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  Raptors Readying For Hornets Before London's Calling

Feb. 28, 2011, 7:00 PM

When you're 16-44 on the season it’s tough to call any matchup a trap game, but Raptors head coach Jay Triano is wary about his players looking ahead of Tuesday's matchup against the New Orleans Hornets.

With several of Monday's post-practice questions focused the Raptors upcoming trip to London for a pair of games against the New Jersey Nets, Triano was more than a little hesitant to start opining on the upcoming games at the O2 Arena.

"I don't know what you're talking about because our next game is tomorrow at home," Triano deadpanned when asked about the London trip. "I worry about after the game, after the game."

Based on the Raptors’ recent play, you can understand the concern. They’re coming off a pair of losses to the Suns and Mavericks that saw them completely outworked from tip-off in the former and picked apart in the second half of the latter.

The Hornets hit ACC on Tuesday (7 PM, Sportsnet One, FAN590) in somewhat of a slump with four losses in their last six, but it's a third straight prospective Western Conference playoff team for the Raptors, who are likely to find themselves shorthanded again up front.

Reggie Evans practiced with the team as he prepares for his return from a right foot fracture, but Triano has ruled him out for Tuesday. Meanwhile, the verdict on starting centre Andrea Bargnani (flu-like symptoms) was anything but clear.

"I have no idea,” said Triano. “He's been AWOL for three days now. Hopefully, he's getting better."

The absence of those two against the Hornets is going to sting (ugh) in a couple of ways. Much like the Mavs, the Hornets bring plenty of size up front and while Ed Davis and Amir Johnson try their damnedest to hold things down, it's a battle of attrition against the league’s beefier frontcourts.

In the first meeting back on January 17, an 85-81 defeat, the Raptors had major difficulty trying to contain Emeka Okafor and David West up front and New Orleans has added even more size and interior scoring since in the form of Carl Landry.

"The size of those guys is what we don't have," said Triano. "A guy like Reggie plays it kind of neutralizes it a little bit. They're bigger, more experienced and stronger. It sounds like a broken record doesn't it? ... We're not going to get bigger overnight, we've got to go in and battle and it's the experience against those guys that's going to help these guys grow and develop."

With Bargnani out the Raptors also lose their top scorer and with precious few primary scoring options available, that puts a ton of extra pressure on DeMar DeRozan, who saw ample extra attention on Sunday, and also forces Jose Calderon to be a little more "shoot-first".

Calderon is in the midst of a stretch of facing some first-class facilitators (in order: Derrick Rose, Steve Nash, Jason Kidd then Chris Paul tomorrow and Deron Williams twice in a back-to-back), but recognizes that his scoring is sometimes more necessity. His 10 shot attempts on Sunday were just the 19th time in 53 games he's cracked double digits this season and his seven makes were his most since January 15.

"I've always said, if you come off screens, be a scorer," said Triano of Calderon. "Then, If they take that away you can be a passer. I just think sometimes he gets predictable with him coming off screens wanting to make plays rather than just play basketball."

JJ Takes Aim

James Johnson certainly appears to be a quick study as the newly-acquired forward made a third straight start on Sunday and built on a solid start with an impressive line of eight points, seven rebounds and a career-high seven assists with two blocks and two steals against the Mavs in over 36 minutes of work.

"At his size, he can plays for other people," said Triano. "He can rebound the basketball and he's slowly starting to understand where he can fit in with some of the things we're trying to do.”

One thing he's striving to work on however, is his jump shot. I spoke with him post-practice after he hoisted plenty of extra attempts with Director of Player Development Alvin Williams, he told me that he's relishing the new opportunity in a new system.

"It's coming along well right now," said Johnson of his shot. "As long as I keep putting in the work, I'm feeling more and more confident about shooting it.

"Yeah, it wasn't my role for the Bulls, but now I've got a little more freedom to come off screens and shoot it or come down court and shoot it. That's something that if I want to have the privilege to keep doing it, I'm going to have to work on it."

We've got more video from Jose Calderon, Amir Johnson, Ed Davis below...

  #RTZ Ready For Big Night

Feb. 25, 2011, 6:28 PM

Ryan Aleong is a passionate Raptors fan that's going to be courtside for pregame shootaround on Sunday, have a shot of plenty of free swag and then kick it with Jerryd Bayless post-game.

It sounds like some sort of big contest win, but Aleong is just a guy who's combined his love for the Raptors with a growing interest in social media.

"I was never heavily involved using Twitter initially, until I saw a tweet by Raptors.com regarding a promotion this ‘group’ was running," said Aleong. "All I had to do was take a picture of my favourite/unique Raptors item and write a tweet about it. Simple and easy enough. I had nothing to lose, so why not?"

The result was an invite to a home game from #RTZ (or Raptors Tweet Zone for the non-character shortening inclined) -- an organic fan initiative that will celebrate its first social media night on Sunday when the Raptors host the Dallas Mavericks.

Spearheaded independently by Raptors fans in Natasha Alibhai and Joel Reilly, the grass roots initiative has made serious strides in just half a season and through some subsequent coordination with the Raptors, #RTZ now has the opportunity to offer fans a little something more for Sunday's night's tilt.

