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  Game #49: Raptors @ Pacers

Jan. 31, 2011, 11:20 AM

Raptors (13-35) @ Pacers (17-26), Conseco Fieldhouse – Indianapolis, 7 PM, Sportsnet, FAN590

The Raptors aim to get back on track and end their ugly losing streak in their second visit of the season to Indianapolis tonight.

What To Watch: Change For The Pacers

While the Raptors look towards the future, the Pacers also begin a new chapter tonight. Jim O'Brien was let go from his position as head coach of the Pacers on Sunday afternoon and will be replaced assistant coach Frank Vogel on an interim basis for the remainder of the season.

It should be very interesting to see how the Pacers responded to a new head coach with a familiar voice, which could lift a sizable weight off the shoulders of a team that's dropped seven of its last eight games.

At 17-27, the Pacers sit just two games back of the East's eighth spot and Vogel (along with team president Larry Bird) maintain the playoffs are the goal, but he realizes that it make take a shake up to get it done.

"You want to have a steady rotation, but if you're losing games, how do you stick with a steady rotation?" Vogel said on Sunday. "We're trying to find combinations that work, and you'll see that play out over the next few weeks."

The Big Story: Getting Back On Track

The last time the Raptors visited Indianapolis back on December 6th, the notion of post-season play didn't seem altogether that far fetched. Toronto had won eight of its first 20, wasn't far removed from a season-high four-game winning streak and was right in the mix among a pack of tightly-grouped Eastern Conference teams.

It's been all downhill from that point. Including a 24-point blowout loss to the Pacers that night, the Raptors have since gone 5-23 and hope to avoid a 12th straight defeat tonight – which would tie them for the fourth-longest losing skid in franchise history.

The possibility exists that there's going to be more change as the trade deadline and a big offseason approaches, but the focus on the floor for Jay Triano and his staff has to be on development of young players so the likes of DeRozan, Bayless, Bargnani, Davis and Johnson are prepared to lead this team into the next stage of its development.

Long-term gains are going to come from throwing those young players out there and supporting them as they play through mistakes at both ends of the floor and earn that hard-won experience.

That remains the focus tonight with three veterans not currently traveling with the team in their current road trip, but look for that to continue during this stretch of 34 remaining games.

Lineup Updates

None of Leandro Barbosa (strained right hamstring), Reggie Evans (fractured right foot) or Linas Kleiza (sore right knee) are with the team on this current trip.

The Pacers have listed Tyler Hansbrough (pneumonia) as day-to-day, while Brandon Rush (sprained right ankle) will not suit up.

Last Time They Met

Rush scored a game-high 26 points, Danny Granger added 21 points and five other Pacers scored in double figures as the Pacers torched the Raptors 124-100 at home back in early December. Indiana shot 55.3 per cent from the floor in the win, including a sizzling 13-of-26 from beyond the three-point arc.

Jose Calderon was one of five Raptors to score in double figures with a team-high 21 points on eight-of-12 shooting.

  Game #47: Raptors vs. Bucks

Jan. 28, 2011, 11:45 AM

Raptors (13-33) vs. Bucks (17-26), Air Canada Centre – Toronto, 7 PM, TSN2, FAN590

The Big Story: Improving The D To Get A W

The Raptors are trying to avoid a 10th straight loss, which would be their longest slide since March 26-April 12, 2006 and the fourth-longest losing streak in franchise history.

It's not going to happen if their defence and rebounding don't improve. The Sixers exposed them inside repeatedly in Wednesday's loss, shredding Toronto's zone defence and generating extra opportunities with a offensive rebounds.

Injuries have also been a factor during this slide, but as Jay Triano said at Thursday's practice (below) the Raptors had enough players to go five-on-five in practice and should have a pretty full complement of players tonight. Expect veterans Linas Kleiza (knee), Leandro Barbosa (hamstring) and Reggie Evans (foot) to be the only inactive Raptors tonight.

What To Watch: The Bucks Stop Here

The Bucks can relate to injury woes, with three of their own key players in Brandon Jennings (foot), Drew Gooden (plantar fasciitis and bruised heel) and John Salmons (sore hip) all currently out due to injuries.

It's been an issue all season and as a result, Milwaukee has struggled through the first half of the season with the league's lowest shooting percentage (42.3%) and scoring average (91.2 ppg).

But the Bucks are coming off an impressive 98-90 home win against the Hawks at home on Wednesday, with a former Raptor giving their lineup a big boost in the fourth quarter. Carlos Delfino scored nine of his 15 points in that final frame in his fourth game back after missing most of the first half due to a concussion.

Add in other weapons like Earl Boykins, Corey Maggette, Chris Douglas-Roberts and big man Andrew Bogut -- who averaged just over 20 ppg versus Toronto last season -- and the Bucks still have plenty of firepower. With the Raptors allowing 109.8 points per game over their last four, they can't take any opponent lightly.

Last Time They Met

How long has it been since a game against the Bucks? Jarrett Jack scored a then season-high 27 points and Chris Bosh added 17 points as the Raptors came back from a 15-point deficit to rally for a 101-96 win at ACC back on January 22, 2010.

The win was the Raptors' sixth in the last eight meetings between the two teams in Toronto.

  Game #46: Raptors vs. Sixers

Jan. 26, 2011, 11:09 AM

Raptors (13-32) vs. 76ers (19-25), Air Canada Centre – Toronto, 7 PM, TSN2, FAN590

The Raptors aim to end their season-high slide and build a 3-0 season series lead against the Philadelphia 76ers at Air Canada Centre tonight.

The Big Story: Two Different Directions In The Atlantic

After Monday's 100-98 defeat against the Grizzlies, the Raptors are now mired in an ugly eight-game losing streak -- the team's longest since they dropped 10 straight late into the 2005-06 season.

But if we're going to search for positive during this slide, look no further than Toronto's youth doing its best to step up. Andrea Bargnani (29 points) and DeMar DeRozan (25 points) once again combined for a big scoring night, Julian Wright was just shy of a double-double in his fourth start of the season, Jerryd Bayless just missed a triple double and Ed Davis had a career-high five blocks.

