DeMar DeRozan says he’ll support Kyle Lowry, whether he stays or leaves

Point guard Kyle Lowry insists he hasn’t thought about his future with the Toronto Raptors.The 31-year-old says he will opt out of the final year of his contract and become a free agent July 1.A day after the Raptors’ season ended in a four-game sweep by the Cleveland Cavaliers, Lowry didn’t hint about his intentions or the criteria for his decision. That’ll be my fourth time. I want to make sure my family is happy,” Lowry said. “Honestly man, I wanna just get better, I wanna have fun, I wanna win a ring. He’s helped me tremendously, helped me be me, a better man, a better basketball player. “It’s going to be a decision on him that he’s going to have to make, and I support him 100 per cent.“We gained something that goes way beyond basketball. There have been questions about the future of Dwane Casey, but both Lowry and DeRozan had kind words for the six-year Raptors coach.“Even when we had our bad days, our good days, we stuck by him,” DeRozan said. I’m gonna say it one more time. So that’s why when it comes to things like this, I don’t put the pressure on him, or I don’t say: do this, do that. Four. He’s got to make the decision, as a friend I’ve got to be there to support him.”Lowry’s status is just one of numerous questions the team faces in an off-season of uncertainty. “I’ve said that three times already. Only thing I’ve thought about is opting out. And getting better as a basketball player. “And that’s all I’ve thought about right now.“Honestly, I wouldn’t BS you guys. Haven’t thought about it though,” he said. “One thing about Case, Case is one hell of a person outside of a coach.“When you’ve got a coach that’s a great guy like Case, the bad can flip quick into the good days. Those two things.“Wanna try again?” he laughed.Whether Lowry chooses to stay or leave, DeMar DeRozan said he’ll support whatever decision his friend and teammate makes.“I never looked at it or tried to put it into perspective, what it would be like without him,” DeRozan said. Which I will do. Not this time.”The Raptors met with the media on their traditional post-season locker cleanout day.Lowry verbally sparred with reporters, who asked numerous times about his intentions.“You know what? sometimes he hits us with that and the whole room started laughing.”Lowry said he and Casey have butted heads but added the coach allowed him to “become a three-time all-star and allow me to become the player I am and have a voice.“He’s been great to me. Coach has always been in my corner and had my back.“I think our relationship has grown from here,” Lowry added, holding up a hand, “to here.”Casey was scheduled to speak to the media later Monday. I would, but not this time. He’s been the same with his funny quotes, his sayings… That’s a good question.

MacKinnon scores twice as Canada downs Belarus 6-0 at world hockey championship

The Philadelphia Flyers forward was strong in the faceoff circle, going 7-1 on draws through the first 40 minutes.The two-time defending worlds champion, Canada remains first in Group B at 3-0. Nathan MacKinnon and Brayden Point had two goals each to fuel Canada’s 6-0 win over Belarus at the world hockey championship on Monday.MacKinnon had a hot hand for the second consecutive game and moved into the tournament lead with five goals. The French are currently 1-1 following their 5-1 upset win over Finland on Sunday. Jeff Skinner and Claude Giroux also scored for Canada.Playing without injured forward Andrei Kostitsyn and Canadian-born netminder Kevin Lalande, the Belarusian team played a conservative defensive game designed to limit scoring chances.Netminder Mikhail Karnaukhov made 39 saves but was exposed on MacKinnon’s first goal, a power-play wrist shot from the top of the left circle that beat him high to the glove side and put Belarus down 2-0 at the 4:20 mark of the second period.Making his second start of the tournament, Canada’s Calvin Pickard picked up his first shutout with 13 saves.Sean Couturier debuted for Canada after missing the first two games of the tournament with what coach Jon Cooper had deemed a “mid-body” injury. He scored a hat trick in Canada’s 7-2 win over Slovenia on Sunday. Point scored his second and third goals as part of Canada’s “Kid Line” with Mitch Marner and Travis Konecny. Finland and the Czech Republic, both 1-1, met in Monday’s late game in Paris.In Group A action on Monday, Russia beat Germany 6-3 and Sweden met the United States in the late game.On Thursday, Canada will line up for its next game against the host team from France.