"We have a section in the lower bowl where the first 30 people who buy the tickets actually get to come courtside for a shootaround, which is a pretty big treat because you don't get to do that often at all," said Alibhai. "Everyone who comes gets a t-shirt, we have tons of other giveaways and post-game you're going to be at a player meet-and-greet.

"The whole thing, the fact that you're doing it with people you've probably spoken to on Twitter -- it's not just random people it's people who are a part of this movement -- that makes it even more special because it's like 'I've spoken to you now let's just go to this #RTZ night and we can meet for the first time.'"

#RTZ has had its own distinct section for select Raptors home games and uses the opportunity to offer a unique perspective on the game with their tweets, photos and video, which are also funneled directly into a live chat on Raptors.com. Those who can't be there in person can also be a part of the conversation simply by following the #RTZ hashtag on Twitter.

"Each game that I can catch on television that doesn't conflict with work, I will sit by and tweet my comments and thoughts," said Aleong. "While it has been trying at times this season, it's great to interact with other fans.

"Sometimes you agree, sometimes you disagree. At the end, it's all about sharing a passion for the Raptors and basketball."

According to Alibhai, that passion isn't just uniting fans, it's spreading.

"We've been able to bring out at least 60 different fans to home games this season and those fans have become friends now. It's crazy to see that from something like that, now we see them actually making plans and saying 'let's do something with #RTZ this week, do you want to go to the game?' So it feels like they feel like they're a part of a community."

With a presence on Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr, fans have choice in terms of how they can join the #RTZ movement and Sunday is just the start of bigger events they hope to coordinate with their followers.

"We hope to have more tweet ups, it's just going to be something we develop as it goes," said Alibhai. "We hope that it keeps growing, that's the plan. We hope this social media night is not the last one. We hope it's the first of many. That's the goal."

Aleong will be there Sunday and is doing his part to help that development.

"I will be attending #RTZNight! I have a few friends coming with me, so hopefully it'll be a fun experience that I can share with them."

  Game #59: Raptors vs. Suns

Feb. 25, 2011, 11:24 AM

Raptors (16-42)vs. Suns (28-27), Air Canada Centre, 7 PM, TSN, FAN590

The Raptors continue their four-game homestand against the Phoenix Suns, the first of three straight matchups against Western Conference teams.

The Big Story: Season Of The Slump-Buster

It's been 42 losses in a heck of a lot of interesting ways for the Raptors this season, but they’ve still managed to end some lengthy streaks that have haunted them of late.

- Their eight-game slide against Boston? Took care of that one early this season back on Nov. 21

- A 10-game losing skid in Dallas? No problem for the undermanned Raps in probably their best win of the season

- Eleven straight losses to the Cavs at the Q? Not exactly the most difficult task these days, but that one's done too

Enter the Suns tonight, against whom the Raptors have dropped 12 straight meetings for their longest active losing streak. Phoenix has also been playing some solid basketball of late with seven wins in their last ten games in an effort to make a late charge for the post-season. The enter tonight's game two back of Memphis for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

The Raptors do come into this one with some momentum however, after dropping the Bulls 118-113 in a thrilling shootout on Wednesday. If they can bring that same level of energy, get contributions throughout the lineup again and keep the focus on digging in defensively, they should have a shot.

What To Watch: Changing Of The Raptor-Killing Guard

Want to know why the Raptors have been getting killed in this matchup? I refer you to one of the game's most understated elder statesmen in Grant Hill on Thursday.

@realgranthill33: Getting ready to go to Toronto. I guess I'll have to answer how great @SteveNash is AGAIN :) #SMHTWEET

Come on Grant, we’ve got a right to be fascinated, largely because Nash has been great in his home and native land. Nash has posted career averages of 15.1 points per game and 10.2 assists per game against Toronto and last season boosted that to 21.5 ppg and 12.5 apg.

Oh and then there's that Vince Carter guy, who's given Raptors fans a night terror or two with some of his performances against his former team and makes his first appearance at ACC with Phoenix. If it feels like it's been a while between visits, it has. Carter's last appearance here was on November 22, 2009 when he was a member of the Orlando Magic -- making this the longest gap between visits since he was dealt from T.O., according to our excellent media relations staff.

But wait, there's more.

The Suns elected to shake things up a little before Thursday's trade deadline and acquired guard Aaron Brooks from the Rockets in exchange for Goran Dragic and a first-round pick. Brooks averaged 24 ppg, 5.5 apg and 4.0 rpg in two matchups against Toronto last season.

Lineup Updates

Forward Reggie Evans (fractured right foot) and centre Joey Dorsey (lower back spasms) will be re-evaluated after this morning's shootaround.

Watch our pregame coverage on NBA TV Canada, beginning at 6 PM, or follow @Raptors on twitter for updates.

  Game #58: Raptors vs. Bulls

Feb. 23, 2011, 8:50 AM

Raptors (15-42) @ Bulls (38-16), Air Canada Centre, 7 PM, Sporstsnet One, FAN590

Quick Hits For A Quick Turnaround

- The Raptors return home for a second game of a back-to-back they're probably thrilled to see after getting slapped around by the Bobcats last night. Unfortunately it's against the red-hot Chicago Bulls, who are expecting even more help tonight in the form of centre Joakim Noah.

