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  Game #32 Raptors @ Rockets

Dec. 31, 2010, 9:21 AM

Raptors (11-20) @ Rockets (15-16), Toyota Center – Houston, 7 PM, Sportsnet One, FAN590

The Raptors aim to follow up their most impressive win of the season as they close out a three-game road trip and 2010 with a New Year's Eve tilt against the Houston Rockets.

The Big Story: Following Up An Eye-Opener

You want stories about kids stepping up against long odds in the Wild West? Forget the Coen Brothers, the Raptors delivered a little true grit of their own with an improbable 84-76 road win over the Mavericks on Tuesday.

With no Andrea Bargnani, Jose Calderon, Peja Stojakovic, Reggie Evans or Sonny Weems, the eventual ejection of Linas Kleiza and the loss of Jerryd Bayless to an ankle injury, the Raptors used a six-man rotation -- including a banged-up Amir Johnson and Leandro Barbosa -- to end a 10-game drought in Dallas.

While the Raptors don't want to see a sequel in terms of injuries against Houston, they'd love to see encore performances out of Ed Davis and DeMar DeRozan.

Davis broke out with the finest game of his young career on Tuesday, putting up a double-double by halftime and finishing with career-highs in points (17), boards (12), steals (three) and blocks (three). It was definitely a head-turning performance against an elite-level Mavs team (admittedly, without Dirk) and made a compelling case for a increased role for the rookie.

DeRozan’s 16-point performance has been the rule more than the exception of late and continues a slow burning December that’s seen his numbers rise.

  November December
PPG 11.9 14.4
FGA 8.9 11.6
FG% 45.9 46.9
FTA 5.1 4.7
Minutes 31:18 33:30

DeRozan’s one of only two Raptors to have played in every game this month (Johnson, unbelievably is the other) and he’s scored in double-figures in 12 of 14 December games, including eight straight.

What To Watch: Rockets Heating Up

Jay Triano may need to coax a similar performance out of whoever is suiting up as the Rockets are going pretty good right now -- especially at home -- and hardly resemble the team that fell 96-106 at Air Canada Centre on November 19.

That loss dropped Rockets’ record to 3-9, but since that early failure to launch they’ve gone 12-7 (10-4 in December) to regain their footing in the Western Conference. As of this morning, they found themselves just one game back of Portland for eighth place.

Rick Adelman's team has bounced back through its offence with an average of 108.2 ppg in December to rise to fifth in the NBA for the season at 105.7 ppg. They've also received a big boost from point guard Aaron Brooks, who's been back for five games after missing 21 with a severe ankle sprain and steadily rounding into form.

Brooks had 20 points and nine assists Wednesday against the Miami Heat, but it wasn't enough as the Rockets couldn't get stops in a hard-fought 119-125 home loss -- snapping their eight-game winning streak at Toyota Centre in the process.

Lineup Updates

Bargnani (calf), Stokjakovic (knee) and Evans (foot) are not with the team and will not play on Friday.

Calderon (foot), Weems (back) and Bayless (ankle) are all listed as day-to-day, while Johnson (back) and Barbosa (knee) are officially game-time decisions. Watch Raptors Game Day at 6:30 PM on NBA TV Canada for the latest lineup updates or follow the official Raptors account on Twitter.

The Rockets just lost the services of forward Chuck Hayes for two-to-four weeks with a moderate-to-serious ankle sprain suffered in practice on Thursday.

Last Time They Met

The Raptors won their fourth straight game over the Rockets at ACC in a contest that saw them cut down on turnovers and get to the free throw line in the fourth quarter.

But with the Raptors ahead 91-81 lead with 5:27 to play, Houston rallied with a 13-7 run to cut it to 98-94. Both teams swapped misses for another minute until a Jose Calderon layup restored a six-point Raptors lead. Amir Johnson then swatted away a Kyle Lowry drive on Houston's next possession to spark a fast break finish from Sonny Weems and the win was secure with 34 seconds to play.

Enjoy the game and Happy New Year!

