It’s OK to not be totally OK with load management

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

Top 5 things we’re talking about

1. Kawhi Leonard’s “load management” is a hot topic again

The Raptors invented that branding last season when they needed an official explanation for all the times their best player skipped a regular-season game to stay fresh for the playoffs (and, let’s be honest, to avoid an injury that might hurt his chances of cashing in as a free agent that summer). Obviously, it paid off. But it also sucked to turn on a regular-season game — or, much worse, buy a ticket to one — and find out at the last minute that Kawhi wasn’t playing.

Now fans in L.A. — and around the NBA — are feeling that pain after Leonard sat out two straight nationally televised games. The league can issue fines for this, but it says Kawhi and the Clippers are in the clear because he has a knee issue that makes it risky to play on back-to-back nights. There’s no reason to doubt that. But load management is a trend that’s catching on across the NBA, and it’s threatening the already questionable watchability of the regular season.

The culturally approved opinion today is that NBA players should have the right to decide when they play. That seems reasonable in cases of legitimate health concerns. No one wants to see a guy try to play hurt and then seriously injure himself. And, yes, an 82-game regular season is probably outdated given the pace and intensity of today’s game. And, also yes, the playoffs mean more than anything so it’s important to make sure stars are healthy for them. But it’s possible — and OK — for smart fans to both sympathize with those concerns and feel frustrated that some of their favourite players seem to miss work a lot. Especially when tickets — the price of which keep going up — don’t come with any guarantee that the performers you pay to see will actually perform that night.

There could be a long-term cost for players and teams too. The unimaginable amount of money they make is based largely on TV contracts (and, to a lesser extent, ticket sales). Those TV deals are locked in for awhile. But if enough fans get wise to the fact that the regular season doesn’t seem to matter to anyone, they might start tuning out. Then the networks might not be willing to pony up as much the next time their deals come up. This is a problem the NBA needs to solve. Trouble is, the solutions — including, most obviously, a shorter regular season — might require everyone to take a short-term hit. It takes rare vision to accept that.

2. The CFL playoffs start Sunday

The East semifinal (1 p.m. ET) pits Edmonton vs. Montreal. Edmonton plays in the West division, but it earned the right to cross over and steal a playoff spot from an East team by finishing 8-10 — much better than Toronto and Ottawa, who trailed the division. Montreal went 10-8 and has home-field advantage in the playoff game, but the Als are only favoured by 1.5 points. So oddsmakers are saying that Edmonton is the slightly better team (home field is generally worth three). That’s because the Eskimos played a harder schedule in the West and finished with a plus-6 point differential (though seven of their eight wins came against B.C., Toronto and Ottawa — the three worst teams in the league). Montreal was actually outscored by six points against an easier slate of opponents. They went head-to-head twice, and the home team won both times.

Keep an eye on the quarterback matchup. Montreal’s Vernon Adams Jr. is a dual threat: he threw for 24 touchdowns and ran for 12 more. Edmonton’s Trevor Harris has played only one game since early September because of an injury to his throwing arm, but he says he’s good to go now and we know he can play: he threw for six TDs in last year’s East final, when he was with Ottawa.

The West semifinal (4:30 p.m. ET) is Winnipeg at Calgary. Quarterback health is a story here too. Backup Zach Collaros looks like he’ll probably start for Winnipeg as Chris Streveler is still nursing the ankle injury that’s kept him out since mid-October. Streveler was a backup himself until Matt Nichols suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in August. Beating the defending Grey Cup champs on their own turf with a third-string QB seems like a tall order for the Bombers, who started the season 5-0 but are 6-7 since. They’re likely to lean on star running back Andrew Harris, who won the CFL rushing title by almost 300 yards. When Calgary has the ball, keep an eye on receiver Reggie Begelton. He caught more balls (102) than anybody in the West.