Reports of Noah needing surgery on his right thumb surfaced while he was playing against the Raptors back on Dec. 15, but that didn't stop him from scoring 11 points and grabbing 11 boards in the Bulls' 110-93 drubbing of the Raps at ACC. Noah had the surgery a day later and just so happens to make his return in Toronto tonight.

- Newest Raptor James Johnson -- acquired from the Bulls for the Miami's 2011 first-round pick yesterday -- could face a bizarre scenario where he's in the lineup against his former club just a day removed from being on their roster. This is pending Johnson getting through all the necessary paperwork and physical stuff and he's likely not going to see major minutes, but a potentially odd situation.

- Just another point on some of the moral indignation we heard about this deal in yesterday's chat and on twitter yesterday. I say give it a rest and give it a chance. Seriously, there's no way you can possibly evaluate this minor deal on any tangible level yet because:

1) Johnson doesn't just have low mileage in the NBA, he's barely left the lot. On a rising playoff team like the Bulls, that's hardly an indictment

2) Johnson was the 16th pick in the 2009 draft and Johnson was identified the night prior as one of five probable targets by Bryan Colangelo. He confirmed it again in yesterday's press release. They clearly like this kid and he's going to get an opportunity to grow his game here in a deal that’s similar in philosophy to the Jerryd Bayless, Alexis Ajinca acquisitions

3) He fills a positional need where the Raptors are shorthanded (Kleiza) and currently boast a couple of expiring deals in Sonny Weems and Julian Wright

4) He'll be a third-year player under contract for next season at a low rate on his rookie scale deal

5) Nobody has any clue how an already seemingly weak draft is going to shape up in the months ahead. The Miami pick is currently slated to be around 29th

6) Clearly, there is (was) no major deal out there for the full remainder of the TPE. The market's saturated with them and the kind of player they’d likely have to take back (big undesirable veteran contract with major salary remaining) doesn't fit the direction this team appears to be heading.

Bryan Colangelo has whiffed on low-risk moves like this in the past, but it wouldn't be the first time he's plucked an underused guy named Johnson off the scrap heap and found a gem. Think Amir here in Toronto and Joe back in 2002.

- Even if James Johnson can't go tonight, any insider suggestions on how to beat his former club would be welcomed. Boasting outstanding defensive play under first-year head coach Tom Thibodeau and an excellent mix of youth (including possible MVP candidate Derrick Rose) and vets this season, the Bulls have steamrolled the Raptors in two meetings this season by an average margin of victory of 18.5 points.

They've gone 23-8 without Noah and outside of Miami and Boston, Chicago has to be considered the team that no Eastern Conference playoff seed in their right mind would want to face come the post-season.

- We mentioned it in last night's Game Rap, but \Weems turned in a solid performance the same day a new face is in the mix at his position. The game-high 19 points was good, but he made smart decisions with the basketball much more reminiscent of his early-season play. Let's see if it continues tonight.

- One issue that has to get cleaned up quickly is the turnovers we saw in Charlotte. Just a bad night where a string of early giveaways gave Charlotte easy buckets, momentum and had them in the driver's seat mid-way through the second quarter.

Bayless was unfortunately responsible for four of those giveaways in the game's first 15 minutes which fueled one of the more bizarre performances in his time here in Toronto. On top of those turnovers, he also finished 0-4 from the field, but still wound up with a double-double of 11 points (all from the FT line) and 10 assists. Hopefully, he can build on the positives from that line tonight.

As always, Akil Augustine and I have you covered tonight from ACC with our latest live chat, starting just before tipoff. Watch our pregame coverage on NBA TV Canada beginning at 6 PM tonight and follow @Raptors on Twitter for up-to-the-minute updates.

  Game #57: Raptors @ Bobcats

Feb. 22, 2011, 8:50 AM

Raptors (15-41) @ Bobcats (24-32), Time Warner Cable Arena, 7 PM, Sporstsnet One, FAN590

The Raptors resume play following the All-Star break with their third meeting of the season against the Charlotte Bobcats.

The Big Story: Eye On The Deadline

With the three ring (or two-and-a-half depending on your view) circus known as the Miami Heat long gone and fresh off the spectacle that was All-Star Weekend, the Raptors return to action tonight but it won't exactly be distraction-free.

The NBA's trade deadline is looming Thursday afternoon and while reports have indicated that the Raptors may not be all that active, the league's trade waters have thawed considerably with the three-team mega-deal featuring Carmelo Anthony to the Knicks now completed.

This of course, assures the Raptors of absolutely nothing, but any trade that sees 12 players in three cities on the move was undoubtedly holding up other potential deals and suitors so don't be surprised if the level of chatter picks up heading towards Thursday.

For the Raptors, the assets remain unchanged; a few expiring deals (Reggie Evans, Sonny Weems, Julian Wright, Joey Dorsey), veteran help (Jose Calderon, Leandro Barbosa) along with draft picks and the remaining trade exception from the Chris Bosh sign-and-trade.

The Raptors appear to be set on a direction for the remainder of a season that's all about player development (acquire young assets, maintain future financial flexibility) and don't need to make a move to stay that course. Time will tell however, if they can enhance that position by 3 PM Thursday.

What To Watch: Cat Power

The Bobcats come out of the break with more stability after removing the interim tag from head coach Paul Silas last Wednesday, but they're still struggling to achieve a real sense of consistency as they fight for a playoff berth in the Eastern Conference.

