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Most Underrated NFL Players From 2018

The highest level of professional American football in the world, the NFL is an American tradition like no other. The 2018 the Super Bowl – face-off between the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles – was viewed by 100.7 million fans on both television and streaming services. Despite that exposure, there are still some Underrated NFL Players.

With high anticipation for the performances – both of the teams as well as the half-time show – the Super Bowl, and the NFL as a league, continues to be successful. But the high-profile status of so many star players means that every season, others go under the radar — avoiding the headlines but still providing results for their team.
Top 5 most underrated NFL players to watch in 2019
Deion Jones — Atlanta Falcons

Deion Jones, otherwise known as “Debo”, was selected by the Atlanta Falcons in the second round of the 2016 draft. His professional debut occurred at the Atlanta season-opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where he recorded six combined tackles.

His 2017 Pro Bowl season was particularly successful, during which he recorded 138 tackles, three interceptions and 10 passes defended. Linebackers don’t always get the same glory as quarterbacks — but Jones’s skillset has become invaluable to the Falcons. Since healing from a foot injury in 2018, he’s likely to be a key player in the Falcons’ pursuit of Super Bowl glory.

“I thought we finished strong.” said Jones of the season. “That’s what we preach. I felt like we finished real strong and I appreciate all the guys who [were] out there and fought and anybody that had to do with the preparation. That was dope and I appreciate it.”

“Obstacles happen,” he added. “Ups and downs. It’s how you come back from them.”
Delanie Walker — Tennessee Titans

Delanie Walker’s was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in 2006. The California-born wide receiver recorded two receptions for 30 yards and had a 25-yard kick-off return during his rookie season.

During his seven-year stint with the 49ers, Walker was overshadowed by tight end football star Vernon Davis. In 2013 he signed with the Tennessee Titans to a four-year $17.5 million contract with $8.6 million guaranteed. It was with the Titans where Walker – out of the spotlight of Davis – has been given space to shine. Considered a Swiss Army Knife option, he has fantastic versatility in his position and has recorded an average of 71 receptions for 831 yards in five seasons thus far.

However, his 2018 season began with a crushing disappointment, in the form of a dislocated ankle and associated fracture. He missed the remainder of the season due to the injury and will be hoping to bounce back for the 2019 season. Fitness could prove his biggest obstacle. Fans of the Titans and fantasy football players will need to be patient with Walker before expecting too much – it might be worth waiting for him to prove his fitness before selecting him in your team!
Devin McCourty — New England Patriots
Free safety Devin McCourty has had quite the journey. McCourty signed with the Patriots in July 2010 with a five-year $10 million contract that included $7.28 million guaranteed and a signing bonus of $1.5 million.

In his eight seasons with New England, McCourty led seven top-10 scoring defences. His career coincides with two Super Bowl titles and four AFC championship wins for the Patriots. McCourty’s 2018 season performance was particularly extraordinary, with one interception for 84 yards, 82 tackles and a Super Bowl win.

Kyle Williams — Buffalo Bills

Kyle Williams will definitely be missed by his team; the former defensive tackle retired in 2018 after 13 seasons with the Buffalo Bills. Described by the Associated Press as “the heart and soul” of the team, Williams is a six-time Pro Bowler and has accumulated 43.5 sacks — ranking fifth overall in Bill history in tackles and sacks.

His last game – a season-ending 42-17 win over the Miami Dolphins – finished with a standing ovation from the crowd in honour of his gameplay.
Tyrone Crawford — Dallas Cowboys

Need someone to step up the game?

For the Dallas Cowboys, that’s defensive end player Tyrone Crawford. Born in Windsor, Canada, the 29-year old enrolled at Bakersfield College following high school and was later recruited by Boise State University, where he played for the Broncos as a backup defensive end.

Peter Kwiatkowski, Crawford’s defensive line coach at Boise State, said of him: “He’s extremely reliable, conscientious. Very respectful. He keeps his ego in check, big-time. He’s got a boatload of talent and doesn’t let that go to his head, at all.”

It was this talent and attitude that got Crawford drafted as a rookie to the Dallas Cowboys in 2012; since then, he’s become a strong leader of the defensive line.

An incredibly versatile player, Crawford has always been known to take one for the team and sacrifice his own stats for the betterment of the Cowboys. He’s accumulated a total of 22 sacks during the course of his NFL career and 173 tackles.

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IFL: Arizona Rattlers announce Dates, Arena Change for IFL Playoffs

The Arizona Rattlers announced late Monday afternoon that the site of their semi-final playoff game will not be at Talking Stick Resort Arena – where the team played its regular season games.

Instead, the remaining playoff games will be hosted by Gila River Arena.

Due to updates happening to Talking Stick Resort Arena, the Rattlers are looking for a new home to play their home games for next season, as well.

The Rattlers confirmed, however, that this does not mean Gila River Arena will be their new home for 2020.
IFL: Arizona Rattlers announce Dates, Arena Change for IFL Playoffs
“We will certainly miss the friendly confines of Talking Stick Resort Arena”, team president, Chris Presson said in a Press Release. “We are thankful for the opportunity to try and win our seventh championship at another first class facility in Gila River Arena.”