The top teams in each division get this week off. Hamilton (15-3) will host the winner of the Edmonton-Montreal game in next Sunday’s East final. Saskatchewan (13-5) faces the Winnipeg-Calgary survivor in the West final. The Grey Cup game is the Sunday after that in Calgary.

Winnipeg hopes to see a lot of this from star back Andrew Harris on Sunday. (John Woods/Canadian Press)

3. The Canadian men’s baseball team is down to its final two strikes in Olympic qualifying

There were three tournaments where Canada could earn a spot in the 2020 Tokyo Games. One of those chances is gone after the team finished 1-2 in its group today at the Premier 12 event and failed to advance. To clinch an Olympic berth, Canada needed to finish as the top country from the Americas region at this tournament, which features the world’s 12 best teams. But Mexico and the U.S. both advanced from their group, guaranteeing Canada will not be the top Americas team. Read about how Canada can still qualify for the Olympics here.

4. The Canadian women’s basketball team is up to No. 4 in the world

The new rankings came out today, and this is the highest Canada has ever reached. The United States is still No. 1, followed by Australia and Spain. A new formula was just introduced that accounts for the results of individual games — not just the final standings of tournaments.

Canada has an important tournament coming up next week: an Olympic regional pre-qualifier in Edmonton. It’s pretty simple: there are only four teams, they each play each other once, and the top two teams advance to one of the final world qualifying tournaments being held early in 2020. Canada’s opponents are Puerto Rico (ranked 24th), Cuba (26th) and the Dominican Republic (40th), so it shouldn’t have much trouble advancing. You can watch all Canada’s games live on CBCSports.ca, starting Thursday at 9:30 p.m. ET vs. Cuba.

5. Canadian wheelchair racer Brent Lakatos won his 12th world title

The 39-year-old won the men’s 100-metre T53 event for the fourth consecutive time at the para track and field world championships, which are being held in Dubai. Lakatos also won this event at the 2016 Paralympics, and he’s the world-record holder. Read more about today’s win and watch the video here. You can also stream live action from the para worlds every day here.

Montreal’s Brent Lakatos won the men’s 100-metre T53 event at the 2019 World Para Athletics Championships in Dubai on Friday in a time of 14.59 seconds. It’s Lakatos’ 12th World Para gold medal. 4:51

Also…

The Islanders’ winning streak is over. New York’s 10-gamer was the longest in the NHL this season. But it ended with a 4-3 OT loss to Pittsburgh last night. The streak vaulted the Isles (11-3-1) into fourth place overall, but they’re still second in their division. Washington, which has played two more games, leads the entire league with a 12-2-3 record. Speaking of streaks, CBC Sports’ Rob Pizzo put together this short video on some of the best ones by NHL teams and players:

With Patrick Marleau’s iron man streak hitting 800 games, Rob Pizzo looks at 9 other times players and teams went streaking.  1:54

Canada’s short track speed skaters have home-ice advantage this weekend. The second World Cup stop of the season is in Montreal. Last week in Salt Lake City, Kim Boutin got off to a great start by winning the women’s 1,500- and 500-metre races and adding a bronze in a relay. Today in Montreal is devoted to qualifying. Medal races are Saturday and Sunday. You can stream them all live here starting at 2 p.m. ET both days, and watch some of them on the CBC TV network Saturday at 4 p.m. ET. Read about how a new generation of short trackers is trying to keep Canada’s winning tradition alive here.

Toronto FC can win its second MLS title in three years on Sunday. And for the third time in four years, they’ll face Seattle in the championship match. Unlike the MLS Cup final in 2016 (which Seattle won) and ’17 (which TFC won), this year’s is in Seattle. Both teams pulled off upsets to get here. Toronto knocked off NYCFC and defending champ Atlanta (the top two seeds in the East) and Seattle beat Cup-favourite LAFC. Toronto hopes injured star forward Jozy Altidore can suit up for the first time in the playoffs, but it doesn’t look good. Seattle is favoured to win the final. Betting odds imply they have about a 66 per cent chance of lifting the Cup. Read more about the matchup here.

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