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  • As postgame questions go http://www.buffalobillsteamonline.com/stephen-hauschka-jersey , it was relatively innocuous, and maybe because of that, and because it came at a news conference after the Toronto Raptors moved into the second round of the playoffs by eliminating the Washington Wizards in Game 6, DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry were in a playful mood.

     

    So as Toronto’s pair of All-Star guards sat there, waiting for the other to talk, DeRozan eventually spoke up, not to respond, but to kid to his running mate: ”You want me to answer everything.” To which Lowry retorted, referring to the reporter, ”He didn’t say `Kyle.'”

    DeRozan: ”He said both of us.” Lowry pointed a hand in his teammate’s direction, indicating DeRozan needed to reply, and instructed: ”That’s how this works.” And then Lowry teased: ”You don’t even remember the question.” DeRozan, with a grin, conceded: ”No, I don’t.”

    As long as the DeRozan-Lowry duo works in harmony on the court – and gets plenty of help from a terrific bench unit, just as it did while No. 1 seed Toronto finished off Washington with a 102-92 road victory Friday night – the Raptors have a formula for success this postseason.

    Because of those reserves, led by point guard Fred VanVleet, DeRozan and Lowry were able to spend plenty of time resting in the last game, neither playing more than 33 minutes. They won’t be spent by the time they get to the Eastern Conference’s next round Walter Payton Jersey , which will come against either the Cleveland Cavaliers or Indiana Pacers.

    ”It’s big, especially the dynamic of how we can do it,” DeRozan said. ”He can have a big night. I can have a big night. And the nights that we don’t, we have a bench that can go out there and can win the game for us, as well. Any given night, whether it’s a closeout game or a Game 1, I think we’re just capable of showing so many different elements of how to win a game that we didn’t have last year.”

    Last season, the Raptors were swept in the second round by LeBron James and the Cavaliers. A season earlier, they also were knocked out by the Cavs, in six games in the East finals.

    Now Toronto has to wait a bit to find out if it’ll go up against LBJ and Co. for the third year in a row. Because Indiana won 121-87 on Friday, that series will head to a Game 7 at Cleveland on Sunday.

    Asked whether he preferred one possible opponent or the other, DeRozan gave a quick answer: ”No.”

    He averaged a series-leading 26.7 points against the Wizards, and Lowry was second among the Raptors at 17.2, along with 8.3 assists and 4.8 rebounds.

    But what has to make them rather happy moving forward is what happened when they were on the sideline in Game 6. VanVleet, the backup point guard, finally saw extended action for the first time against the Wizards, after being out for all but three minutes because of an injured right shoulder.

    Finally healthy enough to play, VanVleet led the second unit capably at both ends of the floor, contributing five points http://www.washingtonredskinsteamonline.com/ryan-anderson-jersey , four assists and four rebounds, while playing pesky defense against All-Star shooting guard Bradley Beal.

    ”He is kind of the engine, the toughness,” Toronto coach Dwane Casey said about VanVleet.

    In all, the bench outscored Washington’s reserves 21-6 and outrebounded them 15-3 in the second half, allowing the Raptors to finally win a road playoff game in which they trailed at halftime.

    Their record before Friday in such situations was 0-23.

    Knowing they can win on the road at all should be a confidence-builder as the playoffs continue.

    The Raptors already knew they had an elite bunch of reserves.

    Looking at teams that reached the playoffs, they tied for first during the regular season in bench scoring, averaging 41.8 points.

    ”It’s been like that all year. It’s not going to be any different in the playoffs,” VanVleet said. ”I thought our bench team had been good this series at home, and we just needed to put together a performance on the road.”

    Mike Zimmer was already smiling more than usual, sporting a relaxed look of satisfaction rarely revealed in public during the NFL season, when he really let his guard down a few minutes into his postgame news conference deep inside Minnesota’s still-buzzing stadium.

    ”Hey, let’s open these things up!” Zimmer blurted out mid-sentence, prodding a Vikings official to push the button that removes the window shades and allows the premium ticket-holders in an adjacent lounge to peer in the room.

    His wish to interact with the customers who cheered the Vikings on to a last-play divisional round victory was granted.