The release confirmed that the Rattlers semi-final game will be played on Saturday June, 29 at 8:00 p.m. CDT with the broadcast being on YouTube as usual.

If the Rattlers were to win that game and advance with home field advantage to host the 2019 United Bowl, it would be played in Arizona, again at Gila River Arena, on Saturday, July 13 at 8:00 p.m. CDT.

“We are thrilled to be hosting the Arizona Rattlers at Gila River Arena as they compete for their seventh world-championship,” Dale Adams, General Manager of Gila River Arena, said in the release. “Rattlers’ fans will truly enjoy this great arena located in the best entertainment district in Arizona.”

For more information about the rest of the season and the 2019 United Bowl, Arizona Rattlers fans can visit azrattlers.com.

For more Indoor Football news and updates, consider following Last Word On Sports’ Indoor Football department on Twitter and Instagram at @LWOS_IndoorFB.

Indoor Football League Standings

Position
Team
Record
Games behind

1
Arizona
12-0

2
Iowa
11-1
1

3
Sioux Falls
10-2
2

4
Green Bay
7-5
5

5
Tucson
6-6
6

6
Quad City
5-7
7

Playoff Cutoff

7
Nebraska
5-7
7

8
Bismarck
2-10
10

9
San Diego
1-11
11

10
Cedar Rapids
1-11
11

Arizona Rattlers announce dates.The post IFL: Arizona Rattlers announce Dates, Arena Change for IFL Playoffs appeared first on Last Word on Sports.


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Fred VanVleet: The Unexpected Playoff Hero

Entering the NBA Playoffs, Fred VanVleet would not have popped into your mind as a player to turn into a postseason hero. For the season, the Toronto Raptors backup point guard averaged only 11 points per game, on 41 percent shooting from the field.

But suddenly, when premier performance was required in big games, VanVleet stepped up. Shots that were hitting the rim were going in from beyond the arc. Off the bench, VanVleet is the catalyst of a supporting cast that has played a pivotal role in getting the Raptors to the franchise’s first NBA Finals.

Even in defeat against the Golden State Warriors in Game 2, VanVleet remains positive. He knows what his team must do in order to steal a game in Oakland.

“You can’t start slow against this team,” said VanVleet after the Raptors 109-104 defeat in Game 2. “We got to be better to start the third and we know that,
and that’s something that we’ll focus on and look at the tape and see how we can be better next game.”
VanVleet Credits Birth of Son for Offensive Resurgence
Fred VanVleet’s personal motto is “Bet on Yourself.” This phrase inspires the point guard whenever he steps out on the court. It got him through college playing for the Wichita State Shockers. And it enabled perseverance when the 25-year-old was undrafted in 2016.

Entering this year’s NBA Playoffs, VanVleet was struggling. In the Philadelphia 76ers series, VanVleet and the entire secondary cast of players could not provide the consistent scoring to support Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry. Averaging only seven points per game in the postseason, something needed to change.

After the Raptors tenacious Game 3 double-overtime victory against the Milwaukee Bucks, Fred heard the news that his long-time girlfriend, Shontai Neal, was giving birth to their son Fred Jr. Rushing back to Illinois, the Raptors backup point guard was able to be with Shontai, cradling baby Fred Jr. in his arms. He was joyous. Overwhelmed with happiness. And ready to get back to playing great basketball.

In Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals, VanVleet had a career playoff-high 21 points as the Raptors stole the game on the road in Milwaukee. The finals-clinching Game 6 saw the point guard generate 14 points off the bench. It’s a whole new Fred VanVleet on the court. Gone is the tentative point guard who couldn’t hit shots. The new Fred is setting up the offense, draining shots and playing aggressive defense. Credit the birth of his son for providing this inspiration.

“I’m getting better looks, more open looks, and as you make them, your teammates start to look for you more and more and the game kind of opens up all at once,” stated VanVleet. 
VanVleet Critical for Raptors Defending the Golden State Warriors
The Golden State Warriors have won three of the past four championships. Steph Curry, one of the all-time premier shooters, has been integral in leading the charge from beyond the arc. But one player has been able to effectively stymie Steph. Fred VanVleet.

In the Raptors 118-109 Game 1 victory, VanVleet held Steph to just one field goal when he was defending him. This went on for 33 possessions. VanVleet has displayed the capacity to navigate screens effectively while chasing down Curry whenever he doesn’t have the ball.

“You just got to try to be as physical as you can, slow him down and keep the contest,” says VanVleet on how to defend Curry. “A guy like that, who is a really good shooter against contest, you can’t really give him free looks and let him feel free and easy.”