North America set for fast-tracked 2026 World Cup decision

“So we have to make sure we have to make sure this process is absolutely bulletproof.”The current plans give the United States 60 games, including every fixture from the quarterfinals, while Canada and Mexico will have 10 each.Despite plans to share the tournament, there is a possibility the U.S. A possible venue for the final is the 80,000-seat stadium that is being built for the Los Angeles Rams NFL team in Inglewood, California, and is due to open in 2019.FIFA’s top administrator, Fatma Samoura, highlighted the importance of assessing the “nitty gritty” of the hosting plans, even if the North Americans are given a clear path to the 2026 World Cup.“What the administration is concerned about is that the bidding process is free, inclusive, and transparent,” Samoura said. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to discuss the bid plans publicly ahead of FIFA’s approval.Once that is given, the neighbours will then press ahead will determining which cities will host games. An accelerated process to hand North America the 2026 World Cup is set to be approved by soccer leaders this week, with FIFA President Gianni Infantino hoping for a “bulletproof” process to avoid past voting scandals.The United States, Canada and Mexico are seeking an unchallenged path to co-hosting rights for the 2026 showpiece, if FIFA’s technical requirements are met by next year “It’s an interesting, original proposal and we will discuss it tomorrow at the council and present the recommendation to the congress,” Infantino told The Associated Press on Monday in Bahrain at the start of a week of FIFA meetings. There is expected to be no opposition to fast-tracking the plans at either the council or the congress, where FIFA’s entire 211-strong leadership has the final say.By avoiding a contest, the process should be resistant to the allegations of wrongdoing that have tainted World Cup votes in recent decades. Past bribery has been exposed, in part, by American prosecutors but the U.S.-led bid is the undisputed favourite for the 2026 World Cup.“We have seen in the past many questions marks around bidding processes,” Infantino said. “We will make sure that the highest level of standards are respected.” emerges as the solo host if its neighbours are considered unsuitable by the FIFA Congress in June 2018. The motion being presented to the congress on Thursday states that the North Americans want the hosting rights if “one or more” of the countries “satisfies the technical bid requirements.”The North Americans are anticipating the go-ahead on Thursday from the FIFA Congress and have a staff and office space lined up, a person with knowledge of the situation said.

Toronto FC defender Drew Moor back training after heart scare

“But it was fixed – to the exact way that we wanted, the doctors wanted to fix it. Moor subsequently underwent a 3 1/2-hour procedure in Boston called an ablation to restore normal heart rhythm.“It was all routine, which doesn’t mean it’s not scary at times because it was,” he said. “Drogba and I, obviously we battled a bit the past couple of seasons and he’s a good professional and he’s a good guy … Next up is a road game Wednesday against Columbus (5-4-1).The victory over Seattle, Toronto’s fourth straight win, has TFC at 19 points – its best ever start after 10 games. That’s any day now.So far he’s been allowed to jog and get some touches on the ball.“We’re hoping that we can get him ready for something by the weekend,” said coach Greg Vanney.All Toronto players wear heart monitors and GPS chips during practice and the team’s medical staff noticed some unusual data for Moor. The previous record was 17 points (5-3-2) in 2007. It was just for somebody that leads an active lifestyle like myself and somebody who plans on leading an active lifestyle in the years to come, it was suggested I take some time and have my heart looked at a bit.”He has got a stream of good wishes during his absence, including social media support from Ivory Coast legend Didier Drogba.“The support’s been unbelievable, from fans, other players, from fans,” said Moor, who also praised TFC for their efforts in helping him. I feel good now.”Doctors found a minor defect in his heart which they were able to correct.“I’m itching to get back on the field,” Moor said.A return to full training will come after an evaluation when he reaches the two-week mark from the procedure. To have somebody like that reach out to me was pretty special.”Moor has anchored the Toronto defence since joining the team prior to the 2016 season as a free agent from Colorado.Toronto (5-1-4) moved atop both the Eastern Conference and MLS standings with its 1-0 win over defending champion Seattle on Saturday. Moor told them he had been feeling something unusual, and a visit to the team doctor and then a cardiologist followed.Moore said he had felt the symptoms for about a month before the training session in question.“It was nothing life-threatening or anything. Toronto FC defender Drew Moor was back on the field Monday, albeit working out on his own.Life is returning to normal for the 33-year-old Texan whose soccer career was briefly put on hold due to a cardiac arrhythmia – or irregular heartbeat – that was noticed by team staff during a training session in advance of an April 15 game in Columbus.

