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  Big Weekend For Bayless

Apr. 1, 2011, 2:28M

As the clock winds down on the 2010-11 season, opportunity still exists for several young Raptors and Jerryd Bayless looks to be one of the bigger beneficiaries.

Last week, head coach Jay Triano hinted after a practice that he needed to get the guard more minutes. Necessity now dictates Bayless is going to get his shot, as Triano said Friday that Calderon won't travel with the team Chicago and is doubtful for Sunday's home game against the Magic.

Bayless hasn't really had a consistent role minutes-wise as a reserve in his first season as a Raptor, but he's delivered when given the reins as a starter.

As A Sub (56 gms, 17:18 mpg) 6.6 3.0 2.0 0.4 1.7-2.1 1.5
As A Starter (7 gms, 32:06 mpg) 14.4 7.4 4.0 0.9 3.1-4.1 2.7
Per 36 Minutes   14.2 6.7 4.3 0.9 3.6-4.5 3.2

Not surprisingly, Bayless is a big fan of getting into the flow of games early.

"You know you're going to play and you're going to play a lot freer," he said on Thursday. "It's just different. I've been happy here whether it's starting or coming off the bench but I think anybody's going to play a little bit better when they're starting."

I Roll With Amir

Akil Augustine put together this video (at right) on what looked like an amazing event held by Amir Johnson with the winners of his I Roll With Amir contest on Wednesday.

If you hadn't heard, the team MVP in terms of social media savvy rewarded 50 fans/followers on Facebook/Twitter with a pre-game get together, a ticket to Wednesday's game followed by a post-game meal with some of the Raptors at a local steakhouse.

Twitter follower and "golden ticket" winner Ryan Aleong also sent along a photo.

Talking Raps With Raonic

In cased you missed it, rising tennis star (and Thornhill, Ontario native) Milos Raonic was courtside for Wednesday's game against the Bucks. Check out his interview with TSN's Rod Black at the game talking about his wildly successful year and his longtime support for the Raptors.

  Game #74: Raptors vs. Bucks

Mar. 30, 2011, 11:00 AM

Raptors (20-53) @ Bucks (29-44), Air Canada Centre, 7:00 PM, TSN2, FAN590

The Big Story: Spoiler Alert

We've heard from the Raptors this week about playing for pride and playing for the fans, but how does "misery loves company" sound as an angle?

Yes, good old chaos is as good a reason as any to get the juices flowing for these Raptors this week, with an opportunity to throw a wrench or two into the Eastern Conference playoff picture they won't be a part of this season.

Milwaukee begins things tonight and although they're the only group out of three this week desperately fighting for their playoff lives, they remain undefeated against the Raptors this season.

The Bucks enter tonight's game three back of the Indiana Pacers, who they happen to face on Friday. They've got just nine games remaining so a win tonight is more than a little important if they intend on making that game meaningful.

Toronto then tries for a season series split against the Eastern Conference-leading Bulls. After getting knocked around in the first two meetings, the Raptors earned a solid 118-113 win in the return of Joakim Noah and the Toronto debut of James Johnson.

Since then Chicago's gone 15-3 to overtake top spot in the Eastern Conference, with the Celtics and Heat just a couple of games behind. The Raptors can serve as a pretty big stumbling block to the front runners with another win in the Windy City.

The Magic rounds out the week and while they're looking fairly locked in to the East's fourth seed, Sunday's game might be near make or break if they plans on moving any higher.

Chances to play spoiler still present themselves against the Knicks, Sixers and very possibly on the final night of the season against the Heat.

What to watch: Give It Away Now

These are two teams that play pretty contrasting styles, but both

share an uncanny ability to give away fourth quarter leads.

For a young Raptors team that lacks experience and talent, it's been an issue all season -- most recently on the road in losses to the Clippers and Suns but also in defeats at home against the Jazz, Blazers and Grizzlies, in London to the Nets ... you get the idea.

The Bucks' issues have been much more recent, as they've blown leads in each of their last four losses.

Milwaukee has struggled to score during those losses, but it hasn't been an issue in two wins against the Raptors, with 26 points in the fourth quarter in the last meeting on Feb. 8 and a season-high 116 points total in Toronto on Jan. 28.

The big issue according to head coach Jay Triano after Tuesday's practice, is matchups.

"You look at their stats and they are one of the lower scoring teams in the NBA, but (Andrew) Bogut seems to give us problems. (Brandon)Jennings' speed seems to give us problems. (Carlos) Delfino's strength on the wing. When (Corey) Maggette was playing for them, his strength at the wing. It proves to be a favourable thing for them."

Last Time The Met

It wasn't a night for offence as the Raptors slogged through a 38-point first half, but defended well enough to find themselves down by just two at the break. Milwaukee began to widen its lead in the third quarter and used a 14-0 run in the fourth to put things out of reach in a 92-74 Raptors loss.

Lineup Updates

For the Raptors, Reggie Evans (sore right foot) and Andrea Bargnani (bone spurs, right ankle) are both officially listed as day-to-day.