As the series shifts to the Bay Area, the Raptors have a plethora of areas to work on. Hitting open shots is one. Preventing the open space for ball movement is another. But the scrappy Fred VanVleet is used to performing on the big stage. When he is on the floor for the Raptors, the team is a +76, compared to +39 overall. If the team needs an injection of energy and offense, Fred VanVleet is the player to call. And he will need to deliver if the Raptors have any hope of winning the NBA Championship.

“I’m not too worried about Freddie,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “Freddie’s an ice water-in-his-veins-type-of-guy. He took a mid-major school to the Final Four. He took a mid-major school to 35-0.”

Maybe it’s a sign that Fred should have more kids. So his basketball play can be stellar on a consistent basis.

 The post Fred VanVleet: The Unexpected Playoff Hero appeared first on Last Word on Sports.


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Tiger Woods Riding Momentum into U.S. Open

Tiger Woods is riding momentum heading into the 2019 U.S. Open in a few weeks. Woods shot a tremendous 67 on Sunday at the Memorial Tournament. He finished at -9, which included five birdies in the first nine holes. The face of the PGA Tour brought forth a strong outing this weekend and likely could have finished in the top five. But, he bogeyed two holes late in the final round to finish at nine under par for the tournament. The strong showing from Woods this past weekend has put him in a good position on the Tour this season. 
Tiger Woods Riding Momentum into U.S. Open
His win at the Masters really set the tone for him to have a solid year of golf. At the Memorial, Woods came in on Thursday and Friday slacking a bit but picked it up on Saturday and Sunday. His terrific final round helped build his momentum swing. The three-time U.S Open winner will go into Pebble Beach in two weeks with high expectations. Tiger is seeking his first Open win since 2008, where he roared to victory that marvelous Sunday. But can he do it again? 


Pebble Beach Flashbacks
With a great lineup of golfers set to take the course, Woods will have to be on his best game. The pairings won’t be announced until another week or so, but Tiger knows what it takes to win at Pebble Beach. He won the 2000 U.S. Open at this historic course. The main key for Woods this time around will be his drives off the tee and his putting. In driving off-the-tee, Woods ranks at 70th on Tour with a .204 percentage. If he can build upon that, the face of golf can have a solid chance going into the weekend. He ranks second in greens in regulation at 72%. 

Going back to another historic win at the 2008 U.S. Open, Woods was favored and won the tournament once again at Pebble Beach. Fast forward to 2019. He may not be the favorite going in, but never count out Tiger for being in heavy contention on Saturday and Sunday.

Every golf fan knows what Woods can accomplish when it matters most. A win in two weeks would put Tiger close to the top in the FedEx Cup standings, which would be tremendous for him. He currently sits at 20, but a strong outing, if not a win, would put the American close to the top yet again. Tiger winning the Major tournaments is a great thing for the PGA Tour. Through all his troubles, the man is back. 
Chasing Jack Nicklaus
Despite a few rough outings lately, Tiger can pull through and become the FedEx Cup leader yet again. What better place to do it than at the U.S. Open? Yes, this is a different era of golf and Tiger Woods in general. However, he has shown that he can remain close with the leaders multiple times this season. If he can do it again, another trophy might be added to his collection. Also, a win would give Tiger his 16th major championship. One closer to Jack Nicklaus and his astounding 18 major victories. 

Golf fans around the world want Tiger to get the record, and they know it can happen. Woods just has to play his best game and win these tournaments. 

Main Photo

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NAL: The Massachusetts Pirates signed McCluster and then said ‘Go’

The Massachusetts Pirates signed former NFL Pro Bowler Dexter McCluster in the middle of week 6 of the National Arena League (NAL) season. May 14 to be exact.

Massachusetts was in the middle of a bye week after they got off to a 1-4 start.

They were at the bottom of the NAL standings.

Since then, however, all things were a go.
NAL: The Massachusetts Pirates signed McCluster and then said ‘Go’
The Pirates were faced with a daunting task as they came off the bye week and moved on to Week 7.

They would travel to New York to face the Streets – the new team on the block that had been tied for first place in the league with a 3-1 record.

The Streets opened the season by beating the 2017 champion Jacksonville Sharks, making a statement that just because they were a new team, they wouldn’t be taken lightly.

It was a tall task to ask for the struggling Pirates to go into New York and come out with a W.

After McCluster signed, though, it seems like the direction that the Pirates were going in took a complete 180.

Massachusetts rolled.

The Pirates put up 70 points on a New York defense that hadn’t given up more than 53 points in a game.

McCluster didn’t lead the team to the victory. He finished with three receptions for 45 yards and a touchdown.

The thing is – he didn’t need to lead the team to the win. Mardy Gilyard and Devonn Brown combined for 13 of the team’s touchdowns. They scored five touchdowns and corralled 168 yards.

It was like McCluster’s presence just made the team better.

The same happened on Saturday in a rematch between the two teams back in Worcester at the Pirates’ home DCU Center.

The game was tied early in the third quarter, but thanks to a Brown touchdown and an interception by linebacker Kavika Luafatasaga, the Pirates flipped the scoring and kept the Streets at bay to earn their second straight victory.