Chelsea could own the EPL title on Friday

Middlesbrough needs a miracle, as it trails Hull by six points with just two games remaining for both sides, and Hull’s goal difference was superior by 12.Having seen Tottenham falter on Friday with defeat at West Ham, Chelsea set about taking advantage of the opportunity to extend its lead immediately.Goals came from Diego Costa, Marcos Alonso, and Nemanja Matic in an attack masterfully orchestrated by Cesc Fabregas at Stamford Bridge.Twice in the opening seven minutes, Fabregas played spectacular diagonal passes to Alonso, who first volleyed onto the crossbar and then agonizingly across goal from the left.Middlesbrough failed to heed the warning as it continued to allow Fabregas far too much space to operate, and was punished in the 23rd.Fabregas picked out a more reliable finisher in Costa with another inch-perfect pass, the striker slotting calmly through Brad Guzan’s legs to equal his best league tally with his 20th of the season.Cesar Azpilicueta did his best imitation of Fabregas as he found Alonso at the back post to directed his volley past Guzan in the 34th.Fabregas switched the angle of Chelsea’s attack to play in Victor Moses on the other flank, with only a fine Guzan save preventing a third goal before the break.The onslaught continued after halftime as Pedro’s driven effort hit the crossbar, and the relentless Alonso shot wide once more.Middlesbrough’s resistance and any doubt over the result was ended in the 65th when Matic chested down Fabregas’ cross and shot low past Guzan to make it 3-0.But perhaps the biggest cheer of the night came in the 84th, as captain John Terry was introduced for a cameo appearance, as he nears the end of his 19-year career with the club having announced he will depart at the end of the season. They moved seven points clear of second-placed Tottenham, and all but consigned Middlesbrough to relegation. Chelsea was one more win away from taking the English Premier League title after beating Middlesbrough 3-0 on Monday.The Blues have the chance to claim their second league title in three seasons when they face West Brom on Friday.

Bouchard claims victory over Sharapova at Madrid Open

Eugenie Bouchard
pulled off her first win over Maria Sharapova with a 7-5 2-6 6-4 triumph in the Madrid
Open on Monday in a thrilling contest full of tension after the Canadian had
called the Russian a cheater following her doping ban.Bouchard,
23, saw the five-time grand slam winner as her idol when she was growing up but
her admiration vanished when Sharapova
tested positive for the banned substance meldonium at the 2016 Australian Open, which led
to a 15-month suspension. I’m
just proud that I came out stronger in the end and held it together in the third
set.” Today was just not that day.”THRILLING CONTESTMonday’s enthralling contest, which lasted nearly three hours, certainly
lived up to the hype.Bouchard,
ranked 60th in the
world, entered Madrid after five tour-level opening round losses in a row and
her three-set first round win over Alize Cornet
was her first since the Australian Open in January.But her extra determination to beat Sharapova was on display as she managed to win a
gruelling 70-minute first set against the 30-year-old Russian by clinching the
12th game.Sharapova,
who reached the Stuttgart Grand Prix
semi-finals last month in her first tournament since being banned, was given a
pep-talk by coach Sven Groeneveld
at 2-1 down in the second and roared back to win four straight games to wrap up
the set.But the Russian played too many risky shots in the decider and, after saving
three break points in two consecutive service games, she was broken in the
seventh game.Sharapova
broke back immediately but then dropped another service game to allow Bouchard to serve out for the match.The pair endured a brief, awkward handshake after Bouchard claimed a place in the third round
against top seed Angelique Kerber, who
she beat on her way to the Wimbledon final in 2014.“It was a very tough match, not only physically and tennis-wise, but also
mentally and emotionally,” Bouchard
added.“Each point was a battle from the first point. It was really a fight. “But at the end of the day, it’s just two athletes competing against each
other, and I’m one of them. That’s how I treat this game.“What you work for for so many hours every single day is to be on the winning
end of matches. I know what the drill is,” she
said. The match was the most eagerly anticipated when the draw was made after Bouchard’s comments in the Turkish media in April
when she said Sharapova
was a “cheater” and should not have been allowed to compete again following her
positive test.Bouchard
stood by her comments about Sharapova on
arriving in the Spanish capital and after Monday’s victory the Canadian said
recent events had made her more fired up for the game.“I definitely had some extra motivation going into today, Obviously I had
never beaten her before and then there were other circumstances,” she told a
news conference.“I was actually quite inspired before the match because I had a lot of
players coming up to me privately wishing me good luck, players I don’t normally
speak to, getting a lot of texts from people in the tennis world that were just
rooting for me.“So I wanted to do it for myself, but also all these people. I really felt
support.”After suffering a tough defeat, Sharapova
avoided getting drawn into the extra furore surrounding the game.“I’ve been part of this game for many years.