Silas has the Bobcats back above the .500 mark with a 15-13 record since beginning his latest tenure, but they've been 4-6 in their last 10 games. Muddying the waters even more during that stretch is the fact that there's been quality wins over teams like the Lakers, Celtics and Hawks during that stretch along with losses to the Nets and Pacers.

Despite sitting at 24-32 on the season however, the Bobcats remain right in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff picture -- they enter tonight's contest just one game behind the Pacers for the eighth spot.

Despite the loss to the Heat, four key Raptors would do incredibly well to try and duplicate their performances against the Heat. Andrea Bargnani (38 points, 15-26 FGM-A), DeMar DeRozan (24 points, 6-6 FTM-A), Amir Johnson (11 rebounds, five blocks, three assists and two steals) and Ed Davis (eight points, 13 rebounds) all helped the Raps give the Heat almost more than they can handle and bodes well for a stretch run that should be entirely focused on this team's future.

Lineup Updates

According to Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun, bruising forward Reggie Evans is ready for a return to the lineup following recovery from a right foot fracture, but you probably shouldn't expect to see him in a game until Friday against the Phoenix Suns at the earliest.

Evans won't be with the team tonight as his wife recently gave birth to their first son and while he is expected with the team tomorrow night against the Bulls, it's unlikely he'll get in without a full practice under his belt (i.e. Thursday). Stay tuned.

For the Bobcats, both centre DeSagana Diop (Ruptured Right Achilles Tendon) and forward Tyrus Thomas (Torn Meniscus, Left Knee) are out for tonight's game.

Last Time They Met

A strong start put the Raps ahead 53-47 at halftime, but Charlotte used an 11-4 run out of the break to regain their first lead since early first quarter.

After roughly a dozen lead changes, Charlotte finally seized control with 1:20 to play. Thomas drilled an 18-footer to break an 89-89 tie and after a Jerryd Bayless miss, Boris Diaw converted a pass in the lane from Matt Carroll to push the lead to four. The Raptors missed four shots and turned it over twice the rest of the way in an eventual 97-91 defeat.

  Game #56: Raptors vs. Heat

Feb. 16, 2011, 8:50 AM

Raptors (15-40) vs. Heat (39-15), Air Canada Centre – Toronto, 7 PM, TSN2, FAN590

Chris Bosh has been gone for seven months, but makes a return that's been seven seasons in the making when the Raptors host the Heat tonight.

The Big Story: Really?

Tonight isn't all about Bosh, it's just going to feel that way.

Combine a tough season in terms of wins/losses for the Raptors and a fan base that's allowed precious few departing players to return unscathed and the franchise's all-time leading scorer could be in for a rude reception tonight at ACC.

For at least one game, it's probably to going get loud, angry and continues a long-standing tradition of breaking up proving very hard to do for local fans. Bosh, of course, created quite a division among Raptors fans in the days leading up to and after his departure with several quotes, tweets and appearances that raised more than a few eyebrows.

"I don't regret anything because, at the end of the day, I've never said anything bad about the city or the organization, and I've never felt bad about it," Bosh told the Palm Beach Post on Tuesday. "Sometimes there's no good way to separate or move on, but you just have to put the past behind you."

But if the buzz in social media circles is any indication, some fans have their own opinion on how this all shook out and are coming to be heard tonight.

They're not going to be the only ones motivated, as LeBron James decided to use his post-game scrum following Tuesday's win over the Pacers to put the Raptors on notice.

"There was a lot of things said about him from the management side, the upstairs group in Toronto about him quitting and not playing through injuries and stuff like that," said James. "We're going to be there for our brother.

"I'm glad this is the last game of our trip before All-Star, because we have some motivation."

What To Watch: The Rest Of The Heat Roster

Bosh's return is the big story, but it's going to be fleeting -- a flash of white hot noise during intros and after his first few touches. The Raptors have to somehow muddle through some basketball as the fans get their verbal pound of flesh and Jay Triano stressed the need for focus on the task at hand in front of what's likely to be a sellout, raucous crowd.

"We know how good this team is and if they play very well it's a very, very tough team," said Triano after Tuesday's practice. "So your awareness has to be at a high level, you can't give up easy baskets, you've got to stick to what you've done and hopefully the momentum from the crowd inspires us and we play better than we have been."

It won't be easy against the Heat, who pulled away from the Pacers in the fourth quarter on Tuesday for a 110-103 road win -- their eight in their last nine games overall. Wade led the way with 41 points, as he James and Bosh combined for 90 of the Heats 110 in total.

For the Raptors to earn back-to-back wins for the first time since the start of December, they'll need to play more like in their first meeting of the season in Miami than the second -- but both games resulted in losses saw them getting carved up in different ways.

The first saw Toronto battle hard late in Bosh's first-ever game as a Raptors opponent back on November 13. But James and Wade went to work in the fourth quarter, with their fingerprints all over a 12-2 run that sealed the deal in a wire-to-wire 109-100 Heat win.

In meeting two on January 27, it was no Bosh and no Wade, but no problem for the Heat. When James wasn't taking it to the tin with regularity, he was kicking it out and shooters like James Jones and Mike Miller (22 second-quarter points alone) were making the Raptors pay.