The mojo on this team has flipped and after the pair of wins, the Pirates hold the final spot to qualify for the 2019 NAL Playoffs.

Massachusetts will return to the field after another bye week on June 15 when they take on Orlando to see if they can win a third straight game and improve to .500 on the season.

For more Indoor Football news and updates, consider following Last Word On Sports’ Indoor Football department on Twitter and Instagram at @LWOS_IndoorFB.

NAL Standings

Position
Team
Record
Games behind

1
Jacksonville
5-1

2
Carolina
5-2
0.5

3
New York
3-3
2.0

4
Massachusetts
3-4
2.5

Playoff Cutoff

5
Columbus
2-4
3.0

6
Orlando
2-6
4.0

The post NAL: The Massachusetts Pirates signed McCluster and then said ‘Go’ appeared first on Last Word on Sports.


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IFL: Blizzard One Game Away from securing Home Playoff date

They’re just one game away from a home playoff date.

After a 6-5 mark through their first 11 games of the season, the Green Bay Blizzard were tied in the standings with Tucson for the No. 4 seed in the Indoor Football League (IFL) Playoffs.

With the way that the IFL Playoffs are set up this season, the No. 3 and No. 4 seeds each host a Quarterfinals game, where the winners will advance to play the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds (whom will come off of bye weeks) in the Semifinals.

Thanks to a Tucson loss last week and Green Bay’s 41-10 blowout of Bismarck, the Blizzard are one game away from clinching a spot to host a playoff game for the first time since 2012.
IFL: Blizzard One Game Away from securing Home Playoff date
With the win over Bismarck, Green Bay improves to 7-5 on the season with two games to play – that’s one game ahead the Sugar Skulls who still have to play the undefeated Arizona Rattlers once more.

Next week, with either a win against 1-11 Cedar Rapids or a loss from Tucson, the Blizzard will have clinched their home spot and the No. 4 seed.

It’s already been a historic season for the team. Their seventh victory marks the most since 2012 and also the first winning record they will finish with.

The surge has come from the help of quarterback Lenorris Footman. He’s fourth in the IFL in passing yards per game and also leads the league in rushing yards.

He’s not the first quarterback to do that in the IFL, but it has given the Blizzard a much needed spark that has seemed to push this team over the hump.

On the defensive side of the ball, Footman has been aided by the duo of Marquez Gollman and Bakari Triggs. The two have combined for seven of the Blizzard’s forced turnovers, with six of those being interceptions.

Gollman has been sidelined for a few weeks due to an injury, but the Blizzard expect to have him back for their regular season finale on June 15.

It can’t get much better for Green Bay the way things are going right now. Let’s see how far they can take this thing.

For more Indoor Football news and updates, consider following Last Word On Sports’ Indoor Football department on Twitter and Instagram at @LWOS_IndoorFB.

IFL Standings

Position
Team
Record
Games behind

1
Arizona
12-0

2
Iowa
11-1
1.0

3
Sioux Falls
10-2
2.0

4
Green Bay
7-5
5.0

5
Tucson
6-6
6.0

6
Quad City
5-7
7.0

7
Nebraska
5-7
7.0

8
Bismarck
2-10
10.0

9
San Diego
1-11
11.0

10
Cedar Rapids
1-11
11.0

Week 15 Scores
*LWOS will update scores and standings as games finish throughout the night.
FINAL: Green Bay 41, Bismarck 10
FINAL: Arizona 56, Cedar Rapids 0
FINAL: Sioux Falls 60, San Diego 7The post IFL: Blizzard One Game Away from securing Home Playoff date appeared first on Last Word on Sports.


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Norling: IFW – Playoff Races are Coming to a close

Playoff races are coming to a close all over indoor football – and as usual, Ashle Norling has the wrapup on everything you need to know for this weekend.
IFW – Playoff Races are Coming to a close
Games (Home Team in Bold)
Champions Indoor Football:
Salina Liberty 57, Sioux City Bandits 54
Omaha Beef 71, Oklahoma Flying Aces 51
Duke City Gladiators 123, North Texas Savages 6

Three games, well two real ones, took place this past week in Champions Indoor Football as teams hunt for a playoff spot. If the CIF had decent streaming or archival services I would definitely say to watch the Salina/Sioux City game, but they don’t. With a first quarter that saw a combined 36 points the next two combined only saw the teams manage a total of 40. The final frame saw Salina complete the comeback win at home to push them into 2nd in the North. If the season ended today Sioux City would miss the playoffs for the first time in CIF history and their first time overall since 2010, the last season they played in the IFL.

Omaha was, minus for one quarter, a car wreck for Oklahoma. Outside of the Flying Aces scoring 24 points in the 2nd Quarter they were outscored 54-27. The end result is the only thing that mattered as the Omaha win sealed Oklahoma’s fate on missing the playoffs. Amarillo and Duke City have officially made the playoffs in the Southern Division and will just battle to decide who plays at home. Speaking of Duke City they took a giant dukey on their replacement opponent the North Texas Savages. In the end the game doesn’t matter as they were officially given a forfeit win over the now defunct Texas Revs and only played to make sure they had a home game for their fans.