Milwaukee is about as healthy as they've been in a while following the returns of Micaheal Redd and Drew Gooden. Their only key injury is Ersan Ilyasova (concussion), who remains sidelined for the Bucks.

Watch Raptors Game Day at 6:30 PM on NBA TV Canada or follow the Raptors on Twitter for updates.

  Raptors Back On EDT...

Mar. 28, 2011, 5:48 PM

It was back to practice on Eastern Daylight Time for the Raptors, fresh off the heels of 1-4 road trip that's kind of summed up their season.

One surprising win over a solid team, two blowout losses and two good efforts before inexperience or execution cost them in the fourth quarter. Extrapolate that over the course of a season, sprinkle in some wins over some fellow lottery teams and you get 20-53.

The next five days, with just one home game against the Bucks on Wednesday, offers the Raptors a chance to regroup and heal before a grueling stretch of eight games in 12 days to end the season.

Because of that late-season scheduling, head coach Jay Triano called Monday's practice possibly one of their last real ones of the season.

"We looked at today as maybe one of the only days that we could practice," said Triano. "Obviously we will practice tomorrow, but it's how hard to you want to go when you've got guys banged up the day before a game. We count today's practice where you go five-on-five live and you do game situation stuff as a legit practice, so this might be one of the last ones."

- Speaking of banged-up players, don't expect the Raptors to hit the finish line all that short-handed. In a period where team frequently begin shutting down some injured players for the remainder of the season, Triano said the Raptors don't intend to go that route. Look no further than Reggie Evans, who sat out of the final two games of the road trip with soreness in the foot he fractured earlier this season, but reportedly went full out at practice on Monday.

"I think we owe it to our fans to continue to play the guys that are healthy. If a guy can't play and he's not 100 per cent, we're going to treat it the same way we did in mid-January. But we've got to play guys and that's part of our development as well. It's a part of their development. Learning how to play when you're nicked up a little bit ... but if it's something that's going to jeopardize somebody's career, then we'd shut him down."

- A clear focal point for the Raptors in that full practice? Beating zone defences, as the Raptors inability to do so against the Suns and Clippers cost them victories last week.

"Phoenix goes zone and comes back and beats us and the same thing happened in our last game against the Clippers," said Triano. "We were up 10 and then they went to the zone. It's moving the basketball side-to-side, not trying to break it down on your own and getting the ball inside, attacking inside first -- we addressed all those things today."

- One thing that wasn't discussed in any additional detail on Monday was Julian Wright and his refusal to enter Friday night's game in Oakland during the fourth quarter of an extremely well-established blowout against the Warriors. Triano was first asked about the incident post-game Friday.

As reported by Eric Smith on Saturday, Wright apologized to his teammates and the coaching staff for the incident, as Wright said “the best way to put it is this was not characteristic of me.”

Today, we heard more from management on the issue. Radio play-by-play man Paul Jones was on The FAN590 this morning to discuss it with host Jeff Blair before Raptors president and GM Bryan Colangelo called in to set the record straight.

You can listen to the interview in its entirety over at theFAN590.com.

- More from Andrea Bargnani, who did not participate fully in Monday's practice below, along with James Johnson and Ed Davis giving you two interviews for the price of one.

  Game #72: Raptors @ Warriors

Mar. 23, 2011, 11:10 AM

Raptors (20-51) @ Warriors (30-42), ORACLE Arena, 10:30 PM, Sportsnet One, FAN590

The Big Story: Banged Up By The Bay

According to reports, the Raptors were short a few bodies short as they practised in San Francisco for tonight's game against the Warriors.

Reggie Evans has been outstanding in his return from a second straight foot fracture, but sat yesterday due to soreness in the same area and Raptors radio play-by-play man Paul Jones tweeted:

"Head coach Jay Triano said that they'll take a closer look at Reggie. He doesn't seem to have the same bounce as he did when he 1st returned."

Evans was joined on the sidelines by Amir Johnson (sore ankle) and Joey Dorsey (flu-like symptoms), which begs the question; how quick should guys rush back with a handful of games remaining in a season where you've been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs?

Something to keep an eye on as the Raptors head towards the finish line, beginning tonight in Oakland against the Warriors. Check Raptors Game Day at 10 PM on NBA TV Canada for updates or follow the Raptors on Twitter.

What To Watch: Points... And Lots Of Them

The Raptors (105 ppg in the last 11 meetings) and Warriors (113 ppg over same stretch) traditionally pile up the points when they square off and expect that to continue tonight.

2010-11 Season  Raptors rank  (average) Warriors rank (average)
Fast Break Points Per Game                            1 (18.7) 2 (18.6)
Field Goal Attempts                                     9 (82.9)    2 (85.4)
Field Goal Attempts                                           4 (38.6)   1 (39.4)
Points Per Game                                             16 (99.4)    7 (102.7)

Both teams also own a defensive rating near the bottom of the league so expect the offence to continue relatively unimpeded tonight.

The Warriors have lost six straight coming into tonight's game, but they have been very successful recently in this series. The Raptors have dropped six straight meetings in the Bay Area and four straight meetings overall.