  Game #30 Raptors @ Grizzlies

Dec. 27, 2010, 10:41 AM

Raptors (10-19) @ Grizzlies (12-17), FedEx Forum – Memphis, 8 PM, Sportsnet One, FAN590

After a few days of rest and recuperation it's back to work for the Raptors, who begin a three-game Western Conference road trip tonight in Memphis against the Grizzlies.

The Big Story: Il Mago A No Go

As reported by play-by-play announcer Matt Devlin, Andrea Bargnani (21.2 ppg, 5.6 rpg) did not travel with the Raptors to begin their three-game road trip in Memphis, which also includes stops in Dallas tomorrow and wraps in Houston on New Year's Eve.

It's not the return this team wanted after limping into a four-day break on December 22. Already without Reggie Evans (fractured foot) and Peja Stojakovic (swollen knee), the Raptors have also seen injuries hamper Jose Calderon (sore foot), Linas Kleiza (sore Achilles'), along with Sonny Weems and Amir Johnson (back spasms).

Those injuries undoubtedly motivated the Raptors to re-sign veteran forward Ronald Dupree on Sunday for some additional depth.

The absence of Bargnani on this trip is also a tough start to a road-heavy stretch that sees the Raptors play 13 of their next 20 games away from Air Canada Centre.

Road wins haven't been easy to come by anywhere for the Raptors this season, but every three or four-game swing over the course of the next five weeks features some potent hosts. The Raps' current trip for example, sees them close out a back-to-back against the red-hot Dallas Mavericks before moving on to Houston to face the resurgent Rockets. The next three-game trip features stops in Chicago and Boston. A five-game swing travels to New Orleans, San Antonio, Orlando then Miami.

If the Raptors want to make any kind of push for the final two Eastern Conference playoff spots, which clearly appear up for grabs, they’ll need to be a better road team this month.

What To Watch: Big Grizzlies Up Front

The absence of Bargnani and Johnson's back woes put the Raptors at a disadvantage against a tough Memphis frontcourt.

Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol bring a lot of size and skill up front, which they put on display last night in the Grizzlies' convincing 104-90 road win over the Pacers in Indianapolis. The big men complimented 30 points from Rudy Gay with a combined 35 points and 24 rebounds in the rout.

Tonight's matchup also features an interesting matchup of two guards that can heat it up in a hurry of the bench in Leandro Barbosa and OJ Mayo. Both have been pretty hot off the bench in their last seven games.

  Barbosa Mayo
PPG 17 16.9
FG% 0.519 0.484
3-Pt FGM/Game 2.3 2
Assists 3 2.4

Lineup Updates

The list of Raptors injuries were listed above, but expect Calderon and Kleiza to go, along with Jerryd Bayless, who missed last Wednesday's game with food poisoning. Doug Smith of the Toronto Star attended the team’s practice on Sunday and has updates on Weems and Amir Johnson, with both clearly still affected by back spasms.

The Grizz are not reporting any significant injuries heading into tonight's game.

Watch Raptors Game Day on NBA TV Canada at 7:30 PM and check the Raptors official Twitter account for updates.

Last Time They Met

The last time these two teams met was back on February 17, as the Grizzlies greeted the Raps at ACC following the All-Star break with a 109-102 overtime loss.

That gave Memphis its fourth season series sweep in the last seven seasons against Toronto and three straight wins overall in the series.

  Game #29 Raptors vs. Pistons

Dec. 22, 2010, 10:45 AM

Raptors (10-18) vs. Pistons (9-19), Air Canada Centre -- Toronto, 7 PM, Sportsnet, FAN590

The Big Story: The Short Roster

The Raptors limp into their final game before a four-day holiday break with a roster hit hard by injuries.

- Peja Stojakovic (swollen left knee, not with team)
- Reggie Evans (fractured right foot, not with team)
- Sonny Weems (back spasms, day-to-day)
- Andrea Bargnani (sore right ankle, day-to-day)

But wait, there's more. Back issues forced Amir Johnson to the locker room for stretches of Sunday's game against the Lakers, while Jose Calderon (sore foot) and Linas Kleiza (sore Achilles) are also playing through some ailments.

"A lot of guys still really sore," Head coach Jay Triano said after Tuesday's practice. "We ended up going four-on-four. It's about the best we could do. So we've got to patch 'em together and see if we can squeeze one more before we have a bit of a break."