"I think we're seeing some positive things from our young players," said head coach Jay Triano after Tuesday's practice. "The best way for them to get better is to be on the floor against other NBA players. They're getting an opportunity to have extended minutes and show a little bit more of what they can do and we're also finding some of the things that they need to keep improving on."

The Sixers meanwhile, have strung together some consistency after a slow 5-13 start and sit atop the pileup of sub .500 teams pushing for the final two playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. Using their athleticism and some much-improved defence, the Sixers posted a winning record in December and are on pace for the same in January and have improved so much, head coach Doug Collins doesn't even want to discuss the post-season.

"We're not going to talk about the standings," Collins said following the Sixers' 105-95 win over the Suns on Monday. "We're going to talk about Toronto and we're not going to start whistling in the wind. We're going to just play and see what happens. Start getting into this playoff nonsense and stuff like that and you start getting distracted. Let's play Toronto and add 'em up at the end."

What To Watch: Big Matchup For Bargnani

Andrea Bargnani is coming off a 28 and 29-point efforts in his last two games and now gets to face a franchise against which he's thrived this season. Bargnani dropped 30 points against the Sixers in Philly back on Nov. 17 and followed up with 24 about a week later at ACC.

Those were both Raptors wins, but Philadelphia's been without Elton Brand for one matchup due to suspension and Andre Iguodala for the other with a Achilles' tendinitis. Both should be back in the Sixers' lineup tonight.

Lineup Updates

For the Raptors, it's likely to be another mystery until right before tip-off. Triano revealed at Tuesday's practice that none of Leandro Barbosa, Linas Kleiza, Sonny Weems, Reggie Evans, Jose Calderon, Andrea Bargnani or the newly-acquired Alex Ajinca were able to go five-on-five.

Tune in to Raptors Game Day on NBA TV Canada for official updates or follow the official Raptors Twitter account for up-to-the minute updates.

Last Time They Met

The Raptors exploded for 62 first-half points and even with some slippage in the second half (14-of-34 shooting), they never saw their advantage lead against the Sixers dwindle to single digits in a 106-90 home win.

Andrea Bargnani scored a game-high 24 points and Reggie Evans grabbed a career-high 22 rebounds as the Raptosr extended their season-high win streak to four games. The game also included solid debuts from Jerryd Bayless (13 points, 4-7 FGM-A) and Peja Stojakovic (seven points, six minutes).

  Ajinca In The Mix And We Are No Longer Going Streaking

Jan. 25, 2011, 6:15 PM

With the Raptors down several familiar faces on Tuesday, they added a new one to the fold in Alex Ajinca. The towering seven-footer from France arrived via a trade with the Mavs on Monday that included a future second-round pick originally owned by Toronto and cash in exchange for the rights to former Raps pick Georgios Printezis.

The big man still has some paperwork to complete and wasn't participating much at practice as the Raptors prepared for the Sixers at ACC on Wednesday -- meaning he fit right in with a Raptors team that saw none of Leandro Barbosa, Linas Kleiza, Joey Dorsey, Reggie Evans, Jose Calderon or Andrea Bargnani available to compete five-on-five.

Triano added that Ajinca may not see much floor time in games until he gets some practice time under his belt, but unlike his first two NBA stops, you can expect him to get more time in Toronto.

He arrives as a victim of a numbers game in Dallas, where the Mavs tabbed Peja Stojakovic to fill the team's void at small forward after Caron Butler went down with a season-ending knee injury. The Mavs already had three centres in the mix, making the 22-year-old with solid shooting range the odd man out for the Western Conference contender.

It may just turn out to be a very good move for him. Ajinca is clearly still a young work in progress, but he displayed that potential with consistent minutes in the NBA D-League (14.6 points, 7.5 rebounds, 3.1 blocks per contest in 22 games with Maine last season) and has been working in a good system for most of the year with the Mavericks.

"When you're young, you're kind of impatient," said Ajinca in his first Toronto post-media scrum. "So sometimes it's a tough time for you because you're like 'OK, I'm 22 years old, but I would like to play,' and sometime you don't have that opportunity.

"Right now, I have that opportunity here, so it's my turn to show up and show what I can do."

That chance to play through mistakes with regular minutes at the NBA level would be a first for Ajinca in his third NBA stop. Selected 20th overall in the 2008 NBA Draft by the Bobcats, he's is in the final year of his rookie deal, making these final 37 games a low-risk tryout.

"He's a player that's intrigued us for a while because of his length," said head coach Jay Triano of Ajinca. "He was in Charlotte, there were rumours he could have been traded or was going to be traded at one point. We've tried to pay a little bit more attention to him. (He) Changes the game inside because of his length and it's a chance for us to have a half a year to look at him to see if he fits into the plans. He's 22 years old and he's got a long body."

End Of An Era From Distance

It was the end of one of the lengthiest and possibly more polarizing streaks in franchise history last night, as the Raptors went 0-13 from behind the three-point arc to end their consecutive game run with at least one three-pointer at 986.

That distinction may not be long for the record books either as the Mavericks' streak remains intact at 981 games entering their matchup against the Clippers tonight. If you're someone who cared deeply for the streak, try not to think about Peja Stojakovic just starting to settle in with the Mavs about five games from now.

One person who clearly doesn't care for the streak now or last night was Triano.

"With about a minute to go in a close game, I thought 'You know what? We should probably figure out how to hit a three rather than try to win this game," said the head coach when asked for his thoughts on the end of the run.

Sarcasm aside, Triano confessed that he wasn't even aware it was in jeopardy until after that heartbreaking 100-98 loss to the Grizzlies.

"I found out after we walked off the floor. Somebody yelled at me that I should be fired because we didn't make a three... I mean honestly, I think the organization should be very proud of the streak that it had, but for us to go into a game thinking we should try to make a three and for us to have a depleted lineup with guys like Barbosa and Kleiza and Calderon not in uniform, I mean those are guys that are going to sometimes step up and make one for us. You know what? It's a record and that record has not helped us climb one spot in our race to try and get better as a team. So it's one less thing we can put in our media notes. So that's about the extent of that streak being broken."