The end result was a 120-103 defeat and a reminder that every Toronto player, to a man, has to step it up to get a sniff of victory against top teams.

"We just gotta focus in on everybody and lock in and play hard," said Amir Johnson on Tuesday. "It's going to take a team effort so we've really got to get after these guys."

Lineup Updates

For the Raptors, Reggie Evans continues to ramp up his work in practice, but isn't expected to make his return to the lineup until February 22 against the Bobcats at the earliest.

The Heat reportedly will be without Miller, who was elbowed in the eye against the Pacers on Tuesday and was taken to an Indianapolis hospital with symptoms associated with a concussion. Miller did not travel with the team to Toronto and instead returned to Miami.

  Game #54: Raptors vs. Spurs

Feb. 11, 2011, 10:53 AM

Raptors (14-39) vs. Trail Blazers (28-24), Air Canada Centre – Toronto, 7 PM, TSN, FAN590

The Big Story: In Search Of A Full 48

There were positives in Wednesday's loss to the Spurs, but they were tempered with some old habits stopping by for a late visit.

- The offence got back on track with the duo of Andrea Bargnani and DeMar DeRozan leading the way, but both were quiet in a fourth quarter that saw the Raptors score just 16 points (versus 30 for the Spurs).

- Tim Duncan and DeJuan Blair each had 12 points heading into the third quarter, but Blair exploded for 16 and eight in the final twelve minutes. That capped a night that saw the Raptors outscored in the paint 70-40.

- The Raptors committed a season-low eight turnovers, but some key giveaways late in the late-third/ early-fourth quarters sparked the Spurs to their big run.

- Leandro Barbosa was back and looked good in his second game back from injury with 20 points, but he accounted for all of the Raptors scoring off the bench.

The Spurs are the best road team in the league for a reason, but it was a tough lesson for the young Raptors in terms of learning to play a consistent 48 minutes to earn wins.

What To Watch: LA Story

LaMarcus Aldridge is going to warrant plenty of attention tonight. The Raptors allow 48.0 points in the paint per game -- a league high -- and Aldridge is coming into this one hot. Fresh off what many view as an All-Star snub, the big man dropped 42 points to set a new career high against the Bulls on Monday. That's after he hung 40 on the Spurs back on February 1.

Bargnani and Aldridge, selected one-two in the 2006 draft, have clearly both blossomed into outstanding offensive players, but this is not a matchup where Toronto's big man has thrived. In nine career meetings, Bargnani has averaged nine points and 3.6 rebounds -- his lowest totals in both categories against any other team.

One big plus for the Raptors? DeMar DeRozan has been scorching of late. He's averaged 21.0 ppg over his last three games and hit 29 of his last 44 shot attempts during that span for a shooting percentage of 65.9 per cent.

Lineup Updates

It appears the Raptors may dodge a major bullet in the form of some key Blazers personnel nearing returns.

Centre Marcus Camby (left knee) and guard Brandon Roy (left knee) have rejoined their team in practice, but reportedly are not expected to return to the lineup tonight.

For the Raptors, Amir Johnson is officially listed as day-to-day with a sprained right ankle suffered in Wednesday's game. Johnson had to leave the game briefly, but the tough-as-nails forward returned and logged nearly 37 minutes of work. Johnson has appeared in all 53 games for the Raptors this season.

Watch Raptors Game Day on NBA TV Canada at 6:30 PM or follow @Raptors on Twitter for updates leading up to tip-off from ACC.

Last Time They Met

The Raptors struggled to just under 37 per cent shooting from the floor in a 97-84 loss at the Rose Garden to close a back-to-back on November 6. Toronto fell into a huge hole early, used a solid run spanning the third and fourth quarters to get close, but didn't have enough in the tank as they ended their four-game Western Conference road trip winless.

Jarrett Jack scored 16 points to lead the Raptors, who saw four other players score in double figures. Roy scored a game-high 26 points, while Aldridge added 22 points and 10 rebounds for Portland.

  Game #53: Raptors vs. Spurs

Feb. 9, 2011, 10:53 AM

Raptors (14-38) vs. Spurs (43-8), Air Canada Centre – Toronto, 7 PM, TSN2, FAN590

Quick Hits For A Quick Turnaround

- In yesterday's preview, we repeated this team's "slim margin of error" mantra and the need for several Raptors to have things rolling on any given night for this team to have a chance. That simply didn't happen Tuesday as Toronto turned in a decent defensive effort, but one of their worst offensive performances of the season with 74 points -- just two shy of their season low.

Take away DeMar DeRozan's nine-for-13 shooting night and the Raptors shot 22-73 or 30 per cent on the night, which won't get it done.

- It was another night for the Bargnani/DeRozan duo to lead this team in scoring, but they're still searching for some kind of synergy on the floor. DeRozan got off to a blistering start in the first half, while Bargnani missed seven of 11 shots in the first two frames. In the third, it was the centre heating up, while DeRozan got up just one field goal attempt.

- Three-point shooting continues to be an issue for Toronto and that was magnified last night. The Raptors went 0-10 from beyond the arc and as long as they continue to struggle from long range, teams are likely going focus more on denying them inside. That was music to the ears of Bucks centre Andrew Bogut. The league leader in total blocks and blocks per game posted five swats and altered more than a few other Raptors shot attempts, which was a big factor in their offensive struggles. Roaming the paint tonight? Tim Duncan.