You can get lineup updates leading up to game time by watching our pre-game coverage on NBA TV Canada, beginning at 6 PM or follow the Raptors on Twitter.

What To Watch

The Pistons hit ACC on a six-game losing streak against the Raptors and have dropped eight straight on the road.

The Raptors can also come into this game with a sense of confidence after they earned the biggest comeback in franchise history against the Pistons in Auburn Hills on December 11. Jerryd Bayless (31 points, seven assists, five rebounds), Andrea Bargnani (22 points), Leandro Barbosa (22 points) and DeMar DeRozan (16 points) led the way in that one, which you can re-live below.

But the Pistons have won two of three since that game with solid home victories over the Atlanta Hawks and most recently, an OT win over the New Orleans Hornets. That last win on Sunday came without starting guards Rodney Stuckey (sore big toe) and Richard Hamilton (upset stomach) in the lineup and both could return tonight.

These are two teams that are a combined 19-37, but still can conceivably think playoffs in the tight lower half of the Eastern Conference Standings...

Team Record Games Back Of Seventh
Pacers 13-14 --
Bucks 11-16 2.0
Sixers 11-16 2.5
Raptors 10-18 3.5
Pistons 9-19 4.5
Charlotte 9-19 4.5
Nets 9-20 5.0

Triano has also preached the importance of winning the games immediately before and after Christmas Day and in the last two seasons he's a perfect 4-0 in those games.

Akil Augustine and I will discuss it with you in our LIVE CHAT starting just before tip-off at ACC.

  Bargnani Bids You Buone Feste

Dec. 21, 2010, 5:50 PM

Not to accuse Andrea Bargnani of having a big head, but his oversized noggin is just one of the many NBA stars helping to wish you a very Happy Holiday season in this great promo spot from the league. Check it out below by clicking the image...

  Small Pack Of Raptors At Monday's Practice

Dec. 21, 2010, 5:50 PM

All the Raptors want for Christmas?

A full healthy team would be nice. Head coach Jay Triano might even settle for enough bodies for a scrimmage in practice as he said he had exactly half a full NBA roster available on Monday, as the Raptors prepare for the Pistons.

"No Amir. No Jose. No Andrea. No Sonny. No Peja. No Reggie and Linas made it half way though," said Trino, who needed a cheat sheet to list all his injured players. "So we had seven-and-a-half."

To recap, Peja Stojakovic (swollen knee) and Reggie Evans (foot fracture) have been out of the lineup for a handful of games. Sonny Weems has missed the last two contests with back spasms, which is what also took Amir Johnson out of stretches of Sunday's loss to LA. Andrea Bargnani has been shelved for two of the last three games with knee and ankle soreness. Jose Calderon previously missed four games with a sore foot, but like Linas Kleiza (sore Achilles), he's playing through it.

Triano talks more about Kleiza's return to the starting five and what the injuries could mean for players like Julian Wright, Joey Dorsey and Solomon Alabi below.

Calderon and Weems emerged from practice early, with the former taking a few minutes to speak with the media. Calderon has been hampered by a swollen left foot, but his play has been excellent of late with 15 points, 14 assists against the Nets and 20 and 12 versus the Lakers on Sunday. On Monday he admitted his foot was feeling better, but was limited to some lifting and light shooting at practice.

Calderon speaks about his recovery and what he's seen from Kleiza in the last two games below.

Kleiza, who's coming off his best two-game stretch for the Raptors this season with back-to-back double-doubles, also spoke on Monday. The biggest factors for his recent potent play? According to him, it's just improved health and getting into the flow of the offence early again. Hear more about what's been working and about how he felt when things weren't going so well.

Finally, we heard (very) briefly from DeMar DeRozan, who looked back on a memorable third quarter against the Lakers that saw him explode for 19 points (6-7 FGM-A, 7-7 FTM-A). DeRozan also shares some interesting thoughts on another round with Kobe Bryant below.