More on Raptors-Sixers tomorrow morning, until then, watch more from Jay Triano, Jerryd Bayless and Julian Wright below.

  Game #45: Raptors vs. Grizzlies

Jan. 24, 2011, 11:28 AM

Raptors (13-31) vs. Grizzlies (21-23), Air Canada Centre – Toronto, 7 PM, TSN, FAN590

The Raptors return home and seek an end to a season-high seven game slide against the Grizzlies at ACC tonight.

The Big Story: In Need Of Some D

Wherever the location and whoever is available to go on any given night, there remains one necessary area for improvement for the Raptors and that's on the defensive end.

Following defeats by 40 and 17 points to the Magic and Heat respectively over the weekend, Toronto has fallen back to last in the league in defensive efficiency (points allowed per 100 possessions), the same spot where they resided following the 2009-10 campaign.

One bright spot was the fact that Toronto was holding opponents to under 50 per cent shooting from the field in a season-high seven consecutive games entering Saturday's game in Miami. But the shorthanded Heat were sizzling from outside and a healthy dose of LeBron James after halftime ended that run on Saturday.

With an offence that ranks in the league's top half, the Raps can definitely score. But as we’ve seen on this current road trip, it simply can't rely on points to get out of early holes like in Miami or to outlast opponents late like in San Antonio.

What To Watch: Bad News Bears

The Grizzlies pose a difficult matchup for Raptors on two fronts. The first is interior defence, as Memphis currently ranks first in the league in points in the paint at 49.1 per game, while Toronto sits last in point in the paint allowed at 48.1 per contest.

The Grizz had 56 points in the painted area in their road win over the Bucks on Saturday as centre Marc Gasol (24 points, 16 rebounds) had a monster night, while power forward Zach Randolph (16 points, 11 rebounds) posted his franchise-best 10th consecutive double-double. Two days earlier Memphis hammered the Rockets inside for a season-high 76 points in the paint.

The other key stat is turnovers, as Memphis forces teams to cough it up a little more than 16 times per game on average – also tops in the league. The Raptors sit 23rd overall with 14.7 giveaways per contest.

Last Time They Met

The Raptors got off to a great start against the Grizz at FedExForum back on Dec. 27 by opening up a 24-16 lead after one quarter. But 21 turnover in the final three quarters with poor shooting from the free throw line and from three-point range took its toll in an eventual 96-85 defeat.

Lineup Updates

All of Sonny Weems (back), Leandro Barbosa (hamstring) and Reggie Evans (foot) did not travel with the team on their road trip. Joey Dorsey (patella tendon) and Linas Kleiza (knee) also sat out of Saturday's game and we'll have updates on their status closer to game time. Watch Raptors Game Day on NBA TV Canada at 6:30 PM or follow the official Raptors Twitter account for further updates.

  On Peja, DeMar and Game #43...

Jan. 19, 2011, 10:10 AM

Raptors (13-29) vs. Magic (27-15), Amway Center – Orlando, 7 PM, TSN, FAN590

We'll get to Raptors-Magic in a second, but Thursday presented us with some other Raptors news to discuss.

First up is the buyout of Peja Stojakovic (we won't focus on any other move related to that deal), which was always identified as a possibility by GM Bryan Colangelo since the forward's acquisition with Jerryd Bayless on November 20.

Possibility became reality on Thursday and it speaks volumes about the direction this franchise wants to go. Namely, the keys go to the kids and taking on any kind of onerous long-term salary commitment doesn't appear to be on the menu.

The biggest question many are going to ask is why not a trade to get a big asset back in return? For the Raptors to deal Stojakovic, they'd need to take back a substantial amount of salary for the veteran sharpshooter. The Raptors undoubtedly explored that avenue and the potential return was clearly not to their liking.

So by taking on no (or potentially very little) salary, the Raptors maintain significant salary cap flexibility going forward. That appears to be priority one for this club, as it heads into a potentially changing NBA landscape with a new collective bargaining agreement on the horizon.

We'll have more on any further developments with this move as they become available in the coming days.

DeRozan To Dunk

So DeMar DeRozan will get another crack at the Sprite Slam Dunk Contest after Brandon Jennings of the Bucks was forced to pull out due to injury.

Don't expect DeRozan to be any mere fill-in either, as he's got a lot of things going for him heading into it.

- He's the only guard in the contest. Bigs have obviously won it in the past, but he's got an edge in terms of being "unique" this time around

- Jitters shouldn't be a factor as he's been there, done that last season in Dallas and fared pretty well

- The Compton native will practically be in his own backyard in LA and intends to amplify that factor with Angelino Amir Johnson reportedly serving as his assistant

All that being said, he's basically got to play Denzel trying to derail the unstoppable freight train of hype that is Blake Griffin. The Clippers' man child enters the contest on a wave that's eerily similar to Vince Carter back in 2000 and he'll also be getting a lot of hometown love at Staples Center on All-Star Saturday night.

Hopefully, Kenny Smith hasn't declared this contest over already and DeRozan's going to finish the job this time around with a lot of help from you of course. We'll have plenty more building up to All-Star Saturday night in the coming weeks.


The Raptors return to action tonight as they begin their second back-to-back of the season against the Magic and Heat tonight in Orlando.

Mired in a five-game losing streak, it's a daunting task for the Raptors against an Orlando team that's seeking an eighth consecutive home win. But the Raptors at least have some precedence working for them -- they limped into Orlando on a six-game slide back on November 12 and gutted out a 110-106 victory.

Orlando has changed their look significantly since then however, with Jason Richardson and Gilbert Arenas on board and Raptors fan favourite Hedo Turkoglu returning to the Magic Kingdom. The results have been largely positive with the Magic boosting their offence and going 11-5 (including a nine-game win streak) since those moves.