Superstition ain’t the way for these ‘now’s now’ Ottawa Senators

The Senators will be playing against a team, after all, that in 1994 finally broke free of a 54-year curse – supposedly laid on the team by Red Dutton, who blamed the demise of his New York Americans on the Rangers – by defeating the Vancouver Canucks to claim the Stanley Cup.The Senators, too, have a long history of clinging to bizarre beliefs. They lasted 11 games before falling to the Washington Capitals.There have been far more sensational – and successful – superstitions in hockey: Kate Smith singing God Bless America before Philadelphia Flyers playoff games, Montreal Canadiens goaltender Patrick Roy talking to his goalposts during the team’s successful run for the Stanley Cup, the Toronto Maple Leafs’ “Pyramid Power” under coach Red Kelly, Wayne Gretzky applying baby powder to the blade of his stick to soften the passes, Phil Esposito refusing to stay in any hotel room with the number 13. There is already enough dissension among Rangers fans on social media – mostly directed toward head coach Alain Vigneault – that it could easily turn nasty if fans think a “choke” is indeed in the works.And it won’t matter if the loss comes out of the Senators living in the “now,” as their coach wishes, or out of some mysterious karma tied to where they sat in the dressing room.Luck or no luck, it will be a challenge.“It’s probably going to be the toughest one,” captain Erik Karlsson said.For both teams, regardless of the outcome. This is how it works in hockey.The Ottawa Senators head into the city that never sleeps and fall asleep in the first 10 minutes of Games 3 and 4, the New York Rangers decisively winning both games by an identical score, 4-1.The Eastern Conference semi-final series returns Tuesday to Madison Square Garden for a sixth game, one that – given the dominance of the Rangers in their home rink – could stretch this to a seventh and deciding game back in Ottawa on Thursday. “Now’s now, before’s before, after’s after. But Ottawa has been in front when it matters – at the end of regular time or the final whistle of overtime.No wonder a New York tabloid ran a full-page photograph of Ottawa’s winning overtime goal from Saturday’s game with the headline “Chokers.”Still, there are believers to be found in this city. “You can’t even have an optional skate without getting chimed out there.”On Tuesday evening that small group of schoolkids will become 18,006 mostly adults of various levels of maturity. They did it not by Xs and Os on the game board, not by working on their troubled power play, not by switching up the lines – but by changing their seating stalls in the visitors’ dressing room.Head coach Guy Boucher protested that the musical chairs had nothing to do with him. “I like to go against superstition. “I’m not superstitious,” he said. Bruce Gardiner once snapped a scoring slump by repeatedly flushing the blade of his hockey stick in the dressing room toilet, leading several goal-starved teammates to do the same.Boucher, however, wants nothing to do with such malarkey.“I don’t like to be slave to things that don’t matter,” he said. Back in the early years of the franchise, forward Tom Chorske used to carry around a little Buddha statue in his shaving kit, the players convinced that this curious talisman was somehow spreading luck among them. I don’t want to be slave to any superstition.”Then he must not know the history of the team he was brought in to coach this year.After all, the player Boucher gave so much credit to after Ottawa’s 5-4 overtime victory on Saturday afternoon, Chris Neil, puts brand-new laces in his skates before every game.Superstition is as much a player in hockey as pucks and sticks. “We want to deserve to win.”If they are going to win in New York, his Senators are going to have to be a different team than the confused group that assembled here for Games 3 and 4 and were very badly outplayed.That the Senators are leading this best-of-seven series 3-2 is somewhat surprising, given that over those five games the Rangers have held a lead for 180:12, while the Senators have been in front for a mere 13:10. The only thing that we control is now.”The year the players believed in Chorske’s “Buddha Power,” the young, inexperienced Senators took the Buffalo Sabres to seven games before losing the opening-round series in overtime.A year later they reached the second round – in part, the players believed, because of the platinum-blond dyed hair of goaltender Damian Rhodes. But the Senators have, at times, certainly been “slaves to things that don’t matter.”“We don’t want luck,” Boucher said. While the Senators worked out Monday morning, a touring school group poured into the stands chanting, “Let’s go, Rangers!” – until an adult supervisor told them they’d be asked to leave if they didn’t stop.“They’ve got good backing, that’s for sure,” said Ottawa forward Clarke MacArthur with a laugh. Or, of course, it could mean the end of the series if the Senators can somehow reverse their bad luck in Manhattan.The players addressed this at Monday’s optional practice.