  Hoops On Tap In Canada This Week

Dec. 21, 2010, 3:25 AM

Monday Dec. 20: Orlando @ Atlanta, 7:00 PM, Sportsnet One / Dallas @ Miami 7:30 PM, NBATV Canada

The week opens with a big Southeast Division matchup as Magic travel to Philips Arena for a date with the Hawks. Both teams have been struggling somewhat of late, but the Magic figure to get a big shot in the arm after a pair of big trades shook up the roster on Saturday. Expect Gilbert Arenas, Jason Richardson and Hedo Turkoglu to be in the lineup against the Hawks, who saw star guard Joe Johnson return to the lineup Friday just over two weeks after having arthroscopic elbow surgery on December 1.

Meanwhile, two of the league's hottest teams battle on South Beach as the Heat put their season-high 12-game winning streak on the line against the Mavericks (21-5), who own the second-best road record in the league at 8-1.

Wednesday Dec. 22: Detroit @ Toronto 7:00 PM, Sportsnet/ Chicago @ Washington 7:00 PM, NBATV Canada

The Raptors are plenty injured right now and won't have a full lineup against the Pistons on Wednesday. Luckily, they didn't need one for the biggest comeback in franchise history back in Auburn Hills back on Dec. 11. Expect a feisty rematch before the Raptors go on to play six of their next seven games on the road.

It's game three without defensive anchor Joakim Noah for the Bulls, who are without their starting centre for at least two months following surgery to repair a thumb injury last week. Their latest result was a 100-99 home loss to the Clippers on Saturday.

The keys to the Wizards have now been handed over to John Wall after Arenas was sent to Orlando, but the first overall pick likely won't be playing in this one. A bone bruise under his right kneecap is reportedly the latest injury to sideline the electrifying young guard.

Thursday, Dec. 23: San Antonio @ Orlando 8:00 PM, TSN2/ Miami @ Phoenix 10:30 PM, TSN2

The San Antonio Spurs look to remain atop the NBA and build on their league-best road record when travel to Orlando to face the Magic. It's the middle game of a killer three-game homestand for the new-look Magic, who host the Mavs, Spurs and Celtics -- a combined 27-5 on the road.

Speaking of new-look teams, the Suns should have all of Vince Carter, Mikael Pietrus and Marcin Gortat in the lineup (and will likely need them) when the Heat visit on Thursday. With a 13-13 record as of Monday morning, the Suns aren't far removed the conference's top eight seeds and hope their new players can kick start a post-Christmas run.

Saturday, Dec. 25: Chicago @ New York 12:00 PM, Sportsnet One/ Boston @ Orlando 2:30 PM, CHCH Hamilton (ABC)/ Miami @ L.A. Lakers 5:00 PM, CHCH Hamilton (ABC)

If you're like me, Christmas Day truly isn't complete without a wall-to-wall hoops action featuring some of the league's heavy hitters. This year is no exception with a whopping five games on tap and three you can catch on cable here in Canada.

First up, is the first Bulls-Knicks Christmas Day matchup since 1994. It isn't exactly MJ vs. Ewing right now, but there's some sizzle to this early matchup as both teams appear poised for a return to the post-season come April.

The action then moves to Orlando, where the Magic and Celtics continue their growing rivalry. These two teams have met in the Eastern Conference finals the last two seasons so expect Christmas cheer to be in short supply.

Next up comes the main course, as the Lakers and Heat meet in what was pegged as game of the year from the minute the schedule was released. Needless to say, this is a potential Finals preview and naturally, both teams

Sunday, Dec. 26: Phoenix @ L.A. Clippers 3:00 PM, Sportsnet One

It's back to Staples Center on Boxing Day as the Suns travel to LA for a date with the Clippers. Rookie power forward Blake Griffin might be reason alone to watch this one, as he's led the Clippers in scoring and rebounding in their last three games with averages of 24.3 points and 15.6 rebounds per game over that stretch.

  Game #27: Raptors vs. Nets

Dec. 17, 2010, 9:20 AM

Raptors (9-17) vs. Nets (7-19), Air Canada Centre -- Toronto, 7 PM, TSN, FAN590

The Big Story: Wounded Raptors

The injury bug is back and forced the Raptors to floor the youngest starting lineup in team history in Wednesday's waxing at home against the Bulls.