Indoor Football League:
Iowa Barnstormers 65, Bismarck Bucks 35
Quad City Steamwheelers 43, Nebraska Danger 37
Arizona Rattlers 62, Tucson Sugar Skulls 47

Two of the three games really weren’t surprises. Iowa kicked the living s*** out of Bismarck for most of the game in Des Moines on Friday night. Though Bismarck did actually hold a lead for part of the game. On Saturday Arizona did the same to Tucson, with the Sugar Skulls only putting up a fight in the final quarter. I would not be surprised if we see Arizona host Iowa in the United Bowl this July.

On the other hand the Nebraska/Quad City game was a fight to the death. Every quarter, every play, every second was a f*****g battle. The game itself was a war from the opening kick to the final whistle. Do yourself a favor and watch the damn game! I absolutely can’t do it justice and as of now this is far and away the Indoor Football Game of the Year.

National Arena League:
Orlando Predators 74, Carolina Cobras 69
Massachusetts Pirates 70, New York Streets 51

When the schedule came out for the season only one game (Carolina/Orlando) was scheduled for this week. Well after the Streets were unsurprisingly not able to play at MSG they moved their game to Memorial Day in Westchester. Both games were a what in the f*** just happened as two of the best teams in the league hosted the two worst. Orlando was coming in off a 60-7 ass kicking by Jacksonville the previous week while the Pirates just suck. Well they shut me up by winning on the road in one of the toughest (Carolina) and dumbest (NY) arenas in the NAL.
News
Holy sh*t there is actual news for the first time in a few weeks to report! OMFG! As a background, last week, an um “altercation” (according to the CIF) took place during the Omaha-Oklahoma game which resulted in play being stopped for an extended period of time.

The end result was a blanket unsportsmanlike conduct penalty being placed on both teams, which resulted in three Beef players being disqualified for their second penalty. Needless to say fans were not happy about the debacle.

Yesterday the CIF released a statement (which you can read here) that said the players who were ejected will not be suspended and just adds to the clusterf*ck.

I don’t see a reason for the blanket penalties being issued and this just makes the CIF looks more unprofessional. Especially waiting until damn near game day to issue a statement on the ensuing week.The post Norling: IFW – Playoff Races are Coming to a close appeared first on Last Word on Sports.


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Toronto Raptors’ Pascal Siakam Inspired from Father’s Death

Pascal Siakam has waited his whole life for this opportunity. The young rising star for the Toronto Raptors is playing in his first NBA Finals, and rising to the big stage. Siakam put up 32 points and eight rebounds, carrying the Raptors to the franchise’s inaugural victory in the NBA Finals.

Amidst the excitement across Canada, the Raptors forward is playing for a greater purpose. For Siakam, every chance he gets to play basketball is an opportunity he does not take for granted.

“Every night that I go out there, I have a bigger purpose, and I play for something greater than just basketball,” said Siakam after the 118-109 Raptors victory over the Golden State Warriors. 
Siakam Battles Adversity of Father’s Death
Pascal Siakam was born in Cameroon. Youngest of four brothers, Siakam initially did not have an interest in basketball. He was poised to become a priest, cherry-picked from an early age to embrace the Catholic values of his family.

Pascal was particularly close to his Father, Tchamo, who worked at a local transit company. It was Tchamo who encouraged his son to go pursue his dreams of playing basketball in the United States. While playing at New Mexico State, Siakam would receive the unfortunate news of his Father’s passing in a car accident. A numbing reality for a youngster trying to play basketball while adjust to life away from his parents.

“It was definitely one of the toughest moments in my life, not being able
to go home for the funeral,” revealed Siakam.

While a breakable moment for some, Siakam used the death of his Father as motivation to become a perennial basketball star. The desire and drive to get better is what attracted Toronto Raptors General Manager Masai Ujiri to draft Pascal with the 27th pick in the 2016 NBA Draft.

“Pascal wants to be a versatile player in this league who could do it all. He wants to be a star,” states Ujiri. 
Siakam Has Performed Strongly for Toronto Raptors
The 2018-19 NBA season has demonstrated Pascal Siakam’s transcendent rise in stardom. Not only is he a physical defender, but Siakam is able to utilize his size to attack the basket in the post with ease. For the season, Siakam averaged 16.9 points per game, 6.9 rebounds per game and 3.1 assists with game, on 54.9 percent shooting.

While Kawhi Leonard has claimed the spotlight as the Raptors’ premier superstar, Siakam has epitomized playoff toughness and tenacity. In Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals, with Kawhi being targeted defensively, Siakam took control offensively, putting up 25 points and 11 rebounds. There was a stretch in Game 1 of the NBA Finals where the Siakam went 15-for-15 from the field. Nick Nurse was quick to praise his big man, who has been consistently improving since last summer.