For the Raptors to walk out of Amway Center with another win, they'll need an encore performance from Demar DeRozan, who scored a then career-high 26 points and is currently coming off back-to-back 20+ point performances.

They'll also need more from Andrea Bargnani, who has struggled to 10-37 shooting his last two games and has seen his game drift further towards the perimeter.

We'll discuss it all in our latest live chat, starting just before tip-off in Orlando.

  Game #42: Raptors @ Spurs

Jan. 19, 2011, 10:10 AM

Raptors (13-28) vs. Spurs (35-6), AT&T Center – San Antonio, 7 PM, RSN1, FAN590

The banged-up Raptors start the second-half of the season with a tough test against the league’s best team in search of an end to their current four-game slide.

The Big Story: Tough Test In Texas

San Antonio has had an absolutely incredible start to the season, owning the league's best home mark at 22-2 and piling up the league's top overall record (35-6) at the official halfway point of the season.

The Raptors meanwhile, would like to have enough bodies to play five-on-five in a practice. With Leandro Barbosa, Sonny Weems, Reggie Evans and Peja Stojakovic already absent from the team Jerryd Bayless (ankle) and Linas Kleiza (knee)were also sidelined against the Hornets on Monday.

As per our radio friends Paul Jones and Eric Smith, Bayless was able to participate in Tuesday's practice on the road and Jose Calderon was limited to some light shooting, but Kleiza and Andrea Bargnani, who is coming off a rough four-for-17 afternoon from the floor in New Orleans, also sat out for undisclosed reasons.

We'll keep a close eye on the walking wounded heading into tonight's game, so be sure to follow the official Raptors Twitter account for updates. Watch Raptors Game Day on NBA TV Canada at 8 PM ET for any other up-to-the-minute info from AT&T Center.

What To Watch: New Look, Same Success

These Spurs have earned their franchise-best first-half record of 35-6 primarily with a balanced offence attack that has them fifth in the league at 104.8 ppg. That's up from their middle-of-the pack ranking of a year ago.

The big reason? Style of play. This one could turn into a track meet as the Spurs now thrive on pushing the tempo in the open floor and sit fifth in fast break points, while the Raptors remain tops in the league.

Both teams are also in the top seven in field goals made per game and top five in field goal percentage.

The major discrepancy however, is how these teams score the ball. The Spurs rely much more on the three-pointer (and clearly it's working) as they're among the league leaders in attempts, makes and percentage behind the arc.

The Raptors meanwhile, have become one of the more proficient teams at scoring in the paint -- ranking third in the league at 45.9 ppg. The Spurs sit 14th in that category at 41.6 ppg.

Last Time They Met

These two teams have played each other very close of late. Toronto has split the two-game season series with San Antonio in each of the last three years, with the Raptors last winning at AT&T Center back in December of 2007.

The last meeting between these two teams was on Jan. 3, 2010 at ACC, where the Raptors outlasted the Spurs in the game's dying seconds for a 91-86 victory.

  Game #39: Raptors vs. Pistons

Jan. 14, 2011, 10:31 AM

Raptors (13-25) vs. Pistons (12-26), Air Canada Centre – Toronto, 7 PM, TSN, FAN590

The Raptors finish off a homestand with a third meeting of the season against the Detroit Pistons before beginning a lengthy road trip.

The Big Story: Hot Shooting Raptors

The Raps have to try to put a tough loss to the Hawks in their rear view, but one thing they'll want to carry over is their continued hot shooting.

They shot 54.3% from the floor in Wednesday's loss -- their fourth game in a row where the Raptors have shot 50% or better. Our excellent media relations staff dug up these shooting stats, which you can read more about in our Game Notes.

  Shooting % NBA Rank
Last five games .532 1st
Last 10 games .493 2nd
Overall  .472 3rd

The results? Not entirely successful with a record of 2-2 over that stretch, with wins over the karmically challenged Cavaliers and the Kings. The losses have come against much tougher opponents in the Celtics and Hawks.

"We still need to get better at guarding," head coach Jay Triano said after Thursday's practice. "The zone saved us a little bit last night (Wednesday vs. Atlanta). We have to take a little bit more pride in our man-to-man defence. If we can do that and keep scoring the ball the way that we are, we're going to win a bunch more games."

What To Watch: Realigning The Pistons

Detroit head coach John Kuester made some significant lineup changes in his team's loss to the Grizzlies on Wednesday, inserting Tracy McGrady and Chris Wilcox into the starting five along with rookie big man Greg Monroe for the injured Ben Wallace.

That pushed Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva back to the bench and resulted in Rip Hamilton receiving a rare DNP-CD.

This isn't unlike Detroit's last visit to Toronto as Hamilton was very publicly coming to grips with being pulled from the starting five and proceeded to respond with a monster 35-point performance a few weeks back.

Considering McGrady (17 points, seven assists, seven rebounds) and Villanueva (18 points, four rebounds) also put up some big lines against their former team, it's going to be interesting to see how the Pistons head coach John Kuester approaches one.

Lineup Updates

Sundiata Gaines is now with the Raptors after being signed to a 10-day contract on Thursday and it appears as thought he may get some minutes as early as tonight. According to head coach Jay Triano, Jerryd Bayless injured an ankle at Thursday's practice and his availability for tonight's game is unknown.

As always, tune in to Raptors Game Day on NBA TV Canada at 6:30 PM or follow the official Raptors Twitter account leading up to tip-off for updates.

Last Time They Met

The Raptors saw their five-game winning streak against the Pistons snapped with a 115-93 defeat at ACC back on December 22. The damage was done in the second quarter, where costly turnovers resulted in the Raptors being outscored 38-21 in the frame and trailing by 18 points at halftime.

  Game #38: Raptors vs. Hawks

Jan. 12, 2011, 11:01 AM

Raptors (13-24) vs. Hawks (25-14), Air Canada Centre – Toronto, 7 PM, TSN2, FAN590

The Raptors aim for a second straight win at ACC tonight when the Atlanta Hawks make their second visit to Toronto this season.