The Raptors were without Andrea Bargnani (sore knees), Jose Calderon (sore left foot), Peja Stojakovic (swollen left knee) and Reggie Evans (fractured right foot) with the first three of those names officially listed as day-to-day.

For a Toronto team intent on developing its young talent this season, head coach Jay Triano sees opportunity in losses like Wednesday’s.

"This is a part of what we are trying to do, keep these guys going, develop them and make them better basketball players," said Triano. "You get a test when you go up against some of the better teams and this (Chicago) is one of the better teams in the East.

"You learn from both wins and losses, and you learn when you get embarrassed and you learn when you make good plays, so hopefully we got something out of this every time down the floor."

Will the Raptors go with the same youth movement on Friday? Follow the Raptors official Twitter account and tune in to our pre-game coverage on NBA TV Canada starting at 6 p.m., for updates before tip-off.

What To Watch: Big Problems

Bigger frontcourts have been posing a challenge for the Raptors in their last five games, as opposing forwards and centres have had little difficulty establishing deep position on offence and getting high-percentage looks.

Date Player Opponent Points Rebounds Result
Dec.15 Carlos Boozer Bulls 34 (game high) 12 (team high) L 110-93
Dec.14 Nazr Mohammed Bobcats 18 (game high) 8 (team high) L 97-91
Dec.11 Ben Wallace Pistons            23 (career high) 14 (game high) W 120-116
Dec.10 Nene  Nuggets 26   6    L 123-116
  Al Harrington Nuggets 31 (game high)  6 L 123-116
Dec.8 Amar'e Stoudemire Knicks 34 (game high) 14 (game high) L 113-110

Enter the Nets, who boast another talented group of bigs that could cause Toronto some problems.

First up is a familiar face playing a not-so-familiar game. Former Raptor Kris Humphries has been a revelation this season for New Jersey, doing the dirty work as an effective starter at power forward next to centre Brook Lopez.

Since moving into the starting five on Nov. 10, the Hump has averaged 8.8 points and 11.1 rebounds and played some pretty strong defence, which has made him the choice for head coach Avery Johnson over the more offensively-inclined Troy Murphy.

Perhaps as a result, Lopez (19.2 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 1.1 apg), has actually put up very similar numbers this season to Bargnani (21.0 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 1.7 apg), who can also boast a stronger rebounding presence next to him at the four.

Off the bench, the Nets can throw third overall pick Derrick Favours out there, who's been a contributor in limited minutes. Murphy, who's in more of the mould of a floor-stretching shooter like Bargnani, has also performed pretty well against the Raptors over the years, averaging a double-double of 13.9 points and 10.2 rebounds in 23 appearances.

Lineup Updates

We've mentioned the Raptors key injuries above. The Nets will be without guard Anthony Morrow (strained right hamstring) and rookie forward Damion James (broken right foot).

New Jersey is expected to get a boost with the addition of guard Sasha Vujacic, who was obtained in a three-team deal with the Lakers and Rockets on Wednesday. Vujacic along with a pair of first-round picks headed to New Jersey with forwards Terrence Williams and Joe Smith going out.

Last Time They Met

The Raptors completed a four-game season sweep of the Nets with a 100-90 win in New Jersey back on March 20. It was Toronto's fifth straight win against its divisional opponents and sixth in its last seven meetings.

  Game #26: Raptors vs. Bulls

Dec. 15, 2010, 12:08 PM

Raptors (9-16) vs. Bulls (15-8), Air Canada Centre -- Toronto, 7 PM, TSN2, FAN590

Really quick updates as the Raptors close out a back-to-back tonight against the Bulls.

For a fourth straight game the Raptors have had problems up front defensively as Nazr Mohammed put up game-highs in points (18) and rebounds (eight) on Tuesday. Reserve bigs Tyrus Thomas (14 and seven) and Kwame Brown (10 and six) also chipped in.

It's not getting any easier tonight at ACC, as the Bulls boast a potent frontcourt anchored by Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer, who's looking solid after eight games in the Chicago lineup. Taj Gibson and Luol Deng also offer the kind of rebounding that could pose a problem.