Kelly: Edwin’s return to Toronto is rare good news amid cursed Blue Jays season

There was a deflating sense of neither/norism about the roster. While it’s a reminder of what might have been, it’s also a rare 2017 chance to feel good about life while Toronto baseball is happening in front of you.Nevertheless, Encarnacion seemed honestly unsure how he would be received.“The fans used to like me there [in Toronto], but I don’t know,” he told the Cleveland Plain Dealer on Sunday. It was the reaction to his presence that was notable. There was something vaguely primitive and worshipful about it. He sat down along the first baseline and stretched quietly. He was the first guy off the boat. He was everyone’s third- or fourth-favourite player.That was on Encarnacion. Disturbingly, Martin does not seem to have a grip on what’s ailing him.“The whole [left] shoulder region is weak and numbish,” Martin said. He was not a salient factor in the Jays’ 4-2 win.It’d be pointless now to guess how Encarnacion’s presence would have changed this year’s Jays. He wasn’t going to knead out Donaldson’s knotty muscles or take a spot in the rotation. But just a little.“I hope I receive support,” he said through his translator. He wore silence like a force field, proving that in the era of constant exposure it can still be done if you commit yourself wholeheartedly to the mission.Somehow, a genial air still surrounded him. Still, people didn’t rate him anywhere near the top of the lineup. It was difficult because I was hopeful the situation would have been different,” Encarnacion said Monday through a translator. Letting Encarnacion go was the first sign that a rebuild is, if not yet imminent, certainly pencilled on the schedule.“It took a few weeks to understand what happened. Usually, the crowd would be over their dugout. You’d have to be awfully stingy with your chances not to agree that this group probably deserved one more together.Jays management was just that parsimonious. I’ll be ready for anything.”With a pack of admirers looming above him in the pregame, he seemed a little surer of things. When a few of his new Cleveland teammates emerged, he got up quickly and left.Four hours later, he came out again to speak. He’s not hitting particularly well in Cleveland (though he is a notorious slow starter). He tipped his cap, tapped his heart and it was over. On Monday, no one called their names. While she was in the midst of answering, he shouted, “No boo!” It got a laugh, and he smiled, but there was something honestly plaintive about it.If Encarnacion had doubts, he was the only one. However, it is abundantly clear that it’s cursed.Bizarrely, that made Encarnacion’s return the first good news in a while. The present is reserved for the loud ones and the self-promoters.Another reason people may feel especially wistful about Encarnacion is that he was the first domino to fall. After the Jays went out in the 2016 American League Championship Series to this same Cleveland club, there was a sense they’d been a lot closer than the five-game encounter looked. Now that it’s sinking, he’s a human reminder of an era that is in the process of going from the urgency of right now to the nostalgia of “Hey, do you remember the guy who … ?” “It’s strange. He got a standing ovation that was maybe a six out of 10. He was likeable enough but too reticent to leave a deep impression. The Toronto players were taking batting practice as Encarnacion spoke. The season isn’t lost. He was never unfriendly but visibly resented talking, especially about himself. The Jays gave him a short video tribute before the game began. “We’ll have to wait and see. The fans had all come to see the prodigal son return, if only for a visit.“Tell Edwin that we want Edwin to come back,” a woman shouted down pitiably, capturing the general, downbeat mood.It’s strange how things change once someone has gone.During his 7 1/2 year tenure in Toronto, Encarnacion captured relatively little attention. Hundreds of early arriving Toronto Blue Jays fans massed above the visitors’ dugout and stood silently, even though they couldn’t see him in there. Most questions were deflected by an exaggerated language barrier or a series of elaborate shrugs.Looking back on it now, no top Toronto athlete has ever managed to remain so obscure while performing so reliably for so long under public scrutiny. Close, but not quite yet. It was a given in the clubhouse that Encarnacion was admired by all and known by very few.“He’s one of the good ones,” manager John Gibbons said Monday. He didn’t say anything remarkable. Edwin Encarnacion was the first man out on the Rogers Centre turf Monday – 5 1/2 hours before game time. At first, he was best known as a defensive punchline at third base.In Year 4, at 29, he enjoyed one of those rare, late-blooming runs that have so benefited this generation of Blue Jays. “I’ll probably run into him [at batting practice] – find out whether he liked me or not.”He was joking. The season started, and all hopefulness began to bleed away.It kept on that way Monday as catcher Russell Martin announced he would go on the disabled list with an “inflamed nerve” in his shoulder/neck. A little scary.”Between Martin, Troy Tulowitzki, Josh Donaldson, J.A. Sort of.More often than not, the good ones are only properly appreciated once they’ve gone. Insert a few swear words and the sound of fists smashing down on bar tops and you’d have a pretty decent rendering of how the win-now portion of the fan base felt as well.Once Encarnacion signed a below-market deal in Ohio, everything began coming apart. No one player was going to sort out this mess.In leaving, what Encarnacion did most importantly was transform from a Jays player to a romantic symbol of the Jays’ decline. Happ and Aaron Sanchez, the Jays now have $70-million (U.S.) worth of personnel beginning and completing their workday in the trainers’ room.