In the last meeting on November 8th, it was the backcourt duo of Stephen Curry (34 points, five rebounds, four assists, three steals) and Monta Ellis (28 points, three rebounds, three assists, three steals) doing major damage down the stretch at ACC in a 109-102 Raptors loss.

That game also saw a quiet night from swingman Dorell Wright, the league leader in 3-point makes per game and total makes from long range. Wright comes into this one hot after a huge night in Houston, where he posted 34 points, five rebounds, six assists, and three steals in a loss.

For a team that's been torched by Ty Lawson, Aaron Brooks and a barrage of triples in their last two games, the Raptors need to be wary of that trio on the perimeter.

  E. Smith Gives Back To Japan...

Mar. 23, 2011, 2:04 PM

First up is E. Smith's first foray into fashion for a great cause. Eric's designed the stylish Hope For Japan t-shirt (pictured to your right) in an effort to generate additional funds to aid Japan after the devastation of the earthquake and tsunami. From Eric's news release on the initiative:

“As a basketball broadcaster, my hope is that hoops’ fans across Canada and around the world will purchase this t-shirt and join me in watching the sun rise again and shine brightly on a rejuvenated and prosperous Japan."

A great gesture from Eric that you can support by purchasing your shirt for $20 at http://www.entripy.com/japan/

For any additional questions on the initiative, you can reach Eric directly on twitter.

Moving on, TSN's James Cybulski put together a moving piece on the friendship between Canadian icon Terry Fox and Raptors head coach Jay Triano that you can watch online here.

On a lighter note, The Rick Mercer Report was interested in the overnight arena conversion process at ACC and aired this piece on the process.

  Game #71: Raptors @ Suns

Mar. 23, 2011, 11:10 AM

Raptors (20-50) @ Suns (35-34), US Airways Center, 10:00 PM, TSN, FAN590

The Big Story: Consistency

After vacillating wildly from underrated giant slayers to trampled at altitude the following night, you'd be lying if you said you knew which Raptors team was going to show up tonight in Phoenix.

The Raptors bent in the fourth quarter, but used a near full-game effort and solid defence to pull out an impressive win against the Thunder on Sunday. The next night? Absolute road kill just minutes after tip off in Denver.

Leaving nothing to chance, head coach Jay Triano decided to mimic the approach to Sunday's win in OKC by giving the Raptors an optional day off in Arizona in the hopes that fresher legs are going to prevail.

"I think sometimes just to get away [helps]," said Triano following Monday's loss in Denver. "Some guys need to shoot and we'll definitely do that. Some guys need to get treatment, some guys are pretty banged up right now. They'll do that, we'll be ready to play."

What To Watch: One Nashty Losing Streak

The Raptors finally managed to beat the Celtics this season, knocked off the Mavs in Dallas, ended their losing streak in Cleveland and got their first-ever 'W' in OKC, but the Suns remain the Raptors' most unsolvable opponent.

It's been 13 straight defeats at the hands of Steve Nash and co., with more of those losses coming at ACC (seven), thanks to a 110-92 loss to open the season series in Toronto on Feb. 25.

There was still a Lord Of The Rings movie playing on the big screen when the Raptors last defeated the Suns in February of 2004. Outkast was actually still making music together on that date. You're only about 15 minutes into The Social Network at this point in history.

In that last Raptors win over the Suns, Vince Carter scored 29 points to lead the Raptors and Donyell Marshall grabbed 11 rebounds. Let that soak in.

So how has this happened? Suns management has changed (obviously), coaches and players like Amar'e Stoudemire and Jason Richardson have moved on as well. But the one constant with the Suns during this painful period has been Nash.

He was actually a member of the Mavs when the Raptors got that last win, but since then he's been one cold-blooded Canuck against the Raptors, with averages of 15.1 ppg and 13 assists in 12 games during this streak.

Dec. 26 2004 18 pts 13 asts @PHX
Jan. 30 2005 19 pts 12 asts @TOR
Nov. 22 2005 23 pts 9 asts @PHX
Mar. 31 2006 20 pts 10 asts @TOR
Dec. 19 2006 10 pts 15 asts @PHX
Jan. 3 2007 15 pts 9 asts @TOR
Dec. 5 2007 10 pts 18 asts @TOR
Dec. 22 2007 7 pts 16 asts @PHX
Jan. 18 2009 9 pts 18 asts @TOR
Feb. 27 2009 DID NOT PLAY @PHX
Nov. 15 2009 23 pts 9 asts @PHX
Nov. 29 2009 20 pts 16 asts @TOR
Feb. 25 2010 7 pts 11 asts @TOR

But if there's ever going to be an "best" opportunity to end the futility against Phoenix, tonight may be the night. As the Raptors rested in Arizona last night, Los Suns were at Staples Center playing in a triple-OT classic against the Lakers, falling in a heartbreaker, 139-137.

Lineup Updates

Amir Johnson left Monday's game at halftime after experiencing what he felt described as "something pop in my Achilles." X-Rays were negative however, there's been no update on Johnson's status for tonight.

Tune in to Raptors Game Day on NBA TV Canada at 9:30 PM ET or follow the Raptors on Twitter for updates before tip-off.