The Bulls have been waiting in Toronto and last played Monday after whipping the Pacers for a sixth straight win. Chicago's star guard Derrick Rose took a nasty spill in the victory and suffered a sprained right wrist plus a bruised right elbow and hip. He also mildly sprained his left ankle on another play in the same game.

But according to K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune, Rose took part in today's morning shootaround and plans to play tonight. Joakim Noah, who's reportedly battling through an issue with his right thumb, also participated and is expected to go.

For the Raptors, starting point guard Jose Calderon has missed three straight games with a swollen left foot and he very possibly could sit out for a fourth tonight. Peja Stojakovic, remains listed as day-to-day with a swollen left knee.

Keep your eye on the Raptors official twitter account for updates closer to game time.

David Amber and the broadcast crew with set you up with much more about tonight's matchup with pre-game coverage beginning at 6 p.m. on NBA TV Canada.

Don't forget, it's Italian Hertage Night at ACC, featuring a free Bargnani bobblehead for the first 10,000 to show up. Oh, and one more thing...

  Game #25: Raptors @ Bobcats

Dec. 13, 2010, 12:08 PM

Raptors (9-15) vs. Bobcats (8-15), Time Warner Cable Arena -- Charlotte, 7 PM, TSN, FAN590

The Raptors aim to carry momentum from the largest comeback in franchise history into Charlotte, where they'll face the Bobcats for a second time this season at Time Warner Cable Arena. I'll be discussing all the action with you in our latest live chat, starting just before tip-off.

The Big Story: For Our Next Trick...

After Saturday's win in Detroit saw a wild swing both on the scoreboard and in terms of level of play, the Raptors aim for a little consistency when they get a second look at the Bobcats.

Not much will change in terms of the Raptors lineup on Tuesday, as starting point guard Jose Calderon will sit for a third straight game due to a sore left foot. Jerryd Bayless -- who put up 30 points, seven assists and five rebounds in Auburn Hills -- will get the nod as the starter for a third straight game.

Speaking of things that went right in that comeback win, look no further than Julian Wright. The sparkplug forward did it with defence on Saturday earning four steals in 17 minutes of play and providing a defensive presence that the Triano called "infectious" in the pivotal fourth quarter.

With starting wings Sonny Weems and DeMar DeRozan striving for consistency on both sides of the ball, Wright could be the beneficiary of more minutes on the wing against the potent duo of Gerald Wallace and Stephen Jackson, who both posted strong games against the Raptors back on Nov. 10.

What To Watch: Offence Meets Defence

It's definitely going to be contrasting styles at Time Warner Cable Arena as the Raptors are trying to get back on track defensively, while the Bobcats are in search of some much-needed offence.

Each team's last game might have been a microcosm of the bigger problem.

For the Raptors, surrendering 70 first-half points to a Pistons team that averages just over 93 per game was the latest sign of a defence that regressed since early season. Over its last seven games, Toronto has been allowing just over 114 points per game, which, projected over the course of the season, would be a league-high.

Man-to-man and help defence have been problematic, but turnovers have to also be a concern as the Raps have averaged 15 per game over that seven-game stretch, pushing them into the top ten in that category with 14.6 per game over the course of the season.

Charlotte's not much better than Detroit offensively at 93.6 ppg and hit season low on that side of the ball in a 93-62 loss to the Celtics at home on Saturday.

After shooting just 33.8% and coughing it up 22 times, team owner Michael Jordan addressed the players in a closed-door meeting post-game, so keep an eye on how they respond tonight.

Sherman Hamilton, Andi Petrillo, Matt Devlin and Jack Armstrong break it all down for you pre-game from Charlotte, beginning at 6:30 PM with Raptors Game Day on NBA TV Canada.

Our official Twitter account will also bring you the latest updates before, during and after tonight's action in Charlotte.

Lineup Updates

Calderon joins Reggie Evans (fractured foot) and Peja Stojakovic (swollen knee) on the inactive list for Tuesday.

For the Bobcats, Gerald Henderson is expected to miss a 15th consecutive game with left knee inflammation while forward Tyrus Thomas, who posted 14 points and five blocks off the bench in the last meeting, is officially listed as day-to-day with a left quad strain.