Blue Jays defeat Cleveland in Edwin Encarnacion’s first game back in Toronto

Marcus Stroman threw six shutout innings and Ryan Goins hit a two-run homer as the Toronto Blue Jays defeated the Cleveland Indians 4-2 on Monday night at Rogers Centre.Goins went deep in the second inning and Justin Smoak drove in two more runs in the third as the Blue Jays won for the third time in four games. The Indians (17-14) scored two runs in the eighth inning before Roberto Osuna closed things out in the ninth for his fifth save.Cleveland slugger Edwin Encarnacion received a standing ovation from the Rogers Centre crowd of 40,014 in his first game back in Toronto since signing with the Indians in the off-season.He led off the second inning with an infield single and Jose Ramirez followed with a single to right field, with Encarnacion taking a wide turn at second base as if he might test Jose Bautista’s arm.Bautista threw a rocket to third base and the longtime friends both smiled after Encarnacion returned to the bag. It was the third ejection of the season for the Blue Jays skipper.Toronto reliever Danny Barnes worked the seventh inning and pitched to two batters in the eighth before Joe Smith came on to get out of the jam.Osuna needed only nine pitches in a spotless appearance. After a lineout, Stroman escaped by getting Yandy Diaz to ground into an inning-ending double play.In the bottom half, Toronto second baseman Devon Travis led off with a double and scored when Goins turned on a 2-2 pitch from Trevor Bauer (2-4) for a no-doubt blast inside the right-field foul pole.The Blue Jays tacked on two more runs in the third after Kevin Pillar walked and moved to third on a double by Kendrys Morales. The game took two hours 55 minutes to play. Stroman (3-2) walked a pair and had a strikeout while Bauer allowed four earned runs, struck out six and issued three walks.In the eighth, Francisco Lindor hit an RBI single before getting caught in a rundown, allowing a second run to come across on the fielder’s choice. With two runners on, the centre-fielder made a brilliant diving catch on the warning track to rob Jose Ramirez of extra bases.Both starting pitchers worked six innings and gave up six hits. The dropped ball left runners on the corners for Pillar, but Bauer struck him out.Pillar delivered a highlight-reel catch in the sixth inning to keep the Indians off the board. Smoak brought them home with a flare to shallow right field.Toronto (12-20) threatened again in the fourth inning as right-fielder Abraham Almonte appeared to lose a Luke Maile liner in the lights. Lindor was eventually tagged but Travis was called for obstruction, bringing Blue Jays manager John Gibbons out of the dugout.Lindor was awarded second base on the play and crew chief Tom Hallion tossed Gibbons for arguing.

Kyle Lowry plans to opt out of final year of contract with Raptors

The Raptors had a 51-31 regular season and tied the Cavs for second place in the Eastern Conference. Switching the lineups? But when you’re close, you still feel so far – kinda like being in traffic,” DeRozan said. “You gotta go two blocks, but if there’s traffic, it can take you an hour to get somewhere that’s two minutes away.”It was a feeling expressed by several as the team spoke to the media. It’s a lot of things. He also hopes to improve his mental game by watching a lot of game film.Raptors Patrick Patterson, Serge Ibaka and P.J Tucker are also scheduled to enter free agency.The morning after the Raptors were eliminated by the Cleveland Cavaliers for the second straight year, DeRozan thought about the progress his team has made.“We’re close. I think I can do that anywhere I play. Do we take it to Game 6 maybe?” Tucker wondered. So the Raptors have been left to agonize over what might have been if Lowry had stayed healthy and had more time to build chemistry with Tucker and Ibaka.“If Kyle didn’t get hurt, do we win yesterday? “I’ve got to get better and I want to beat the best. If he played Game 3, do we win maybe? Guys that can stretch the floor, keep the floor spaced.”Raptors president Masai Ujiri will address the media on Tuesday. It’s tough. On Monday, as the Toronto Raptors packed up for the off-season, Kyle Lowry confirmed that he will opt out of the final year of his deal and test the waters of free agency this summer.The all-star expressed his love for Toronto and his close friend and teammate DeMar DeRozan and repeatedly said he hadn’t thought much about his strategy as a free agent, but his top priority is winning. Nothing else. DeRozan and Lowry were all-stars again, and the team acquired two prime pieces at the trade deadline in Tucker and Ibaka.But the LeBron James-led Cavs once again turned into a buzz saw come playoff time, mercilessly sweeping both the Indiana Pacers and the Raptors.“You have to give them credit. “I’m going to work harder to beat the best. I just want a ring. You can go through so many different scenarios. That’s what I want to do, beat the best, whoever it is – the Warriors, the Cavs, whoever wins the championship this year. “You look around the league, the great teams, the teams that are still playing, they have great shooting. “You don’t know. “A ring. He will surely be asked about the players headed to free agency, the coaching staff and if the Raptors have what it takes to transform from one of the best teams in the East to one that can win it all.“Getting over that hump is the hardest thing to do,” said Toronto coach Dwane Casey, who experienced this as an assistant coach with the Dallas Mavericks before they went on to win a championship.“I’m saying we’re close – close enough to smell the roses.” For now, they are just playing [some] of the best basketball, everyone’s playing a high level, so it’s tough.”Lowry was having the best three-point shooting season of his career before a wrist injury sidelined him for two months. That does not mean we’re far away,” Ibaka said. Hindsight is a mother.”“We don’t have LeBron,” Lowry said. I want to do whatever it takes to beat them as a basketball player, to beat them.”The Raptors were asked what they need to actually best the NBA’s best.“I think, in my opinion, just more shooting,” DeRozan said. We all know, we all saw what kind of team they have compared to our team. You’ve seen it on display with Kyle Korver – having a guy like that you can turn to to get going. Whatever it takes to beat the best, that’s what I’ve got to do.”Lowry will enter free agency for the third time in his career. Then a sprained ankle knocked him out for the last two playoff games. He said he wants to spend this summer improving his body, his leadership skills, explosiveness and efficiency. That’s just how confident I am,” Lowry said. “We’re not that far away.