Last Time The Met

Monday's loss in Denver felt an awful lot like the Suns visit to ACC back on Feb. 25th. The precision passing of Nash and some vintage VC fueled a huge first quarter that saw the Raptors trail 35-14 after 12 minutes. Things snowballed from there in an eventual 110-92 blowout loss -- the team's 13th straight against the Suns.

  Game #70: Raptors @ Nuggets

Mar. 21, 2011, 1:33 PM

Raptors (20-49) @ Nuggets (41-29), Pepsi Center, 9:00 PM, TSN, FAN590

Quick Hits For A Quick Turnaround

- I don't want to overstate the importance of last night's win, but it's getting my vote for best of the season so far for the Raptors in 2010-11 (insert sample size joke here).

The win in Dallas may be the best comparison, but that was an undermanned Raptors squad against a Mavs team without its best player in Dirk Nowitzki. Sunday featured the Thunder coming in hot and at full strength, including Kevin Durant -- who was injured for the first meeting of the season back in Toronto on December 3rd.

- Great win, but why did the Raptors give away a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter? Look no further than free throw attempts, where the home side held a 19-2 advantage in that category in the final frame. The Thunder made 15 at the stripe in the fourth, while the Raptors missed both of their attempts.

- Speaking of Durant, Jay Triano said pregame that making him work for his points was going to be key and while the league's leading scorer saw several different defensive looks on his way to 20 points on 21 shot attempts, it was primarily James Johnson stepping up and defending Durant.

His performance drew raves from Triano post-game and Johnson said that he was up for the challenge, largely because it's one he hasn't had the opportunity to experience all that often yet as a pro. Watch him below:

- More on JJ. There's been a lot of chatter about just what Reggie Evans has brought to this team in terms of attitude since his return, but Johnson deserves plenty of credit for the snarl he brought early on yesterday.

He's been talking more and more with his teammates on the floor as his comfort level has increased, but on Sunday he had the trash talk going with Durant early and that attitude seemed to be infectious. There's a fine line with chirping that separates inspiration from distraction and Johnson walked it pretty well last night, to these eyes.

- Has Ed Davis grazed the rookie wall? The return of Evans has brought a reduction of minutes, but the rookie's been quiet with 12 total points, zero blocks and a rebounding total that's decreased by one a game from six boards to three over his last four games.

Davis logged just 11:54 on Sunday, his lowest minutes total since December 8th, but you'd have to think he's out there a little more tonight on the tail end of a back-to-back.

- A couple of factors possibly driving the Raptors on Sunday: avoiding setting a new franchise mark for futility on the road (a loss last night would have given them a 15th straight loss to set the new mark), avoiding a 50th loss overall on the season and, believe it or not, avoiding mathematical elimination from the post-season in the comedy of errors that is the race for eighth in the Eastern Conference.

- So now it's on to Denver, where you've got to wonder just what the Raptors did to offend the NBA's schedule makers way back last summer. The Raptors are 0-6 in their last six trips to Denver and according to Jack Armstrong on the latest Life On The Second Bus, things get even more awesome for the Raptors at altitude tonight. The Raptors are 0-5 all-time in Denver when playing on a back-to-back, while the Nuggets are 9-0 this season when hosting a team for the second game on consecutive nights.

- The Nuggets have been resting since Saturday, but are coming off close back-to-back losses in Florida to close a four-game road trip 2-2. That's been their only real blip of late, as they've still gone 7-3 in their last ten games, 9-4 since the blockbuster trade of Carmelo Anthony and boast the second-best home record in the Western Conference at 27-7.

- One disadvantage for Denver? Injury concerns as guard Arron Afflalo (left hamstring sprain) and Raymond Felton (left ankle sprain) are both officially listed as day-to-day. Reserve forward Al Harrington has also missed the last two games with an achilles injury.

  Game #69: Raptors @ Thunder

Mar. 20, 2011, 9:31 AM

Raptors (19-49) @ Thunder (45-23), Oklahoma City Arena, 7:00 PM, TSN, FAN590

The Big Story: On The Road Again

There was a lot of talk from the Raptors post-game on Friday about just how necessary the win over the Wizards truly was in advance of this current five-game road trip, which kicks off tonight in The Sooner State.

As mentioned by Matt Devlin and Jack Armstrong on the latest Life On The Second Bus, this trip ain't for the faint of heart just in terms of travel factors. Five games in seven days (including two back-to-backs) isn't easy for any team, but factor in that they're all on the road and scattered across three different time zones and it gets significantly trickier.

And have we mentioned the competition yet?

Things get going tonight against the Thunder, against whom the Raptors earned a major 111-99 home win back on December 3rd, but they've dropped four straight on the road against the organization (two in OKC and two in Seattle as the Sonics).

That's going to be a common theme for the Raptors, as the Toronto Star's Doug Smith points out that they've dropped a combined 22 straight on the road against the first four opponents on this trip, including six straight losses in each of Denver, Phoenix and Oakland.

What To Watch: KD Is OK For OKC

That Raptors win back in December was impressive, but also came against a Thunder team playing without leading scorer and potential MVP candidate Kevin Durant.