The Big Story: Watching Them Like Hawks

The Hawks enter this one hot with four straight wins and eight W's in their last 10 overall to remain within shouting distance of their divisional rivals from Florida. They’re a group that's seen their core grow and improve together and their 108-93 home win against the Pacers on Saturday served a just a sample of what they can do.

Josh Smith: 27 points, 10 rebounds, six assists
Al Horford: 14 points, 10 rebounds, six assists, two steals, two blocks
Joe Johnson: 24 points, five rebounds, six assists
Mike Bibby: 15 points, four-of-six 3FGs
Jamal Crawford: 20 points, three-of-five 3FGs, four assists

The Raptors know all too well about getting beat at every position on the floor against this team (more on that below) and head coach Jay Triano admitted at Tuesday's practice that each Raptor has to be focused on individual containment defensively.

“When you don't do that, they [Hawks] force you into rotations and they've played together long enough that they know how to find each other once somebody attracts or demands a double team,” said Triano. “That makes it tough to guard that team."

It should also be noted that the Hawks were scheduled to play the Bucks at Philips Arena on Tuesday before closing a back-to-back here tonight. Severe winter weather conditions in the area forced a postponement and the Hawks were scheduled to fly to Toronto sometime today.

What To Watch: Inside Job

The Raptors offence hasn't exactly been all that anemic of late either as they're currently shooting .500 or better from the floor in three consecutive games (a first this season) and it's largely due to their ability to score inside.

Toronto scored a season-high 64 points in the paint in their 118-112 win over the Kings on Wednesday, the second time in three games they've topped 60 and third overall this season. To put that in perspective, last year's squad totaled three of those efforts for the entire campaign.

Also keep an eye on Andrea Bargnani tonight, who's coming off a strong 30-point effort against the Kings, but has typically struggled against the Hawks. In 16 career meetings, he's averaged 11.7 ppg -- his lowest scoring average against any Eastern Conference opponent.

You can get much more on tonight's matchup with pre-game coverage on NBA TV Canada, beginning at 6:30 p.m.

Lineup Updates

- After a month of being sidelined with back spasms, it appears that Sonny Weems is very possibly going to be available tonight. His presence adds to an already crowded group of wing players, but adds a solid boost off the bench for a team that may need it against the Hawks.

- Peja Stojakovic (knee) and Reggie Evans (foot) will be inactive for the Raptors

- For the Hawks, forward Marvin Williams (back) has missed five straight games and is listed as day-to-day.

Check the Raptors official Twitter account for lineup updates leading up to game time.

Last Time They Met

A disastrous third quarter sunk the Raptors at ACC on Nov. 28, as the Hawks outscored them 25-11 and had them down 77-57 heading into the fourth.

Toronto went three-for-17 from the floor in the third with only one assist and six trips to the free throw line in an eventual 96-78 loss. Josh Smith posted a triple double in the win for Atlanta, while three other Hawks scored at least 16 points. Andrea Bargnani (14 points) and DeMar DeRozan (13) paced the Raptors in their seventh loss to the Hawks in their last nine meetings.

  Weems Ready For Return

Jan. 11, 2011, 6:00 PM

After a lighter day of work that was more about recuperation than rest, the Raptors were back on the practice court Tuesday as they prepare for another visit from the Atlanta Hawks.

Most notable amongst the Raptors going full out on Tuesday was Sonny Weems, who has missed roughly a month due a back injury and barring any setbacks following practice he expects to go against the Hawks. Hear more from him below about feeling good about coming back, no sudden moves and working his way back into the rotation.

Weems began a stretch of 18 straight games as Toronto's starter back in mid-November, but don't expect head coach Jay Triano to disrupt his current starting five or a rotation of wing players that's recently seen all of DeMar DeRozan, Linas Kleiza, Leandro Barbosa and Julian Wright step their games up.

"He (Weems) and Julian will probably have to fight for what we need," said Triano. "Do we need something offensively or do we need something at the defensive end?"

The Raptors are probably going to need both on Wednesday against the Hawks, who hammered the Raptors on Nov. 28, have won eight of their last 10 and even have Mother Nature working in their favour right now. The Hawks were scheduled to host the Bucks tonight in Atlanta, but severe weather conditions in the area have forced a postponement, meaning no back-to-back. They’re expected to fly into Toronto on Wednesday morning.

Rested or not, the Hawks still present a very tough challenge as their size, skill and depth can beat you in any number of ways. We'll have much more on the matchup with tomorrow's preview, but you can hear more from head coach Jay Triano on the Hawks below, including some interesting comparisons on where the Hawks are versus where the Raptors could be heading.

Barbosa was up next and an interview that started with him discussing his return to more of a scoring role became a fascinating look at how he's been forced to adjust to his shooting motion with the lack of a wrist ligament.

Other Stuff

- A tip of the hat to everyone involved with the Raptors Red Party on Monday night. Fans who attended got great access to members of the organization and a lot of money was raised for the MLSE Team Up Foundation. Check out more from the evening courtesy of Mike Ulmer, complete with video and photos.

- Somewhat less of a celebration was held by DeRozan, Weems, Amir Johnson and Joey Dorsey at a local Best Buy, but it's no less awesome. I always miss this kind of stuff when I'm shopping for electronics.

- Don't forget about our rook Solomon Alabi with the Erie BayHawks of the NBA D-League! The centre is coming off a 20-point, 11-rebound performance against the Maine Red Claws and is back in action tonight against the Idaho Stampede at 8 PM ET. Watch it live online with NBA D-League Futurecast.

  Hoops On Tap In Canada This Week

Jan. 10, 2011, 11:00 AM

It’s another busy week of great games on tap for NBA fans in Canada. Here’s what you can expect to see in the next seven days.

Monday, Jan. 10: Houston @ Boston - 7:30 p.m., NBATV Canada/ Detroit @ Chicago - 8:00 p.m., Sportsnet One

The Celtics saw their four-game win streak halted in Chicago by the Bulls on Saturday, but could get a big boost with the addition of the Big Ticket. Kevin Garnett is reportedly close to returning to the lineup and could do so against the suddenly slumping Rockets, who have dropped five straight games.

