What you need to know for the NBA playoffs’ first round

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Here’s what you need to know right now from the world of sports:

The CFL cancelled its season

After clinging for months to the possibility of playing a shortened schedule, the CFL officially yanked the plug on its 2020 season today. Commissioner Randy Ambrosie said in a press release that the league’s governors decided it was “in the best long-term interests of the CFL to concentrate on the future.”

The release mentioned that the league lost its “number one source of revenue” when the coronavirus pandemic made it impossible for fans to attend games. It also made the argument that, unlike the big U.S.-based leagues, the CFL can’t survive on TV-rights revenue alone.

Still, the league had developed a plan to stage a shortened regular season (likely six games per team) followed by a playoff tournament culminating in the 108th Grey Cup game. This was all to happen in a single location — Winnipeg — starting in September. Health authorities in Manitoba signed off on the bubble plan. But the CFL said it was contingent on reaching a new collective bargaining agreement with its players, and on receiving significant “support” (meaning money) from the Canadian government. Neither of those things happened, and yesterday’s report that the federal government had rejected the CFL’s request for a $30-million, interest-free loan appeared to be the final nail in the coffin.

Ambrosie tried to strike an upbeat, forward-looking tone with his statements in today’s press release, which was titled “Canadian Football League shifts its focus to 2021 and beyond.” The commissioner insisted the CFL is “absolutely committed” to a ’21 season, and he predicts the Grey Cup that year in Hamilton will be “the largest ‘reunion’ in Canadian sports history,” according to the release.

We’ll see about that. But in the meantime, today’s decision is a tough blow for the CFL. Two other all-Canadian sports leagues have been able to get themselves back up and running this summer. The Canadian Elite Basketball League crowned a 2020 champion after completing a two-week-long tournament about a week ago, and the Canadian Premier League (soccer) kicked off its own tournament last week. The CPL and the CEBL are smaller, less-complicated operations than the CFL, and their nimbleness may have worked to their advantage here. But given what those, and many other sports leagues, have accomplished during the pandemic, it’s hard to view the CFL cancelling its entire season as anything but a failure. Read more about the move here.

Randy Ambrosie won’t be awarding the Grey Cup again until 2021. At best. (The Canadian Press)

The NBA playoffs are off and running

After two weeks of “seeding games” that, frankly, ran out of steam a while ago, and a play-in “series” that lasted only one game as Portland beat Memphis to claim the last post-season spot, the NBA playoffs are finally here. No more glorified exhibitions. Starting today, every game is a meaningful one.

It’s been a weird season, to say the least, but the playoff format is the same one we’re used to: 16 teams, best-of-seven series. A champion will be crowned in October in the Disney bubble. To get you caught up on the teams, players and storylines to follow, here’s a quick look at the eight opening-round matchups:

Eastern Conference

#2 Toronto Raptors vs. #7 Brooklyn Nets: The defending champs shouldn’t have much trouble with this depleted version of the Nets. Brooklyn’s two biggest stars, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, are gone for the season with injuries and valuable guard Spencer Dinwiddie opted out. Rising star Caris LeVert is a dangerous scorer who’s averaging 25 points per game in the bubble, but the Nets are too thin to challenge the Raptors, who might be the deepest team in the league and have an elite defence. The series odds posted by the online bookmaker Pinnacle imply Toronto has a 94 per cent chance of advancing. Game 1 tipped off right at our publish time. Read more about the Raptors’ outlook heading into the playoffs here.

#1 Milwaukee Bucks vs. #8 Orlando Magic: Oddsmakers think even less of Orlando’s chances of pulling off the upset than Brooklyn’s (they’re under 4 per cent by Pinnacle’s numbers). About the only reason to watch this series is for a glimpse of Giannis Antetokounmpo. The world’s best player is likely to win his second consecutive MVP award and also might be named the defensive player of the year. The carved-from-granite Greek is the heavenly body around which the Bucks’ fast-paced, beautifully spaced offence and top-rated defence revolve.

#3 Boston Celtics vs. #6 Philadelphia 76ers: This matchup would be much juicier if Philly hadn’t lost star point guard Ben Simmons to a knee injury. His absence puts a lot of weight on centre Joel Embiid, an all-NBA talent with oldtimers-league fitness who is banged up (again) heading into the playoffs. Two Boston players to watch are point guard Kemba Walker, who seems healthy after knee problems plagued him before the shutdown, and wing Jayson Tatum, who rounded out his game this season and is now a legit star. Get to know those guys because the Celtics and Raptors are on a collision course for round 2.

#4 Indiana Pacers vs. #5 Miami Heat: The seedings here are misleading. Miami, which finished only one game behind Indiana in the standings, is considered the better team and is strongly favoured to win the series. The Heat have a bona fide go-to guy in Jimmy Butler and an excellent second banana in Bam Adebayo. Indiana’s best player, Victor Oladipo, only reluctantly came to the bubble because of concerns about the still-fragile quad that caused him to miss the first few months of the season.