The wiry forward suffered a left shoulder bruise late in OKC's 99-82 win over the Bobcats on Friday and left the game for precautionary reasons. Durant has declared himself fine however, practiced with the Thunder on Saturday and has been medically cleared to go for tonight's game.

With or without the man known as KD, the Thunder have been rolling and are currently the league's hottest team's with wins in six straight and nine of 10 overall.

For the Raptors to have a chance tonight, they'd certainly benefit from another two-pronged attack from their leading offensive options in Andrea Bargnani and DeMar DeRozan, who hit for 33 points and 30 points respectively against the Wizards on Friday.

It was just the second time this season the pair have eclipsed the 30-point plateau and just the 13th time it's happened in franchise history.

The Raptors also received strong performances from their vets in Jose Calderon (17 points, six assists), Leandro Barbosa (seven points, 15 rebounds) and Leandro Barbosa (15 points), but saw limited minutes and contributions from their younger players. In a final stretch of the season that's been earmarked for player development, keep an eye on the minutes and performances of names like Ed Davis, Jerryd Bayless and James Johnson.

Lineup Updates

Amir Johnson is with the team on the trip, but may still be laboring through an ankle sprain. Head coach Jay Triano appreciated the gutsy effort from his usual starting power forward but limited him to around 15 minutes after he looked less than 100 per cent.

"God bless him for trying, but you could just tell he didn't pursue rebounds the way Amir usually does," said Triano post-game on Friday. "He didn't have that bounce to go get it."

Last Time They Met

After falling behind the Thunder by as many as nine points in the first half back on December 3rd, the Raptors came out of the break re-focused and seized control of the game with a 17-4 run to start the third.

Bargnani recorded his first double-double of the season in the win with 26 points and 12 rebounds in the win, while Leandro Barbosa chipped in 22 off the bench for the Raptors.

  Game #67: Raptors@ Pistons

Mar. 16, 2011, 12:00 PM

Raptors (18-48)vs. Pistons (23-44), The Palace Of Auburn Hills, 7:30 PM, TSN2, FAN590

The Big Story: Back To The Scene Of An Epic Comeback

The Raptors move on to (near) Motown, home of a team that's had their number of late but also the site of the biggest comeback back on Dec. 11.

It's been two losses in three tries against the Pistons and Detroit would be playing for a sweep if it weren't for an inspired fourth-quarter comeback from the Raptors that saw them wipe out a 25-point deficit.

Among those most instrumental in that comeback was Jerryd Bayless, who scored 31 points to match a career-high, with seven assists and five rebounds.

As he prepares to make his return to Michigan, Bayless may not be putting up lines nearly as jaw-dropping, but he's seen a spike in minutes lately and rewarded the Raptors with some solid play of late.

In his last four games, Bayless has posted a PER of 20.23 -- tops among all Raptors logging major minutes. He's also piled up 18 assists over that span with zero turnovers and made three-of-five attempts from beyond the three-point arc.

It all stems from trying to dig in a little more on defence for Bayless. He's posted a defensive rating of 92.99 during this span -- again, tops among Raptors logging major minutes -- and he believes it's helped his overall game.

"That's one of the things Jay (Triano)'s been preaching to me these last three or four weeks," said Bayless after Tuesday's practice. "Just trying to pick up on defence and that's kind of correlating over offensively. It's been working out, so I've just got to continue to do the best I can and hopefully it continues to work well."

What To Watch: Trying To Stop Tracy

The Pistons have obviously been struggling through a nightmare season of their own in terms of wins/losses, but their depth and versatility has presented some major headaches for Jay Triano's club in game's two and three of the season series.

"They're playing 10 guys about 24 minutes a game and when you look at their roster and who they are, they're tough matchups at all positions," said Triano on Tuesday. "Rip Hamilton's a tough guy to guard and then they go to the bench and they've got (Ben) Gordon coming in, (Rodney) Stuckey's a good guy, (Charlie) Villenueva up front... they've just got tons of guys that can play and they play all different positions so it's a tough matchup. Last time we played then they just took all of our guys and posted them up. Took turns posting different guys up and we're going to have to be very good with our individual defence."

One individual that's presented Toronto with a lot of matchup problems this season is Tracy McGrady, who’s put up roughly 15/5/5 against his former team. Pistons head coach John Kuester has shown little hesitancy in shuffling the veteran around as the Raptors have seen him come off the bench for two matchups as a wing player and seen him serve as the Pistons' de facto point guard in their last meeting. In the Pistons' 131-101 blowout loss to the Nuggets on Saturday, McGrady started at power forward.

Triano however, thinks he may have a counter for McGrady with the recent addition of his own multi-skilled forward.

"We think that James (Johnson) will probably start on him. I think James can guard him hopefully on the perimeter and in the post. So I think we have a little bit of a better matchup this time than we did the last time we played them so we'll see how that goes."

Lineup Updates

Amir Johnson was nearing a recovery from a left ankle sprain, but tweaked his right ankle during Tuesday's practice and did not travel with the team for tonight's game.