Meanwhile, the Bulls are coming off a puzzling week that saw them win convincingly here in Toronto and at home against Boston, but drop a pair of road games to the struggling Nets and Sixers. They'll play their third game in four nights against the Pistons, who have dropped five of seven.

Tuesday, Jan. 11: Milwaukee @ Atlanta - 7:00 p.m., Sportsnet One/ Phoenix @ Denver - 9:00 p.m., Sportsnet One

It's been a tough recent stretch for the Bucks, who went 0-for-Florida last week with three losses to the Heat and Magic, but are coming off an easy road win over the Nets without the services of starting centre Andrew Bogut. The Hawks meanwhile, have been quietly soaring in the Southeast with four straight wins and victories in six of seven overall. From there it's over to Denver, where it's entirely possible the Nuggets will look substantially different than their current incarnation. Perhaps as a result of the building speculation concerning Carmelo Anthony, Denver has dropped three straight. They'll host a team that can certainly relate to major change in the Suns, who earned their first win of 2011 and snapped a three-game losing streak with a win at home against the Cavs.

Wednesday, Jan. 12: Atlanta @ Toronto - 7:00 p.m., TSN2/ Miami @ L.A. Clippers - 10:30 p.m., Sportsnet One

The Raptors continue their three-game homestand against the Hawks, an opponent that's dominated them of late with seven wins in the last nine meetings. One saving grace? The Raptors get two days to continue to heal from an avalanche of injuries, while the Hawks come in on the tail end of a back-to-back.

Wednesday's nightcap is a fascinating one with two of the league's more buzz-worth storylines going head to head. Blake Griffin's Clippers (12-24) may not occupy the same rarified air as the Heat (30-9), but you can bet that Chris Bosh is going to have his hands full with the seemingly runaway choice for Rookie Of The Year honours.

Thursday, Jan. 13: Orlando @ Oklahoma City - 8:00 p.m., TSN2

Orlando is hitting their stride since their blockbuster trade in December, with nine straight wins to keep the Heat in sight atop the Southeast Division. They'll face a daunting task at energetic Oklahoma City Arena, where the Thunder have piled up a 14-6 record that's helped put them atop the Northwest Division.

Friday, Jan. 14: Detroit @ Toronto - 7:00 p.m., TSN/ Portland @ Phoenix - 10:30 pm, NBATV Canada

The Raptors and Pistons continue their wild season series, that's already seen Toronto enjoy the biggest comeback in franchise history on the road followed by Detroit putting the wood to the locals at ACC back on Dec. 22.

Over on NBA TV Canada, the Blazers have been devastated by injuries this season, but continue to chug along with eight wins in their last 12 games to sit firmly entrenched in eight place.

Saturday, Jan. 15: Toronto @ Washington - 7:00 p.m., TSN

The Raptors' first trip to Washington was anything but kind as they were hammered 109-94. Of course, Washington has been absolutely dreadful on the road (0-18), but it's a different story at Verizon Center where they've gone 9-8 this season. This second game of a back-to-back also tips off a gruelling five-game road trip for the Raptors, who will also visit New Orleans, San Antonio, Orlando and Miami.

Sunday, Jan. 16: Denver @ San Antonio - 9:00 p.m., NBATV Canada

Theis week’s coverage ends in San Antonio, where you know what you're getting in the Spurs (31-6), who continue to boast the league's best record overall and the top record at home -- going 20-2 at AT&T Center. What the Nuggets may look like at week's end however, may be anyone's guess.

  Game #36: Raptors @ Celtics

Jan. 6, 2011, 11:05 AM

Raptors (12-23) @ Celtics (27-7), TD Banknorth Garden – Boston, 7:30 PM, TSN, FAN590

Armed with a little momentum from a dominating final three quarters in Cleveland, the Raptors (12-23) move on to Boston for a shot at a little revenge against the Celtics (27-7).

The Big Story: Duplicating Wednesday

So how do you bottle what got you an impressive win against the conference's worst team (in terms of wins) and apply it against one of its best?

The Raptors got off to a poor start defensively in that first quarter and allowed Cleveland to hang 38 points on them -- largely due to uncontested three-pointers. A similar sluggish start and an allergy to contesting from long range isn't going to get them very far with Ray Allen and Paul Pierce not needing an excuse to jack it up.

Wednesday's second quarter however, saw the Raptors tighten up the defence and the offence responded with a 40-point frame (including 14 that quarter from Andrea Bargnani) which snowballed into the second half.

Boston obviously presents a much more formidable challenge than Cleveland, but if the Raptors can play with the passion, pride and unselfishness they displayed for most of Wednesday, they should find themselves with at least a fighting chance to win consecutive games for the first time since December 3.

What To Watch: Celtics Scorching

Friday's matchup actually wraps up the regular season series between these two teams (their sixth meeting this year counting the preseason), with Boston holding a 2-1 edge thanks to a 79-93 win in Toronto last Sunday. That started their current three-game win streak which seems to have them back on track after a rough stretch that saw them lose three of four.

Allen and Pierce were both instrumental in Sunday’s win at ACC (a combined 53 points) and haven't missed a beat since. Allen is coming off a sizzling performance that saw him knock down 13 of his 16 field goal attempts for a game-high 31 points in a big battle against the Spurs, while Pierce knocked down an efficient seven of 10 shots for 18 points with seven boards.

Also stepping up? Try Glen Davis, who has been quietly putting together a very solid season off the bench for the Celtics and in those last three wins -- all starts with Kevin Garnett out -- he's been even better with 18.3 ppg.

Of course, these performances pale in comparison to the impact floor general Rajon Rondo can have on a game when he gets going. He came back against the Raps last Sunday after a seven-game absence due to a sprained left ankle with a relatively quiet game, but he certainly appears to have shaken off the rust. Two games later in a huge matchup against the Spurs he posted a triple double and flirted with a quad in a 12-point, 10-rebound, 22-assist, six-steal performance.