Sharapova upset by early exit, not because she lost to Bouchard

To Maria Sharapova, the most disappointing part of leaving the Madrid Open was doing so in the second round.Not losing to arch critic Eugenie Bouchard.Sharapova will more than likely meet Bouchard again, and have another shot at beating the Canadian who wanted her banned for life for doping last year and openly called her a cheater. More important for Sharapova for now was tournament play, winning matches, getting match fit and her ranking up to where it was before her 15-month ban.Sharapova’s ranking rose from nothing to 258 after reaching the semifinals in Stuttgart two weeks ago, in her first tournament after her ban.Going only two rounds in Madrid, where she won in 2014, will bump her up into only the low 200s.Her aim is to quickly lift her ranking so it’s good enough to automatically qualify for main tour events, to at least 150, which would get her in the French Open this month.That would mitigate her reliability on wild cards that a lot of her fellow tour players have opposed. “To find myself in those situations, come up with the goods …” Of course I’m disappointed. Rome was the first to offer her a wild card while she was suspended, and the three-time champion (2011, 2012, 2015) was grateful.Her effort to automatically qualify for the French Open could become moot next week when organizers announce whether they will give one to Sharapova, the champion at Roland Garros in 2012 and 2014.In the meantime, losing in the second round at Madrid stung.“I would be worried about myself if I sat here and said I’m pretty happy with losing a tennis match, no matter who I face, no matter what round it is, whether it’s the first round or final of a Grand Slam,” she said on Monday after losing to Bouchard.“I’m a big competitor. That’s what’s going to win me more tournaments and more Grand Slams.”Sharapova said she still needed to regain the confidence for critical points in a match.“There’s no way to train but be a part of it,” she said. The players believe Sharapova, after doping, should have gone through qualifying, worked her way back from the bottom instead of receiving free passes into main draws.She has declined to enter that debate.Like at Stuttgart and Madrid, where she was a former champion, Sharapova has a wild card into the Italian Open next week. That’s what’s going to make me a better player. What you work for for so many hours every single day is to be on the winning end of matches.

Judge overturns Aaron Hernandez’s murder conviction

No fingerprints or DNA were found on the gun used in the killing or in the vehicle from which he allegedly fired. The 27-year-old Hernandez hanged himself last month in a prison cell where he was serving a life sentence for the June 2013 killing of Odin Lloyd. A Massachusetts judge on Tuesday overturned former New England Patriots star Aaron Hernandez’s conviction on charges of murdering an acquaintance in 2013, granting his attorneys’ request since the athlete died before exhausting the appeal process.Prosecutors had argued Hernandez’s prison suicide should have prevented the judge from overturning the conviction following his death, which is routinely allowed by Massachusetts state law when the conviction in question has not been fully appealed. The suicide stunned his family because it came just days after Hernandez been found not guilty of a 2012 double murder.“This court cannot know why Hernandez chose to end his life,” said Superior Court Judge Susan Garsh, who handled the 2015 trial in which a jury found the former tight end guilty of fatally shooting Lloyd in an industrial park near his home in North Attleborough, Massachusetts.“There being no reason to recognize any exception in this case in the interest of justice the court has no choice” but to vacate Hernandez’s conviction, Garsh said.Hernandez had a $41-million National Football League contract when he was arrested at his home in June 2013 and charged with murder. Prosecution witnesses at his two trials painted a picture of a troubled man with a history of drug use and paranoid tendencies.Hernandez’s attorneys in the matter praised the judge’s decision and declined to answer reporters’ questions on whether it would have any influence on civil suits filed against his estate by the families of the men he was accused of murdering.Prosecutors could appeal the judge’s decision.Hernandez was cleared last month of killing two Cape Verdean nationals, Daniel Abreu and Safiro Furtado, outside a Boston nightclub in 2012.Defense lawyer Jose Baez, known for successfully defending Florida mother Casey Anthony in the 2011 trial in which she was charged with murdering her daughter, relentlessly hammered the credibility of a key prosecution witness during the double-murder trial, suggesting the witness had killed the men and pinned it on Hernandez in exchange for immunity.Baez pointed out holes in the prosecution’s case, including the absence of forensic evidence tying Hernandez to the shootings.