Last Time The Met

The execution didn't correspond with the effort level back at ACC on Nov. 10, as the Raptors coughed it up early and often but were edged in the fourth quarter and fell 101-96.

The Raptors recovered from a rough start in the middle quarters to hit the final stanza up 74-69, but Charlotte began chipping away in the fourth and pulled ahead for good on a Stephen Jackson three-pointer with 5:47 to play. The Raptors still had an opportunity to tie the game down 99-96 with 12.7 seconds remaining but Andrea Bargnani was stripped by Jackson before he could get a shot off and the result was an eventual 101-96 defeat.

  On Killer Comebacks And Off To Charlotte

Dec. 13, 2010, 12:08 PM

It was getaway day at ACC on Monday as the Raptors held an early practice before hightailing it from frigid Toronto to the relatively balmy one degree Celsius heat of Charlotte.

Monday's post-practice talk was about looking ahead to the Bobcats and reflecting on a strange performance in Detroit that saw the Raptors fall behind by as many as 25 points before staging the biggest comeback in franchise history for an eventual 120-116 win.

When Jose Calderon was asked what he thought about Saturday's game, he wisely answered "which part?" Calderon didn't travel with the team for Saturday's contest due to soreness in his left foot and he will miss a third straight game on Tuesday. Calderon, who will remain in Toronto to receive treatment, talked about how he expects to be back for the Bulls and more after practice.

Head coach Jay Triano was next and confirmed Calderon wasn't coming. Triano spoke about the effectiveness of Bayless and Leandro Barbosa on the floor together, but mentioned how that's limited in situations like this with Calderon out of the lineup. He also had interesting comparison for the young wing tandem of DeRozan/Weems plus explains why Julian Wright might be the new Marcus Banks.

We then heard from Bayless, who spoke a little more about what was said in the locker room in Detroit. Bayless had a huge game with 31 points, seven assists and five rebounds that game and really showed some chemistry with Barbosa in that second half. In the clip below, Bayless describes how Barbosa opens things up for him on the floor and talks about his current confidence level (hint: it's high).

Ed Davis was next and if he's feeling any pressure about his return to North Carolina, he's certainly not letting on. I also had a chance to ask the former Tar Heel if he'd been a part of anything similar to Saturday's comeback and at just what point he started thinking about the W.

Last up was that third-string point guard Julian Wright. The natural forward whose play Triano called "infectious" just a few minutes earlier, spoke a lot about defence in general and more specifically about carving out a role in the rotation.

  Hoops On Tap In Canada This Week

Dec. 13, 2010, 12:08 PM

Here's the key NBA matchups you can catch between holiday parties in Canada this week. You can view the full Canadian Broadcast Schedule here.

Monday, Dec. 13: New Orleans @ Miami - 7:30 PM, Sportsnet One, Indiana @ Chicago 8 PM, NBATV Canada

When the Hornets knocked off the Heat 96-93 back on Nov. 5 in New Orleans, the home side was in the midst of a dizzying run to start the season, while skepticism reigned after a slow start on South Beach. What a difference a few weeks make as the Heat are now one of the hottest teams in the league and the Hornets have fallen back in the Western Conference standings by going 3-7 in their last ten games.

There's also an intriguing Central Division matchup on the sked Monday, as the Pacers (11-11) look to make an early statement in their first meeting of the season against the division-leading Bulls at United Center.

Tuesday Dec. 14: Toronto @ Charlotte - 7 PM, TSN

So what do the Raptors do for an encore after a record comeback? We'll find out Tuesday as the Raptors open a back-to-back against the Bobcats, who sit half a game behind Toronto in the Eastern Conference standings as of Monday. Charlotte does hold an edge in head-to-head play already this season thanks to a 101-96 victory back on Nov. 10 at ACC.

Wednesday Dec. 15: Boston @ New York - 7 PM NBA TV Canada, Chicago @ Toronto - 7 PM, TSN

It's a showdown atop the Atlantic Division as the Celtics (10 straight wins) visit the resurgent Knicks (eight straight) in what both teams are undoubtedly viewing as a statement game.

The Raptors were actually the last team to send the C's to a defeat back on Nov. 21 and they'll look to knock off another division leader Wednesday when the Bulls visit ACC. Toronto has played the Bulls pretty tough of late, with either a season series win or split the last four years and a 9-5 record overall during that span.