“He’s worked his tail off,” said Nurse after Game 1. “His work ethic and his mindset just keeps building for him.
The Ceiling is High for Raptors Big Man
Adverse moments shape the makeup of an individual. For Pascal Siakam, it made him a tougher, grounded human being.

In NBA history, the Finals came up North to Canada. While Siakam is grateful for the fan support, his purpose of playing is far greater. There was a day where a young kid from Africa would never have thought to go professional and play in the NBA. With the Toronto Raptors up 1-0 in the NBA Finals, Siakam is focused on being a critical impetus to help his team win. At the same time, honouring his Father’s legacy and the country of Cameroon.

“I have a lot of support from my fellow Cameroonians and just Africa
in general,” says Siakam. “When my Dad died,  it was a turning point in my life, just going through that type of adversity. It definitely made me the
person I am today.”The post Toronto Raptors’ Pascal Siakam Inspired from Father’s Death appeared first on Last Word on Sports.


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We (Win) The North: An Ode to the Toronto Raptors and Canada

Tags :

Category : Basketball , NBA

It was a sunny Sunday morning. Blue skies, birds chirping. Summer was in the air.

There was an energy felt inside of me as I poured my morning coffee to start the day. I was wearing my bright red Toronto Raptors “We The North” T-shirt. In May. Seems a little exaggerated for this time of year, right?

In reality, this is the new normal. As I turned on the TV to catch the sports highlights, the anchors could not contain their enthusiasm. Shots of Kawhi Leonard dunking, Kyle Lowry draining threes, Drake shoulder rubbing was scrolled across the morning highlight package.

I thought what happened the night before was a dream. But it was the opposite. The Toronto Raptors were the 2018-19 Eastern Conference Champions, advancing to their first NBA Finals in franchise history. The first time that the National Basketball Championship, once considered the culmination of an American cultural obsession, will now occur north of the border.

This is the new normal. This is Toronto sports. It’s real and it is time to embrace the basketball revolution that is about to sweep across Canada.
***
I was born in February of 1996, halfway through the inaugural season of the Toronto Raptors. In 1993, Toronto businessman John Bitove paid an expansion fee of $125 million USD to establish the 28th NBA franchise. Along with the Vancouver Grizzlies out west, it was NBA Commissioner David Stern’s attempt to open the borders, diversifying the portfolio of basketball franchises.

The first game of the Raptors franchise occurred at SkyDome, the home of the two-time World Series champions Toronto Blue Jays. In front of a small crowd of 33,306, the Raptors defeated the New Jersey Nets by 15 points, led by stellar performances of Alvin Robertson and Damon Stoudemire.

But the initial enthusiasm for a new franchise in Toronto, was met with subsequent uncertainty and doubt. Toronto, and Canada in general, is first and foremost a hockey country. Regardless of their performance, the Toronto Maple Leafs will always be the talk of the city. The hype surrounding the Blue Jays was still high, after winning their second consecutive World Series in 1993. Ask a sample of Torontonians certain basketball terms and phrases, and they wouldn’t know the answer. Toronto residents easily can recollect the household names of Joe Carter and Doug Gilmour but would have to scratch their head to know who Alvin Williams was.

South of the border, the Canadian franchises were ostracized and shunned. While many were wishing Toronto and Vancouver well, the economic prosperity of American markets such as New York, Los Angeles and Chicago far outweigh any success of Toronto or Vancouver. The NBA was still enthralled by Michael Jordan and were beginning to embrace the greatness of stars such as Patrick Ewing, Reggie Miller, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal.

With the non-existent basketball culture in Canada, coupled with the NBA’s desire to expand within America, the Vancouver Grizzlies moved to Memphis after six years in existence. The Raptors stayed as the lone Canadian team, about to undergo the long and arduous journey to national consciousness and relevance.
Love Affair Instant with Toronto Raptors
I grew up in a sports family. My Father was a recreational golfer, my Mom was integral in Canadian tennis tournament operations. And my older brother got blessed with athletic genes, specializing in competitive tennis.

I unfortunately have chronic asthma and motor dyspraxia. While exerting physical activity, it causes me to get out of breath instantaneously, coupled with the inability to accomplish the motor skills necessary to play competitive sports. Gym class was difficult, seeing other kids who were more athletic than I am accomplishing drills with ease. But what they did not have that I did was a deep, burning passion and love for the stories and narratives that arise from sports.

On TV, the main subject were big sporting events. Dinner conversations at the table with the family were about various sports issues. Playing video games such as NBA Live or NHL became a routine. It was through this where I got my first initial wave of love for Toronto sports teams, including the Raptors.
***
I remember rising from my couch to watch Vince Carter’s all-time unforgettable dunk at the Slam Dunk Contest. Little did I know at the time, but it would live on for years to be the biggest moment in the franchise’s history. I would watch Canadian sportscasters such as Tim Micallef and Sid Seixeiro on The Score, Leo Rautins, Chuck Swirsky and Jack Armstrong, make the Raptors entertaining to follow, despite underwhelming results. When I was old enough to read, I was an avid disciple of Toronto Star columnist Doug Smith’s Raptors coverage, who would consistently write thorough, engaging content since the franchise’s inception.