Devils contact Ilya Kovalchuk to discuss return to NHL

He spent the past four years playing for St. New Jersey’s options then would be to keep Kovalchuk or to sign and trade him. The Devils still own Kovalchuk’s NHL rights but can’t formally sign him to a contract until July 1. And there are no rules preventing the Devils or Kovalchuk from contacting other teams to negotiate the framework of a potential sign-and-trade deal.The 34-year-old Kovalchuk was a nine-time 30-goal scorer in 11 NHL seasons. New Jersey Devils general manager Ray Shero has had preliminary talks with Ilya Kovalchuk’s agent regarding the former No. Petersburg SKA of the Kontinental Hockey League. 1 draft pick’s possible return to the NHL four years after bolting to play in his native Russia.Shero said he’s keeping all options open regarding Kovalchuk’s future.

FIFA to keep bidding options open for 2026 World Cup

with Mexico and Canada each getting 10 early-stage matches. While no rival bid has so far emerged, there have been media reports that Morocco could join the race.The three North American federations had asked for “in principle” backing for their bid and an exclusive “window” to put together the details of their plan before final ratification in 2018.A source with knowledge of the meeting said that plan had met with resistance with some FIFA Council members arguing that more time was needed to allow for any eventual alternative.FIFA’s current rotation policy states that the continental confederation which held either of the previous two events cannot bid, ruling Europe and Asia out of the initial 2026 running.Potential bidders have until August 11 to submit their bids with a vote scheduled for the 2018 FIFA congress in Moscow.The FIFA statement said that should that congress not select any of the candidates then federations from Asia and Europe would then be invited to bid.It would, however, be a major surprise if a potentially money-spinning North American bid were to be rejected.FIFA have also voted to expand the World Cup to 48 teams for the 2026 edition, requiring more facilities to handle the increase to 80 games while also opening the door to joint bids.The North American proposal is for 60 games in the U.S. FIFA are to leave open the bidding process for the 2026 World Cup until August, it said in a statement on Tuesday, after rejecting an attempt by the three-nation North American proposal to fast-track their plan.The bid from the United States, Mexico and Canada remains the only proposal so far to host the 2026 event, but FIFA’s ruling council on Tuesday opted to give other possible bidders a further three months.

Concussion spotter couldn’t pull Crosby for hitting boards

Crosby slid into the boards exactly one week after he was knocked out of Game 3 by a blow the head from the Capitals’ Matt Niskanen. “That’s completely out of our control.”The league added centralized spotters this season who have the authority to remove players if they see symptoms of a concussion, like the NFL. He missed Game 4 with a concussion and returned for Game 5 on Saturday.On Tuesday after practice, Crosby said he was checked by a doctor Monday night but did not go into concussion protocol.“Any guy that goes into the boards like that, the first thing is the trainer and the doctors, that’s how it goes,” Crosby said. During the regular season, Edmonton Oilers centre Connor McDavid expressed his displeasure for being pulled from a game by a spotter after his chin hit the ice, and goaltenders Mike Smith and Henrik Lundqvist criticized the system they consider flawed.Daly said he can’t answer whether the league would consider adding hitting the boards to the list requiring mandatory removal from play. The protocol states a player must be removed if a spotter sees symptoms in a player who takes a blow to his head or upper torso from another player’s shoulder, his head hitting the ice or from a punch to the head. He said current criteria are based on a study that determined what events on the ice were “more likely indicators or predictors of (a) concussion.” “What you’re talking about is the difference between checking with a doctor and entering concussion protocol, they’re two separate things.”Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said after the 5-2 loss and again Tuesday that Crosby was not in the protocol.“If they go through the protocol then I usually get notified by our medical staff, that’s the process,” Sullivan said. A week after he was knocked out of playoff game with a concussion, Pittsburgh star Sidney Crosby slid headfirst into the boards during another tense game against the Washington Capitals.He did not come out of Game 6 on Monday night.Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly told The Associated Press in an email Tuesday that the league’s centralized concussion spotter decided the play did not meet concussion protocol criteria that require mandatory removal from play.