- The Spurs visit ACC tonight at the midway point of their nine-game annual rodeo road trip. The league's best team record-wise (43-8) just continues to chug along during the trip, opening with a loss in Portland but winning its last three against the Lakers, Kings and Pistons.

- The Spurs have gotten out to the league's fourth best start after 51 games in NBA history with offence, but their defence remains plenty potent. San Antonio shot 52.9 per cent from the floor in Tuesday's win in Detroit, but held the Pistons to just 89 points and 43.4 per cent shooting. In fact, all three opponents during their current three-game win streak have shot less than 44 per cent from the floor.

- It's a tough task for a Raptors team that's has to tip off less than 24 hours after visiting the Bucks, but they have had some recent success against the Spurs. It was roughly a year ago that the Raptors grinded out a 91-86 victory at ACC over San Antonio for their sixth straight home win. That gave both teams a season series split -- the third straight year that's happened.

The Raptors also played a pretty phenomenal first half in San Antonio on January 19, as they bolted out to an 11-point halftime lead thanks to 20 early points from DeRozan. But much like last night in Milwaukee, the Raptors hit a wall coming out of the locker room. DeJuan Blair ran roughshod in the third as the Raptors were outscored 33-16 in the frame and couldn't climb back in it.

You can get everything else you need on tonight's matchup with Raptors Game Day on NBA TV Canada at 6:30 PM, or get your updates by following the official Raptors Twitter account.

  Game #52: Raptors @ Bucks

Feb. 8, 2011, 11:19 AM

Raptors (14-37) vs. Bucks (19-30), Bradley Center – Milwaukee, 8 PM, TSN, FAN590

Craving A Carbon Copy

The Raptors try and ride the momentum of Friday's slump-busting win over the Wolves into the Cheese State, but how much of that performance to they still have bottled up?

Several of Toronto's players turned in outstanding performances and they'll need something similar against the Bucks tonight. Let's revisit some of those lines:

Jose Calderon: 19 assists (tying a career-high and franchise mark)
Andrea Bargnani: Game-high 30 points, six rebounds, three assists
Amir Johnson: 19 points, 12 rebounds, career-high six assists, three steals, two blocks, validated parking
DeMar DeRozan: 20 points (first 20+ point effort in five games), five rebounds
Sonny Weems: 16 points (8-14 FGM-A, three rebounds, three assists)
Trey Johnson: Career-high 10 points, three rebounds
Ed Davis: Eight rebounds

It's been said repeatedly this season that the Raptors' margin of error is minuscule, but on the flip side, these are the type of contributions from a group of six or seven players this team requires on a game-by-game basis to win consistently.

What To Watch: The Buck Stops Here

Toronto is going to need a much better defensive effort tonight against a Milwaukee team that's the lowest scoring unit in the NBA (91.3 ppg), but still managed to torch them for 116 points (with an overtime period) back on January 28 at ACC.

Milwaukee did damage in the post with Andrew Bogut (24 points) and on the perimeter with a hot-shooting Ersan Ilyasova (9-10 FGM-A for 25 points) but Toronto also had a major problem denying penetration to wing players like Corey Maggette (game-high 29 points) and former Raptor Carlos Delfino (15 points, six assists).

"Keep them in front, bottom line," head coach Jay Triano said Monday when asked how his team could play better wing defence against the Bucks. "We couldn't stop Delfino from getting to his right hand, which is his strength. We couldn't stop Maggette from getting to his right hand.

"We put a couple of schemes in practice today to see if we could do that, but for the most part those guys get to the right, they're bigger, stronger and they just kinda run us over. You add the fact that Bogut had a pretty darn good game against us and we were in tough."

Lineup Updates

Leandro Barbosa (strained hamstring) has traveled with the team to Milwaukee and will be officially listed as a game time decision. It was thought that Barbosa would be in the lineup against Minnesota, but no go, so anything's possible. The Blur however, sounded like he was ready to go after Monday's practice.

His presence would be welcomed as Jerryd Bayless (sprained right knee) did not make the trip.

Last Time They Met

The Raptors had waves of strong play back on Jan. 28, but with the Bucks' hot shooting and several errors in execution eventually took a toll in a 116-110 OT defeat for their 10 straight loss.

Andrew Bogut started the extra period with three straight buckets in the post, before the Raptors clawed back and tied it. Corey Maggette then hit a three-pointer that bounced around and dropped before Sonny Weems missed a three with 34 seconds to play. Milwaukee rebounded, the Raptors immediately fouled and the Bucks pulled away on free throws.

  Reggie Evans Nearing Return To Raptors

Feb. 7, 2011, 6:10 PM

Injured Raptors forward Reggie Evans is getting very close to being cleared for a return but a new arrival may keep him out of the lineup a little longer.

Evans, who revealed at Monday's practice that he's nearly overcome the right foot fracture that's sidelined him since late November, is expecting his first son on February 16 and regardless of his health, could miss some more time as a result.

But the veteran forward doesn't sound like he's anticipating a very long wait.

