rest of the 2021 class here.
A softball pitcher gave new meaning to “perfect game.” Sure, retiring all 27 batters in a major-league game is cool. It’s only been done 23 times in history, and not since Felix Hernandez in 2012. But know what’s really perfect? Striking out every single batter you face. University of North Texas softball pitcher Hope Trautwein did that Sunday, fanning all 21 (they play seven innings) in a 3-0 win over Arkansas-Pine Bluff. She’s believed to be the first person to do this in NCAA Division I history. Read more about Trautwein’s perfecto here.
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