There were dark years for the Toronto Raptors franchise. Moments that were difficult to cover the team, when stars such as Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady and Chris Bosh would leave for warmer climates. But the Raptors gave me an avenue to follow and love basketball, despite being unable to play it well. The team provided inspiration, hope and belief that one day, enduring the troubling times would be worth it, when the franchise would become relevant. It only took 23 years of my life to make that happen.
***
In 2013, the Toronto Raptors underwent a massive branding change. They brought new general manager named Masai Ujiri. They made significant in-season trades to bring the pair of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry together. As social media ramped up its influence on daily society, phrases such as “We The North” and “The Northern Uprising Has Begun” became mainstream vernacular for basketball fans. The Air Canada Centre, now ScotiaBank Arena, started to fill seats for basketball games. And the Raptors formed Jurassic Park, a mosh pit of enthusiasm and energy for fans outside the arena to watch the games on the big screen. Drake became the team’s global ambassador and Nav Bhatia was an overnight superfan sensation. The Raptors were starting to put a dent into the trifecta of the Toronto sports market.

As the Raptors became a consistent playoff team, fans across the country demanded more. They were tired of seeing LeBron James beat their team on a consistent basis in the playoffs. The fanbase yearned for a superstar that could lift this team to new heights. After getting swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers for a second consecutive year, Masai Ujiri had tough decisions to make. He would fire the NBA Coach of the Year Dwane Casey and bring in Nick Nurse. And he would trade DeMar DeRozan and Jakob Poetl for Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. A superstar, who was considered the best two-way player in the NBA, and a proven playoff performer were coming to Toronto.

Toronto, a city used to sports teams always falling short of expectations, did not know how to react. The regular season was filled with questions and skepticism. Was the “load management” strategy for Kawhi Leonard going to work? Will the experienced Raptor players such as Kyle Lowry, able to galvanize this team and perform in the adverse moments? We were about to find out.
Toronto Raptors Provide Hope and Optimism
2019 has been a difficult year for me personally. My Grandma, full of vigor and spirit, had to be moved from her lifelong residence to a senior’s home for long-term care. My brother was in a serious car accident, which led to a debilitating concussion. And my Dad, who never had any health concerns, would be in hospital with blood clots in his lungs. Instantly, life changed forever.

But through those difficult moments, there was a light at the end of the tunnel that kept me going. It was the Toronto Raptors. A team that every single time, elated my spirits and exceeded my expectations. When they were down 0-1 to the Orlando Magic, the Raptors rattled off four straight wins with dominance. Down 2-1 to the Philadelphia 76ers, Kawhi Leonard would put the team on his back to force a Game 7. Only to convert the only Game 7 buzzer-beater in NBA Playoffs history, sending Toronto into pandemonium.

And then down 0-2 to the league-leading Milwaukee Bucks, it would be a complete team effort that would enable Toronto to win four consecutive games, sending the Raptors to their franchise’s first NBA Finals. All the while this happened, the city and country began to rally behind the Raptors. More people were wearing Raptors apparel and jerseys. People at local establishments and work offices were for once discussing basketball in their daily conversations. And when it became official that the Raptors advanced to the team’s first championship, the city erupted. Cars were honking and stopped to take in the scene that was downtown Toronto. Fans were in constant jubilation to the early hours of the morning.

For once, a major Toronto sports franchise gave a city and a country something to be proud of.
***
Who knows what the outcome will be in the NBA Finals. The Golden State Warriors are on the precipice of their own basketball history, trying to become the dynasty of the 21st century with their fourth championship in five years. But what the Raptors have accomplished this season cannot be ignored or understated.

Canada has its issues. America has never been more politically polarizing. As our society tries to conquer certain challenges, we turn to sports as a platform for escape and unity. For all its problems, Canada and Toronto have shown why multiculturalism and diversity works. The Toronto Raptors fan base comes from all colours and stripes, it doesn’t matter who you are or your socioeconomic status. Canadians who never would think of tuning into basketball and are now beginning to love the sport.

“Look around at the square. I promise you right now, we did this.” said Drake.

The energy is palpable as Canada begins to place basketball on a pedestal with the other popular sports this nation has to offer. The Raptors represents the beauty of the North, as the entire country is united in their fervent support for a team that has transcended the concept of what is possible. Most importantly of all, the Toronto Raptors have solidified the hope, faith and belief that I and so many followers possessed many years ago, that one day, we could revel in the magnitude of an ultimate Canadian basketball moment.

Toronto is a basketball city. Canada is a basketball country. And the revolution is just getting started.The post We (Win) The North: An Ode to the Toronto Raptors and Canada appeared first on Last Word on Sports.