Lineup Updates

For the Raptors, the real question mark is at point guard. Despite a fantastic performance from Calderon on Wednesday, he's still trying to shake off a right ankle sprain, not to mention a sore right foot. Jerryd Bayless, who sat out against the Cavs, is similarly listed as questionable for tonight's tilt in Boston. Expect at least one of them to go tonight.

For the Celtics, Kevin Garnett will sit with a right leg muscle strain, joining Kendrick Perkins (right knee) and Delonte West (broken right wrist) on the sideline for the Celtics.

  Game #35: Raptors @ Cavaliers

Jan. 5, 2011, 11:59 AM

Raptors (11-23) @ Cavaliers (8-26), Quicken Loans Arena – Cleveland, 7 PM, Sportsnet, AM1150

Quick hits on an even quicker turnaround for the banged-up Raptors, who visit the Cavs in Cleveland less than 24 hours after tipping off against the Bulls.

- If you tuned in last night, you saw a clearly hobbled Jerryd Bayelss gutting it out for 31 minutes on a sprained ankle to finish with 11 points and eight points. He maintained (several times) that he's fine post-game, but it's tough to envision him trying to duplicate that performance. Keep an eye on the status of Jose Calderon (sprained right ankle, sore left foot) tonight. If he can't go, Jay Triano might have to get creative.

- In other roster news, the Raptors waived Ronald Dupree early this morning. Without reading too much into it, that makes sense given non-guaranteed contracts become guaranteed on Jan. 10, and you see many other teams make similar moves with end-of-bench players. It should also be noted that today is the first day teams are eligible to sign players to 10-day contracts.

- Two major issues for the Raptors Tuesday in Chicago were turnovers -- the Bulls scored 23 points off 19 T.O. giveaways -- and Chicago's potent bench. They can't give those points away against the Cavs, who average the third fewest turnovers per game (13.4). Cleveland also sits second in the league in bench scoring (37.6 ppg).

- The Raptors enjoyed one of their biggest wins of the season over the Cavaliers back on Oct. 29 with a 101-81 victory at ACC. Although both teams haven't been all that successful since that game, they'll look much different to one another a couple of months later.

The Cavs were without point guard Mo Williams (14.9 ppg, 7.2 apg, 3.0 rpg) and energetic big man Anderson Varejao (9.3 ppg, 9.8 rpg) that game. Williams has just returned from a hip flexor injury while Varejao is nearly ready to return after suffering a fractured cheekbone and could play with a mask tonight.

- The Cavs have also listed guard Daniel Gibson as a game-time decision with a thigh contusion, while former Raptor Joey Graham is out with a right quad strain.

- Antawn Jamison led the Cavs back in October with 13 points, but he's been much better than that of late. In December the forward’s scoring rose to 17.7 ppg and he's coming off his finest game of the season with 35 points and 10 rebounds in a loss to the Mavs at home.

- One major key to that first win was forward Linas Kleiza taking advantage of his matchup with Jamario Moon. Kleiza's likely back in the starting five tonight, but he'll likely draw another former Raptor in Anthony Parker, who's slid over to small forward recently with Manny Harris handling starting duties at the shooting guard.

- Think both of these teams don't have this one circled as a potential win? Cleveland has been in a freefall since the end of November with losses in 17 of their last 18 games and seven in a row. The Raptors haven't been much better with only three wins in their last 15.

As always, you can get the official word on any lineup updates with Raptors Game Day on NBA TV Canada beginning at 6:30 PM or follow the Raptors on Twitter.

We'll discuss it all in our latest live chat, starting just before tip-off at the Q.

  Game #34: Raptors @ Bulls

Jan. 4, 2011, 10:59 AM

Raptors (11-22) @ Bulls (22-10), United Center – Chicago, 8 PM, Sportsnet, FAN590

After a stretch that saw a banged-up group of Raptors try to weather the storm in the face of mounting injuries, they appear poised to get a little help to start their current three-game road trip.

The Big Story: A Little Help In The Windy City

Andrea Bargnani (calf) and Jerryd Bayless (ankle) have traveled with the team and according to Jay Triano (see last entry) both should see action tonight.

The Raptors can certainly use the scoring punch. In the last five games without Bargnani due to ankle/calf issues, Toronto's scoring average has dropped to 92.6 (down from 100.2 ppg on the season).

More good news comes in the form of Bayless, who went down with an ankle injury a week ago against the Mavs, saw just eight minutes against the Rockets and missed Sunday's game against the Celtics entirely.

Not a minute too soon as the embattled Jose Calderon is now nursing a sprained right ankle of his own to go with his sore left foot. He's questionable to go tonight, which could mean Bayless gets his sixth start of the season for the Raptors.

What To Watch: Big Challenge Up Front

The Bulls got 64 points and 37 rebounds from their starting frontcourt of Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah as they dominated the Raptors up front in a lopsided first meeting at ACC back on December 15.

Both team's will sport different looks tonight, as Bargnani returns and Noah has been out recovering from thumb surgery since that matchup in Toronto. But the Bulls are still dangerous up front with Kurt Thomas adding some veteran savvy to the Bulls' starting five and Taj Gibson still able to give some solid minutes off the bench.

Chicago's star guard Derrick Rose was battling a sprained right wrist and bruised right elbow and "struggled" to a line of six points, 11 assists, three rebounds and five turnovers against the Raptors back in December. Since then he's been on a tear, averaging 24.3 points, 9.1 assists and 5.8 rebounds over eight contests.

For the Raptors, Bargnani's return is going to change the dynamic of the team's offence, which has been relying on second-year swingman DeMar DeRozan to carry the load of late. DeRozan has responded to the tune of 24.5 ppg over his last four games, so keep an eye on his progress with the team's top scorer back in tow.

Lineup Updates

As mentioned, Bargnani and Bayless are with the team and should be good to go tonight. Calderon is questionable. Amir Johnson (back spasms) didn't practice in Toronto on Monday, but has traveled with the team and should play.