"He's kind of ready to come out of there so he's being real aggressive," said Evans of his latest addition to the family. "It's a boy so he's real aggressive right now. He's been giving my wife a lot of problems."

Dad, you may remember, started the season by rebounding the ball with plenty of aggression and was giving opposing teams a lot of problems by averaging 12.1 rebounds per game before going down against the Celtics on November 26. After going through some very physical one-on-one drills post-practice with assistant coach Eric Hughes, Evans said he's close to returning.

"I'm hoping that everything goes well this week. I'm like a week-to-week thing. So if everything goes well this week, hopefully the pain on the side and the swelling will go down a lot and I hope I can start practicing with the team at least by Monday."

From there, it's also a matter of getting back into game shape but Evans won't have far to go. The hard won wisdom from his left foot fracture last season motivated him to recommit to his physical conditioning in the offseason at the Andrews Institute for orthopaedics in Florida. A focus on diet and exercise allowed him to get significantly lighter and leaner and Evans has maintained that lifestyle in his latest rehabilitation process.

"I work out here and then I go home at night time and I may do a little cardio or a little bike," said Evans. "Then I go in the sauna and I'll be in there for like 30 minutes, you know, talking to the some of the old people there. I kinda doubled my work and watched how I eat and make sure I don't eat no junk to keep my weight down and come back ready."

Hear more from the always-quotable Evans at the top this page.

More from practice

- The Raptors departed for Milwaukee following practice and joining them will be Leandro Barbosa, who could make his return from a strained hamstring injury that sidelined the speedy guard for 12 games. He's officially listed as a game time decision. Barbosa's anticipating some rust whenever he returns, but seems eager to get back out there. Hear more from him below.

- You can also hear from Trey Johnson, who learned Monday that his stay with the Raptors was extended for at least another 10 days. Hear from Trey about sticking around, being named to the NBA D-League All-Star game, his appreciation for the Eaton Centre and more.

- Finally, we've got more from head coach Jay Triano, who said that Jerryd Bayless won't be making the trip due to his sprained knee and also previewed Tuesday's matchup with the Bucks, who are looking even more dangerous than when they earned a 116-110 OT win at ACC on Jan. 28.

  Game #51: Raptors vs. Timberwolves

Feb. 4, 2011, 9:43 AM

Raptors (13-37) vs. Timberwolves (11-37), Air Canada Centre – Toronto, 7 PM, TSN, FAN590

The Big Story: Return Of The Blur

It's a mixed bag of news on the injury front for the Raptors, but the best of it is that Leandro Barbosa is very likely to return to the lineup tonight.

Barbosa was playing his best stretch of basketball as a Raptor before being forced out with his hamstring strain on Jan. 14 against the Pistons. He scored a season-high 26 points in that close 104-101 defeat against the Hawks at ACC -- the loss that started the streak -- and that boosted his average over his last five full games to 19.8 ppg.

It's a major boost to a team that's averaged just 93.2 points per game during this losing skid.

But now the bad news, which begins with microfracture surgery for Linas Kleiza -- sidelining the forward for up to a year. Kleiza has had his struggles in year one of a multi-year deal with Toronto, but he remains one of the Raptors' lone threats from behind the arc with 17 per cent of the team's made threes. With teams seeming to crowd the paint more against the Raptors and challenging them to beat them from range, his presence as a floor spacer is going to be missed.

Finally, the status of Jerryd Bayless remains up in the air following a sprained right knee suffered against the Hawks on Wednesday. He's officially listed as day-to-day and in the event he can't go, Barbosa likely sees some backup point guard duty.

Tune into to Raptors Game Day on NBA TV Canada for updates, or follow the official Raptors Twitter account.

What To Watch: Will Love Tear Us Apart... Again?

Three reasons the Raptors need to be wary of Wolves forward and the league's top rebounder, Kevin Love tonight:

- It may not be for long, but for now, Love was passed on as a reserve for the 2011 All-Star Game Thursday. Tonight's his first shot at revenge or trying to convince David Stern to pick him to replace the injured Yao Ming. You've been forewarned.

- Love is also coming off a 10 and 10 performance in a blowout home defeat against the Grizzlies. Good enough for his 34th consecutive double-double, but a night where he was contained and bested by Zach Randolph's 23 and 13.

- Love burned the Raptors in Minnesota's 103-87 win less than a week ago. The forward was upset about a poor defensive performance from his last game (hmmm...) and turned in a fantastic all-around effort with 21 points and 12 rebounds.

  Davis Making Strides In Rookie Season

Feb. 3, 2011, 6:18 PM

In the midst of a 13-game losing streak that's seen the Raptors hit hard by injuries and struggling at both ends of the floor, it's obviously been tough times. But if you're looking for positives, start with one of the youngest guys on the roster .

Ed Davis has emerged as a fixture in the Raptors frontcourt and although the losses have been piling up, the rookie forward has carved out a niche and seen his numbers steadily rise. His formula has been a simple one.

"Just rebound and block shots," said Davis post-practice at ACC on Thursday. "That's going to be the easiest way for me to stay on the floor and earn more playing time."

For a team that's struggling in both of those categories, that's poetry.