For further updates leading up to tip-off, watch Raptors Game Day on NBA TV Canada at 7:00 PM or follow @Raptors on Twitter.

  Game #65: Raptors vs. Pacers

Mar. 11, 2011, 11:01 AM

Raptors (17-47)vs. Pacers (27-37), Air Canada Centre, 7 PM, Sportsnet One, FAN590

The Raptors aim to avoid a season series sweep at the hands of the Indiana Pacers tonight at ACC.

The Big Story: Roughed Up Raptors

Injuries and illness could prompt some changes to the lineup for the Raptors, as they try for a fifth straight win over the Pacers at ACC.

- Andrea Bargnani (flu) was limited in Wednesday's practice ("his energy level is pretty low right now," said Jay Triano), but he could be back in the starting lineup tonight against the Pacers.

- The same can't be said for Amir Johnson (sprained left ankle), who didn't practice and is officially listed as questionable for tonight. Johnson has been a warrior for this team all season, but Triano sounded doubtful he'd go on Thursday. Also not practicing Thursday was Jose Calderon, who was kicked in the calf against the Jazz and was feeling discomfort.

- Reggie Evans was limited after logging an astounding 33 minutes in his first game back from a foot fracture, while Leandro Barbosa was also hampered by a sore back. Alexis Ajinca (knee) remains questionable.

Watch Raptors Game Day on NBA TV Canada at 6:30 p.m. for lineup updates prior to tip off and follow @Raptors on Twitter for more updates.

What To Watch: Sealing The Deal

For the Raptors, it's been 0-3 during their stretch of seven straight games against struggling competition and the problem has been fourth quarters.

In reverse order, the Raptors have been beat at the buzzer after leading by 14 in the fourth against the Jazz, edged in 3OT by the Nets and led New Jersey to start the fourth in the first London game. Even their recent win over the Hornets saw them hang on after heading into the fourth with a double-digit lead.

For a second straight game, the Raptors face a team that may not be elite, but fighting are currently in a dogfight for the playoffs, as Indiana comes into this one a game up on Charlotte for the eighth and final playoff seed in the Eastern Conference.

The Pacers have won the first two meetings this season in convincing fashion, including a 104-93 win in Frank Vogel's NBA head coaching debut back on January 31 at Conseco Fieldhouse. That win began a string of seven wins in his first eight games, but things have swung wildly the other way of late as the Pacers have dropped nine of their last 12.

The struggles have largely been on offence, culminating in a 101-75 loss to the Timberwolves on Wednesday. The Pacers shot just 29.6 per cent in the loss for their worst offensive performance of the season.

It's prompted Vogel to shuffle his lineup, inserting both Tyler Hansborough and rookie Paul George into the starting five and both had good games as reserves against Toronto in the last meeting. George got to the line with regularity on his way to 16 points with four rebounds, while Hansbrough added 14 points and six boards.

  More Props Needed...

Mar. 10, 2011, 9:01 AM

After yet another jaw dropping dunk from DeMar DeRozan in last night's loss against the Jazz, you can now make a compelling case for one of three sensational slams from the sophomore for his best of the season.

(P.S. How does this dunk not make the Top 10 plays on NBA.com yesterday? Dunk of the Night? ... Drive of the Night? Would it qualify for "Top Spinning One-Handed Throw Down In Traffic Of The Night In Toronto"? )

Which one are you picking? Let me know on Twitter @jaysatur.

  Game #64: Raptors vs. Jazz

Mar. 9, 2011, 9:01 AM

Raptors (17-46)vs. Jazz (33-31), Air Canada Centre, 7 PM, Sportsnet One, FAN590

The Raptors continue the final quarter of the season with a lengthy stretch of home games, beginning with the new-look Jazz at ACC tonight.

The Big Story: The Final 19

"You can look at it so many ways. You can see who's got love for the game. You can see who really wants to be here. You can see who really wants to go home. This is definitely a test. I'm pretty sure a lot of people's eyes will be open, a lot of ears will be listening and a lot of people are going to be focused on stuff like that. A lot of people are going to be seeing if people are not going to be working out and stuff like that. Focusing even more. So it definitely ain't over with. Nineteen more games left. Still a long season."

That was Reggie Evans after Tuesday's practice and it's a profoundly pitch perfect mantra for this team as it heads down the stretch.

Evans, poised to return to the Raptors lineup after recovering from a foot fracture, has a little extra incentive. This is the final year of his contract much like teammates Julian Wright, Sonny Weems and Joey Dorsey. Can DeMar DeRozan and Ed Davis continue to see their numbers rise in March and April, where the stakes and incentives are seemingly minimal? Can James Johnson and Jerryd Bayless continue to make the most of their opportunities? How do veterans under contract in Andrea Bargnani, Jose Calderon and Leandro Barbosa respond during this final stretch?

The Raptors start to get answers tonight and certainly get a favourable opening to the stretch run as this game against the Jazz kicks off four of five matchups at ACC. The Jazz are currently sitting at 33-31 and have lost eight of their last 10, while the next four opponents have sub-.500 records in the Pacers, Bobcats, Pistons and Wizards.