Western Conference

#1 Los Angeles Lakers vs. #8 Portland Trail Blazers: The best illustration of how much tougher the Western Conference is than the East is that even the top seeds in the West have to sweat their first-round matchups a little. Pinnacle’s odds give the Lakers an 83 per cent chance of taking this one, and they probably will on the strength of their insanely good 1-2 punch of LeBron James and Anthony Davis. But L.A. has to be a little nervous about facing Damian Lillard. The MVP of the bubble so far willed Portland into the playoffs with performances of 42, 61, 51 and 45 points, plus a clutch 29 in the play-in contest vs. Memphis.

#2 Los Angeles Clippers vs. #7 Dallas Mavericks: This might be the most entertaining matchup of the first round. The Clippers have reigning NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, elite sidekick Paul George and an excellent supporting cast. They’re co-favourites (with the Lakers and Bucks) to win the title, and a lot of people are picking them. But the Clips may have to work a little harder than they’d like to against a dangerous Dallas team that has the best offensive rating in the league by a pretty wide margin. The Mavs are led by MVP-in-the-making Luka Doncic, who finished sixth in scoring in just his second NBA season. They also feature smooth 7-foot-3 Kristaps Porzingis, the one-time saviour of the New York Knicks.

#3 Denver Nuggets vs. #6 Utah Jazz: This series lacks the star power of the others in the West, but it should be a tight one between division rivals. Denver is anchored by elite centre Nikola Jokic, and their go-to perimeter guy is Canadian Jamal Murray. Plus, a new Nuggets star was (potentially) born in the bubble as rookie big man Michael Porter Jr., averaged 22 points and had the three highest-scoring games of his young career. Utah also has a good inside-outside combo in Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell, but the Jazz will be shorthanded for at least a couple of games after veteran guard Mike Conley left the bubble for the birth of his son.

#4 Houston Rockets vs. #5 Oklahoma City Thunder: No series has more (or better) backstories. Houston star James Harden, who won the NBA scoring title for the third year in a row, started his career in Oklahoma City. Same with his current sidekick, Russell Westbrook, who was a fan favourite in OKC before wearing out his welcome and getting traded last off-season (Westbrook will miss Game 1, at least, with a quad injury). Chris Paul played — and feuded at times — with Harden in Houston the last two years before being shipped to OKC, where the Point God rejuvenated his reputation and led the Thunder to the most surprising recordr in the NBA. Paul could not have done this without the help of young backcourt mate Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, a rising star who is probably the best Canadian player in the league at the moment. Another Canadian to watch in this series is Luguentz Dort, a high-energy rookie from Montreal who’s become an OKC cult favourite. Dort is battling a knee injury, but if he’s healthy enough to play he could draw the important (and brutal) assignment of attempting to guard Harden.

Quickly…

Another high-end tennis player pulled out of the U.S. Open. World No. 2 Simona Halep is the sixth top-eight woman to withdraw from the upcoming Grand Slam event over coronavirus-related concerns. The others are reigning champion Bianca Andreescu, who’s ranked sixth in the world, No. 1 Ash Barty, No. 5 Elina Svitolina, No. 7 Kiki Bertens and No. 8 Belinda Bencic. The men’s withdrawals include reigning champ and world No. 2 Rafael Nadal, and fourth-ranked Roger Federer, who’s recovering from knee surgery. Top-ranked Novak Djokovic says he’s playing. Read more about Halep’s opt-out here.

The Blue Jays’ best player is out for a while. Bo Bichette was placed on the 10-day injured list with a sprained knee, and he reportedly could miss up to a month. The second-year shortstop is off to a phenomenal start this year, building on his impressive rookie season. Through 13 games, he’s hitting .356 with five homers and a .678 slugging percentage — incredible power for his 6-foot, 185-pound frame. Read more about Bichette’s injury here.

Washington hired the NFL’s first Black team president. A progressive move isn’t what you’d expect from one of sports’ most backward and dysfunctional franchises, but Washington gave the job to former NFL backup running back Jason Wright. At 38, he also becomes the league’s youngest team president. The role can vary from team to team, but for Washington it entails running the business side of the operation. Head coach Ron Rivera makes the football decisions. Read more about Wright and his hiring here.

Four NHL teams can take commanding leads in their series today. Tampa Bay, Colorado, Boston and Vancouver can all go up 3-1 in their best-of-seven matchups with a victory. The Canucks nearly put themselves in position to complete a sweep of defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis tonight at 10:30 p.m. ET, but they lost in OT last night. Read more about that game and watch highlights here.

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Original article: https://www.cbc.ca/sports/the-buzzer-nba-playoffs-cfl-season-1.5689875?cmp=rss

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