    Zimmer then proceeded to slowly and rhythmically clap above his head, dignifying the ritual ”Skol” chant performed by the purple-clad fans at each game honoring the area’s Scandinavian heritage and the team’s nickname.

    ”You deserve it!” Zimmer said, again interrupting his own answer to acknowledge the crowd.

    From peers around the league to players in the locker room to people up and down the organization, there’s a strong sentiment that Zimmer has earned this, too, pulling within one win of a Super Bowl appearance.

    The way the Vikings finished their 29-24 victory over New Orleans on a last-chance 61-yard touchdown pass from Case Keenum to Stefon Diggs suggested they’re on some kind of charmed path Brett Maher Jersey , an uncharted territory for this championship-deprived franchise. Zimmer, for his part, has experienced his own share of painful setbacks.

    ”I just think he was so proud of us,” tight end Kyle Rudolph said. ”Proud of us for fighting until there were zeros on the clock.”

    Zimmer is only here, preparing the Vikings for the NFC title game in Philadelphia on Sunday, because he himself resisted the urge to quit.

    After being passed over for so many head coach vacancies during a six-year run as Cincinnati’s defensive coordinator, Zimmer nearly canceled a second interview in Minnesota in 2014 after a different team that considered him chose a different candidate. He ignored the discouragement in his head, instead accepting the offer to become the ninth head coach in team history at age 57.

    ”Sometimes you wonder, but I have a lot of confidence in myself,” Zimmer said at his introductory news conference at team headquarters. ”I feel like I was destined to do this.”

    That first season, the Vikings improved by two wins to finish 7-9 with rookie Teddy Bridgewater forced into action ahead of schedule at quarterback and running back Adrian Peterson absent for all but one game because of the child abuse case and subsequent NFL discipline dispute he was involved in. In 2015, they went 11-5 and ended Green Bay’s four-year hold on the NFC North title.

    The potholes in the road were waiting, though.

    Blair Walsh’s 27-yard field-goal try went wide left at the end of the one-point wild-card round loss at home to Seattle.

    The 5-0 start in 2016 was washed away by a torrent of season-ending injuries, including Bridgewater, Peterson and several offensive linemen.

    Offensive coordinator Norv Turner resigned the day after Zimmer had the first of eight eye surgeries to address a torn retina. The third procedure forced him to miss a game for the first time in his career .

    The first quarter of the 2017 season brought knee injuries to quarterback Sam Bradford and running back Dalvin Cook, who needed reconstructive surgery to repair a torn ACL.

    The Vikings didn’t blink, though, particularly with the experience of 2016 so fresh. Case Keenum deftly took over for Bradford, and Jerick McKinnon and Latavius Murray became a productive backfield tandem.

    All of these on-field hurdles have paled next to the pain Zimmer has endured in his personal life. His wife Kyle Fuller Jersey , Vikki, died suddenly in 2009. His father and former high school coach, Bill, passed away during training camp in 2015.

    Zimmer was hired by the Vikings because of his acumen as a defensive strategist and teacher, having started his 24-year NFL career as the defensive backs coach for Dallas before a promotion to defensive coordinator in 2000.

    Calling plays has been his forte, a responsibility he has yet to give up despite his duty as the main man on the staff on game day, but his ability to mold a disciplined, selfless unit from a collection of alpha males and high draft picks helped the Vikings’ defense rank first in the league in 2017 in both fewest yards and points allowed.

    Beneath the gruff exterior is a deep affection for his players, an emotion that has caused his voice to crack and his eyes to well up several times over the years in various public discussions of their development or character.

    He’s a football coach just like his father, though, and the critical eye and demanding approach are always quick to come out.

    ”We can’t make these mistakes in playoff games or we’ll be going home,” Zimmer said on Monday, reflecting on the reality of the performance after the euphoria of the winning play had worn off.

    Now the Vikings must go on the road to face a team with a 14-3 record just like theirs, the last and biggest obstacle looming before they can experience a Super Bowl.

    ”We’ve got a bunch of fighters on this team,” Zimmer said. ”They’ve been a resilient bunch all year long. I expect it to continue to be that way.”

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