What To Watch: Learning From London

Despite the losses to the Nets in London, several Raptors turned in solid performances they can hopefully build upon tonight.

- DeMar DeRozan is coming off his first back-to-back 30-point efforts of his career. He's now third among all NBA sophomores in scoring and working on a stretch of 35 consecutive made free throws.

- Andrea Bargnani is coming off his second double double of the season with 35 points and 12 rebounds in a career-high 52 minutes.

- Rookie forward Ed Davis is coming off a strong weekend in England where he shot 10-for-12 from the floor, including a perfect 6-for-6 performance during the Friday night game. He also grabbed 23 rebounds in London with a career-high 15 coming in the second game (seven offensive, eight offensive). The Raptors excellent media relations staff points out that Davis needs just 13 more field goals to qualify as the Raptors all-time rookie leader for field goal percentage (.612)

On the flip side, the Raptors took another step back in terms of their overall defensive efficiency in London. Starters Amir Johnson, James Johnson and Jose Calderon will be looking to bounce back after down weekends across the pond.

The Jazz enter this one very banged up, with five regulars unable to practice on Tuesday and three definitely out for Wednesday. Andrei Kirilenko (back spasms) remains doubtful and Paul Milsap (left patellar tendinitis) is listed as a game time decision.

New Utah head coach Ty Corbin had to go with just seven players in Monday's 131-109 loss to the Knicks, but wasn't using the injuries as an excuse.

"That hurt. I mean, Paul's banged up, Andrei's banged up. They tried to go, and they couldn't finish, so we put other guys in there," Corbin told Yahoo! Sports on Tuesday. "But that's no excuse for not laying it out there. I mean, everybody that put the uniform on (should) at least play hard and play with some kind of pride, and we didn't do that.

"Even if you lose a game," Corbin added, "you can lose with some dignity."

Corbin can take some pride in the way centre Al Jefferson has been performing since the Deron Williams deal. Jefferson is the team's top player now and poured in a season-high 36 points on Monday against the Knicks. He's scored 30 or more in four of the nine games since Williams was moved to New Jersey.

Devin Harris has stepped in to the starting point guard role admirably since being acquired in that deal (14.8 ppg, 7.5 apg), but is coming off an 0-7 shooting night against the Knicks.

Last Time They Met

Toronto dropped its 11th straight meeting to the Jazz in a 125-108 loss at Energy Solutions Arena back on November 3. Williams was outstanding with a near triple double but Jefferson (27 points), Milsap (21 points) and forward CJ Miles (19 points) also did their share of damage in a game that saw the Jazz nearly cough up their lead in the third before pulling away late.

  Evans Ready For Potential Return To Action

Mar. 8, 2011, 6:20 PM

- A lot of questions focused on the Miami Heat and "Crygate" at today's practice. In the interest of letting this topic die a quick death from natural causes, I begin with Amir Johnson:

"We've got our own problems."

- The Raptors held their annual open practice in front of thousands of local students this afternoon with roughly half of ACC's lower bowl filled up and between the shrieking crowd, blaring music, the Dance Pak on court and mic'd up narration from assistant coach Eric Hughes, it was anything but a typical workout. It also undoubtedly contributed to head coach Jay Triano extending the session back on the team's practice court before meeting with the media.

- First person to emerge from the gym was forward Linas Kleiza, on crutches but in good spirits as he continues his recovery from right knee surgery.

- For a second straight practice, Andrea Bargnani was absent due to illness. His availability for Wednesday's game against the Jazz is going to be a game day decision.

- Everyone else practiced for the Raptors, including Joey Dorsey and Reggie Evans, who may finally be back on the court tomorrow night."If they call my name to go in the game. Yeah," Evans said post-practice on if he could go. But the rebounding machine will not return to the starting five, as Triano acknowledged that if Bargnani can go, it will be him and Amir Johnson starting.

- Evans, who's maintained his weight and excellent conditioning from the pre-season, on how the body feels: "It feels good. I wish I could have practiced a little bit more, but it feels good. My feet feel pretty good, I still feel little stuff, but it ain't bad like it was once before. I'm getting up and down the court real good. I can still pick up my defence a little bit, but that'll come. Mentally I feel real good."

- Triano on the Jazz, who promoted Tyrone Corbin to head coach following the departure of longtime coach Jerry Sloan and now have a radically altered roster following the blockbuster trade of Deron Williams:

"I think the trade has affected them more than anything. I think Ty Corbin is a good coach and he's been a guy that's been groomed to be a head coach in the NBA. I think the years that he had spent with Jerry are part of who he is. So I think the system and the style of play is still very similar. More than anything their personality's been changed due to injuries and trades."

Devin Harris and rookie Derrick Favors are the key players that came over via trade, but injuries have been the bigger concern of late with five players sitting out of Utah's practice in New York on Tuesday. Francisco Elson (sprained left ankle/inflamed left knee), Kyrylo Fesenko (low back spasms), Mehmet Okur (strained lower back) and Ronnie Price (sprained right big toe) have all been ruled out for Wednesday. Andrei Kirilenko (back spasms) is listed as doubtful, while Paul Millsap (left patellar tendinitis) will be a game time decision.