Peja Stojakovic (swollen left knee), Reggie Evans (right foot fracture) and Sonny Weems (back spasms) will not be with the Raptors for this three-game trip.

Watch Raptors Game Day beginning at 7:30 PM on NBA TV Canada and check the Raptors Official Twitter account for further updates before tip-off.

Last Time They Met

The undermanned Raptors faced a daunting challenge with four veteran contributors out against the banged-up, but still loaded Bulls and their response wasn't enough right from the opening tip.

With their youngest starting lineup ever on the floor, the Raptors were overmatched by the streaking Central Division leaders from the jump, as they fell behind early and saw that deficit balloon to 17 by halftime. They were down by as much as 29 in the third, which was cut down to 12 points late with the reserves in, but the end result was a tough 110-93 wire-to-wire loss.

  A Sight For Sore Eyes... And Feet, Calves, Backs...

Jan. 3, 2011, 10:21 AM

For the first time in what feels like a long time, the Raptors had a full roster together in their practice facility on Monday. But (and you just knew there would be one), it still won't be a full bus in Chicago. Here's the latest from practice.

- Andrea Bargnani participated fully at practice on Monday and will travel with the team to Chicago. Head coach Jay Triano said the team will monitor how the big man responds to the training session, but said he "fully expects him to play on all three games of this trip." Here's more from Il Mago:

- Also traveling is Jerryd Bayless, who sprained and then aggravated an ankle sprain in Dallas, only went eight minutes in Houston and sat out entirely against the Celtics at ACC on Sunday.

- The addition of Bayless offers a huge boost given another injury to Jose Calderon. Triano revealed that Calderon did not participate in practice, but because of a right ankle sprain suffered Sunday against Boston. It was a sore left foot that's kept him out of five games recently, but he will travel and was described as questionable for Tuesday's game.

- Amir Johnson continues to battle back spasms and didn't participate in practice, but will travel. He hasn't missed a game this season so don't rule him out. "He sometimes finds a way," said Triano. "He says it's tape. If tape helps his back like that, we'll keep taping his back."

- Sonny Weems (back spasms) revealed that he's feeling much better, but still hasn't received clearance to go five-on-five in practice yet. Until that happens, he's not going to get into games which means he won't be on the trip. Sonny brings up some interesting points about his own injury and the importance of core strength below:

- Both Peja Stojakovic (swollen knee) and Reggie Evans (foot fracture) won't travel, but both were getting in some work with the team on Monday. Evans, in particular, looks as though he’s made some progress as he rode a stationary bike for the majority of media availability.

- As a result of all those injuries, DeMar DeRozan has been asked to carry the team offensively and responded by averaging 24.5 point per game over his last four contests, including 27 points against the Celtics on Sunday. Hear more from him below as he fully understands what it takes to get to the foul line and what the return of Bargnani means for him.

  Game #33: Raptors vs. Celtics

Jan. 2, 2011, 10:21 AM

Raptors (11-21) vs. Celtics (24-7), Air Canada Centre – Toronto, 6 PM, TSN2, FAN590

The undermanned Raptors return to Air Canada Centre to face the equally banged-up Celtics on Sunday before heading out for another week on the road.

The Big Story: The Walking Wounded

Injuries to key personnel have become a familiar refrain for the Raptors recently and the Celtics can undoubtedly relate.

Boston will be without defensive anchor Kevin Garnett after the forward suffered a right calf strain on a dunk in the first quarter against the Pistons on Wednesday. Kendrick Perkins (knee) and Delonte West (wrist) will also definitely be out for the Celtics on Sunday.

Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo could also sit, as he's been out of the lineup with a sprained left ankle since December 15 and remains listed as day-to-day, but expect a decision closer to game time.

The Raptors meanwhile, will definitely be without Sonny Weems (back), Peja Stojakovic (knee) and Reggie Evans (foot). Andrea Bargnani (calf strain) will reportedly sit for a fourth straight game, while Jerryd Bayless has been listed as doubtful due to an ankle sprain suffered in that big win in Dallas last Tuesday.

Jose Calderon (foot), Amir Johnson (back) and Leandro Barbosa (knee) are all expected to go, but tune in to our pre-game coverage, beginning at 5 PM on NBA TV Canada or follow our official Twitter account for updates on game day.

What To Watch: The Compton Kid Continues To Roll

The bright spot from the Raptors' loss in Houston on Friday was DeMar DeRozan as the second-year high-flier ended 2010 in style. With so many options sidelined, DeRozan demonstrated an increased willingness to take over on offence -- particularly in the second half where he scored 29 points -- and get to the free throw line as he finished with a new career-high with 37 points. Take a look at DeRozan per quarter in Houston.

  1st quarter 2nd quarter 3rd quarter 4th quarter
Field Goals Made- Attempted 1-1 2-4 4-7 5-9
Free Throws Made- Attempted 2-2 0-0 5-6 6-6
Points 4 4 13 16
Minutes 1:06 10:21 12:00 9:51

On the downside, the Raptors were pounded inside on Friday in Houston and they'll need to be wary of repeating that Sunday as the Celtics' will have a similar size advantage up front. Without Garnett and Perkins the C's can still feature Glenn Davis, Shaquille O'Neal and former Raptor Jermaine O'Neal. Avoiding early foul trouble for Johnson, Joey Dorsey and rookie Ed Davis will be key.

You'll also note the odd start time on this one (6 PM), which isn't exactly unprecedented, but different than those 1 PM starts of recent seasons on Sundays. The Raptors might actually enjoy the shake up, as our PR staff reveals they've gone just 1-3 on the final day of the week so far this season.

It's been fairly stiff competition in those losses as they came against the Hawks, Knicks and Lakers -- a collective 62-38 on the season. The Raptors' one Sunday win? That thrilling 102-101 win over the Celtics back on November 21.

Happy New Year to everyone and we'll see you in tonight's live chat from ACC.