Davis currently sits fifth among rookies in rebounding at 6.2 per game and at the rate he's going, seems to be a safe bet to climb even higher in that category by season's end. That sneaky left hand of his has also helped him swat 37 shots in 33 games with a per game average of 1.12 -- placing him second among rookies in both categories. That's ahead of players with a month's worth of NBA experience on him like DeMarcus Cousins, Greg Monroe, Blake Griffin and Derrick Favors.

On offence, Davis has gotten by largely on hustle. With an uncanny knack for grabbing offensive rebounds ("it's just instinct" he says) and great hands, Davis has thrived on opportunities close to the basket. His ability to create his own shot with his back to the basket or face up and hit jumpers with consistency remain relatively limited, but head coach Jay Triano sees a lot to like.

"I don't know if he's going to be a big scorer where we run the offence through him," said Triano. "But as a player out there who's going to be a threat to get offensive rebounds and finish in and around the basket? Those are valuable points for us ... Those are things that hurt the other team a lot."

Putting the hurt on other teams is a welcome change for North Carolina product. While most rookies get the benefit of a training camp and the preseason to get ready for the grind of an NBA season, Davis had neither after a knee injury suffered late into the offseason shelved him until early December.

Instead, it's been learning to swim by getting kicked in the deep end for Davis -- a process necessitated and accelerated by a foot fracture to leading rebounder Reggie Evans -- and to his credit, he's thrived.

The shortened season also means delaying or even avoiding running into the dreaded rookie wall, which tends to hammer those young legs right around this stretch run into February, March and April.

"I think I hit the rookie wall in training camp with the injury," deadpanned Davis. "I'm fine. I'm really taking good care of my body. It's getting treatment. Just eating right and sleeping right, so hopefully I won't hit it."

What his late start hasn't brought however, is the league-wide attention he likely deserves. Despite numbers that compare pretty favourably to fellow first-year big men that were picked higher than him in Monroe and Favors, Davis was not selected to play in this year's rookie-sophomore game this season at All-Star Weekend in Los Angeles. It's a situation similar to the one DeMar DeRozan experienced last year but head coach Jay Triano sees this case more as a matter of exposure.

"It's unfortunate he was hurt early and missed the West Coast trip," said Triano. "I think when you do that, you get a lot of coaches that never get to see you play and I think that if you look at Ed's last 10-15 games, he's really started to put up some impressive numbers. We like where he is and the fact that he'll get a weekend to rest if he doesn't get invited is probably beneficial for him as well."

Davis may want to keep that weekend open though. With Blake Griffin looking like a real possibility to play in All-Star Sunday's big game, that could open up a spot with the rookies and Davis is making it increasingly difficult to ignore him.

More from Triano, Amir Johnson and Andrea Bargnani below.

  Game #50: Raptors @ Hawks

Feb. 2, 2011, 9:20 AM

Raptors (13-36) @ Hawks (30-18), Philips Arena – Atlanta, 7 PM, Sportsnet, FAN590

Phil: Do you ever have déjà vu, Mrs. Lancaster?
Mrs. Lancaster: I don't think so, but I could check with the kitchen.

The Big Story: The Big Storm

When things look bleak as they have during the Raptors' current 12-game losing streak, you can always take comfort in the work of Bill Murray and Groundhog Day certainly seems appropriate today.

As the good people of Wiarton, Ontario, Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania and several other locations wait for a rodent to dictate the long-term forecast, the Raptors hope to poke their heads out of their Indianapolis hotel and be able to fly out to Atlanta for tonight's game against the Hawks.

As Eric Smith documented over at the FAN590.com, the major winter storm system cutting across the continent forced the team to deplane on Tuesday and hole up in Indiana for another night. The plan is to reevaluate pending weather conditions today, but Eric made the good point that conditions in Georgia aren't exactly all that great right now either.

We'll have any official updates as they happen here at Raptors.com, or follow the official Raptors twitter account.

What To Watch: Bargnani's Version

If the Raptors do manage to get down to the Highlight Factory tonight, they're going to need more from Andrea Bargnani and DeMar DeRozan if they want to avoid that Phil Connor, déjà vu feeling of another loss.

The Raptors managed scratch and claw their way back into Monday's 104-93 defeat after spotting the Pacers a 20-point lead, but it was another night where the team's top two scorers couldn't get going offensively.

Last Three Games

Andrea Bargnani 17-62 16-20 16.7 4 21.1
DeMar DeRozan  10-40 7-9 9 4 15.4

This team still has issues with defence and rebounding to correct, but offence and specifically Bargnani's, is central to this team's chances on a nigh-to-night basis. When Bargnani scores 18 points or more, the Raptors are hovering around .500 with a 12-14 record. Less than 18 points and they're 0-17.

Last Time They Met

In a bizarre flip of tonight's circumstances, it was the Hawks held overnight due to weather trying to get to Toronto, but they arrived on game day and pulled out a heartbreaking 104-101 win back on Jan. 12.

Jamal Crawford scored 36 points, Joe Johnson chipped in with 26, but veteran guard Mike Bibby was the difference. The veteran's dagger three-pointer with 8.9 seconds to play put the Hawks ahead by three, the Raptors couldn't respond and the start of this 12-game losing skid was born.

Lineup Updates

Linas Kleiza (knee), Leandro Barbosa (hamstring) and Reggie Evans (foot) did not travel with the team on their current three-game road trip.