  Some Bright Spots From London...

Mar. 7, 2011, 6:25 PM

After an anything-but-regular road trip, the Raptors returned to work at ACC on Monday following their two-game excursion to London at a practice that was designed to prompt pattern recognition.

"For a lot of our guys, they haven't had travel like this before," said head coach Jay Triano post-practice. "I have to go back to my experience internationally and the best thing you can do to adjust to the time zone is get into your routine as much as possible and exercise. I think exercise helps the body adjust so that's why we came in today to get some stuff done."

So with Circadian rhythms readjusting, the Raptors prepare to play what surely looks like their final 19 games of the 2010-11 season. At 17-46, they watched the Nets pull clear of them by 2.5 games for 13th in the Eastern Conference and they seem all but assured of another trip to Secaucus in May.

But before thoughts turn to all things prospects and ping pong balls, the Raptors' two most recent draft picks are going to warrant their fair share of your attention over the next few weeks.

Exhibit 'A' is Ed Davis, who's proving he might be the steal of the 2010 draft. In London, the 13th overall selection posted 12 points and eight rebounds on Friday followed by 12 points and a career-high 15 boards in just 31 minutes of work in Saturday's triple-OT loss.

Over his last 10 games he's averaging 9.3 points (on 70 per cent shooting), 9.3 rebounds, 1.2 blocks and one assist per game. The rebounding and shotblocking are what his game is built on, but his scoring has been on the rise thanks to a little increased range and confidence with his jump shot. It's not by much and it hasn't been for very long, but Davis' splits at Hoopdata.com show that he's been a little more willing to take the open jumper from within 15 feet.

"It's just working in practice and just gaining the confidence to shoot and know I can hit it when I'm open in the game," said Davis. "[Working with] Coach English and Coach Scott [Roth] and working every time I get the chance. Just working on my form and just having that confidence when my teammates are telling me to shoot the ball and don't be scared. That's one thing that's really helping."

With Amir Johnson also showing that's his game still has room to grow, it would appear that the Raptors have one position stocked fairly well for the foreseeable future.

Meanwhile, the Raptors' 2009 draft selection was also busy making a name for himself in London. DeMar DeRozan hit the 30-point plateau twice prior to this weekend, but doubled that after the back-to-back on Greenwhich Mean Time.

"I was just in a zone," he said Monday. "I was excited to go to another country and play."

To DeRozan's credit, the effort is just continuing a slow burn of a sophomore season that's seen him get better offensively by the month. His scoring average has risen from 11.5 ppg to 11.9, 15.9, 18.5 and then 18.9 in February and the shooting percentages have taken a similar trajectory. His British Invasion puts him at 25.7 ppg for March.

But forget how many points he's scoring, the more impressive development may be when he's scoring them. With the use of NBA Stats Cube (new toy!), we looked at how the Raptors have fared in the final five minutes of games and any overtime play within a range of five points this season (either leading or trailing).

Player Points FGM-A FG% FTM-A FT% REBS
DeMar DeRozan 61     16-31 51.6 29-36 80.6 11
Andrea Bargnani  60 23-60 38.3 9-12 75.0 19
Amir Johnson      33 11-21 52.4 11-12 91.7 11
Jose Calderon     24 7-18 38.9 10-10 100 9
Leandro Barbosa    18 5-14 35.7 6-6 100 5
Jerryd Bayless     18 6-14 42.9 5-6 83.3 2

Those team-leading totals in points, field goal percentage and trips to the free throw line are all part of a growing comfort level with big shots at key moments for DeRozan.

"The coaching staff is putting [their] trust in me, I'm just taking advantage of it. Do whatever I can at the end of games to try and help us win."

More from practice:

- Andrea Bargnani was absent from Monday's practice due to to illness, according to Triano -- who added that the big man wasn't sick during the second game in London, but was feeling ill on the flight home. Triano was not sure if Bargnani would be able to play Wednesday against the Jazz.

- According to Reggie Evans on Twitter, he's coming back on Wednesday. Triano was a little more guarded on the forward's return to the lineup against the Jazz.

"Reggie practiced today. We'll have to watch him again tomorrow and see if there's no relapses. We'll see how it goes."

The veteran's return would give the Raptors their healthiest compliment of frontcourt players they've had in a while, which is going to prompt a little extra lineup juggling for Triano.

"It would be a four-man rotation with the bigs, which is something we haven't done a lot of. Usually we try to stick with three unless somebody gets in foul trouble. But we'll find ways to get him on the floor and see what he can do."

We've got more video from Triano, Davis and Leandro Barbosa below...

  Taking In The Raptors From London

Natasha Alibhai - Special to Raptors.com
March 7, 2011

Natasha Alibhai is a long time Raptors fan who made the trip to London to represent #RTZ (For the fans, by the fans.) You can find her on Twitter @Nat77, as well as by following the social media initiative @RTZfans that she has been working on this season with the Raptors.

When the Raptors schedule came out last summer, I circled this trip on my calendar. Not too often does one get a chance to be a part of history and with the help of Air Miles and a place to crash in London the trip became a reality.