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Norling: IFW – The Hunt for the Playoffs really begins

The Games (Home Team in Bold)
Champions Indoor Football:
Omaha Beef 70, Wichita Force 33
Sioux City Bandits 79, Amarillo Venom 71

Only two actual games took place this week since the Texas Revs folded earlier this month, that resulted in Oklahoma taking their first win in franchise history via forfeit. Odd way to take a W but they’ll take, even though they have no shot at the playoffs.

Wichita was shocked by the Beef at home this past weekend. Omaha came out with a hot start scoring 22 unanswered points before Wichita could even manage a score. While the second quarter was a bit closer the 3rd would see more of the same from the first with Omaha leading 63-20 after 3 frames. Both teams slowed down in the 4th which had Omaha finish the beating with a 70-33 win on the road to move to 6-1.

On the other hand the Bandits/Venom game was an old school, high scoring, fight to the finish kind of game. The teams quite literally traded scores almost the entire game with each team getting a single stop in each half of play along with Sioux City holding Amarillo to a FG on a drive in the first half and the reverse happening in the second. The end result was Sioux City taking a 79-71 win at home over the Southern Division leading Venom.

Indoor Football League:
Quad City Steamwheelers 48, Cedar Rapids River Kings 29
Tucson Sugar Skulls 52, Bismarck Bucks 40
Sioux Falls Storm 57, Nebraska Danger 56
Iowa Barnstomers 56, Green Bay Blizzard 49
Arizona Rattlers 84, San Diego Strike Force 63

A battle between Eastern Iowa and Western Illinois opened the weekend as Quad City hosted the Cedar Rapids River Kings. The ‘Wheelers managed a nice 27-9 halftime lead but Cedar Rapids would score two unanswered touchdowns to make it a respectable game in the third. E.J. Hillard would lead the Steamwheelers on a scoring spree in the final quarter, leading the team with a passing TD and rushing TD himself to finish out the game.

Bismarck would host Tucson in the second game of the weekend, the visiting Sugar Skulls would kick off the game with a 14-3 lead after 15’. Between the second and third quarter Tucson attempted to give away the game to Bismarck being outscored 34-26 by 4 seconds into the fourth quarter. The Sugar Skulls barely managed to come back and win, holding off the Bucks to keep them out of the playoff hunt.

Sioux Falls/Nebraska is a game where I’d recommend to go and re-watch (which you can catch here) as a recap doesn’t do this game justice. After swapping scores for pretty much the entire game Nebraska was called for pass interference with no time left on the clock. Since the penalty was in the endzone the ball was placed on the 2 yard line which allowed Brandon Sheperd to run the ball in for a Storm TD to end the game.

Green Bay/Iowa was another game with teams swapping scores for practically the entire game, and another I’d recommend to re-watch (which you can watch here). Iowa just like Sioux Falls would win with little time remaining when Daquan Neal hit Jazeric Peterson on a 26 yard pass with 30 seconds left for the Barnstormers to sneak out of Green Bay with a win. Arizona that night was not as nice as they pounded the hosting San Diego Strike Force all night long. This one ended with Jabre Lolley running in an unnecessary touchdown for the Rattlers to take an 84-63 win on the road.

National Arena League:
Carolina Cobras 60, Columbus Lions 32
Jacksonville Sharks 61, Orlando Predators 7

Both games in the NAL last week were absolute and complete slaughters. On Friday in Greensboro “The Snake Pit” was lethal for the Lions as Carolina led 21-6 after one quarter and never looked back. “The Shark Tank” in Jacksonville was even more deadly for the Predators as their only score of the game came on a 27 yard pass from Bryan Hicks to Rob Brown in the middle of the second quarter.
The Hunt for the Playoffs really begins
The CIF will have, technically speaking, three games this weekend though one of them is in name only. Salina takes on Sioux City in what is a huge game for the second place in the Northern Division, the winner of this game will take the lead in the standings for a shot against Omaha in the playoffs. Also in the North, the division and league leading Beef host the hapless Oklahoma Flying Aces. Oklahoma absolutely has to win this game or they will be effectively eliminated from playoff contention on the back of a tiebreaker with Duke City. Duke City on the other hand in name only will host the North Texas Savages as a replacement for the Texas Revolution, though they will officially be awarded a forfeit win over the Revs for standings purposes.

6 teams are in action this weekend in the Indoor Football League as on Friday night Iowa hosts Bismarck and Nebraska hosts Quad City. Saturday night sees Tucson host Arizona. While all three have playoff implications (as Bismarck has not been mathematically eliminated) only the Danger/Steamwheelers game holds major significance. Iowa and Arizona have both clinched their playoff spots and are expected to win their games handily. Grand Island plays host to two teams on the edge of the playoff race. Our own Connor Ferguson has done a great look in on the IFL playoff races, which you can check out here for more detail.

Carolina hosts Orlando in the only National Arena League game this weekend. The Cobras and Predators are coming in off opposite sides of two different blowout games last weekend. The Preds look to win in Greensboro in an attempt to right the ship while the Cobras look to continue their dominance in the NAL.The post Norling: IFW – The Hunt for the Playoffs really begins appeared first on Last Word on Sports.


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