Thursday Dec. 16: San Antonio @ Denver - 10:30 PM, TSN2

The Nuggets dropped three of four on their recent Eastern Conference road trip, with the lone win coming in Toronto to give head coach George Karl career win no. 1000. There's also the distraction of the Carmelo Anthony saga, which only seems to be growing.

The Spurs meanwhile, just keep churning out wins and have used a reinvented offence to surge to the best record in the league as of Monday at 20-3. With Denver currently 10-1 at home and the Spurs 8-1 away from AT&T Center -- something's gotta give.

Friday, Dec. 17: New Jersey @ Toronto - 7 PM, TSN2, Phoenix @ Dallas 9:30 PM, Sportsnet One

The Raptors head into their first divisional matchup of four against the Nets. The Nets sit 6-18 and have lost seven in a row as of this posting, but remain well ahead of their dreadful pace of last season when they were 2-25 after a loss to Toronto nearly one year ago to the day.

Meanwhile, besties Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki reunite in an always entertaining matchup between the Mavs and Suns. Dallas is scorching with 12 straight wins, but at 19-4 they continue to trail its state-rivals from San Antonio. The Suns (11-12) meanwhile, are just trying to stay within striking distance in the Western Conference as they start the week a half-game back of Portland for eight spot.

Saturday, Dec. 18: Miami Heat @ - 8 PM, theScore

The Heat are who we thought they were (!) and have moved atop the Southeast Division thanks to an eight-game win streak. Leading the way have been Dwyane Wade (26.6 ppg, 7.75 rpg, 5.1 apg, two steals per game) and LeBron James (who's averaged 26 ppg, 6.8 rebounds and 5.9 assists during that stretch). Should be plenty entertaining to see these Supermen from South Beach doing damage in the Phone Booth.

Sunday, Dec. 19: L.A. Lakers @ Toronto - 1 PM, TSN

In what's sure to be more yellow and purple than I'd care to see at a Raptors home game, the defending NBA Champs invade ACC for their annual visit. Thankfully, these two teams have played some incredibly close games of late with the last three being decided by a total of eight points.

  A Hand For Charlie V...

Dec. 13, 2010, 9:21 AM

Saturday's huge comeback isn't something you want to see all that often -- you've got to actually fall behind by 25 points before you can come back from it -- but it does afford for moments like this.

Charlie Villanueva has traditionally performed with a little bit of a chip against the Raptors, but he was getting downright demonstrative on Saturday night at The Palace. Take this play ...

Ok... a little mugging after a dunk for the home fans there... funneling Jerryd Bayless into the first row at the end of this clip was a little much, but still -- a basketball play.

I'm all for good form, but that hand seems to be a up a little longer than usual Charlie...

Now we're getting out of hand.

Of course this was all prior to the Miracle In Motown. Things were looking much different in the game's dying seconds, which Bayless made abundantly clear on his final two free throws to match a season-high 31 points.

These two teams meet again in Toronto a week from Wednesday… should be interesting.

  Game #23: Raptors vs. Nuggets

Dec. 10, 2010, 11:53 AM

Raptors (8-14) vs. Nuggets (13-7), Air Canada Centre -- Toronto, 7 PM, TSN, FAN590

The Raptors try to end their three-game slide and get back on track at ACC against the Denver Nuggets. Our LIVE CHAT, starts just before tip-off at Air Canada Centre.

The Big Story: Keeping Karl Away From 1000

For a team the Raptors just once a season at ACC, there's plenty of storylines in this one. First up, is the 999 career wins the Nuggets head coach George Karl is sitting on heading into tonight's game.

Karl, who actually earned win no. 900 at ACC back on Dec. 31 2008, has been stuck on 999 since Sunday, as the Nuggets have dropped back-to-back games in Charlotte and Boston to start their current four-game road trip.

It may be considerably tougher for the Nuggets if they're again without the services of Carmelo Anthony (22.8 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 3.3 apg), who sat out of their 105-89 defeat to the Celtics on Wednesday with knee inflammation.

Facing teams without their stars isn't a new theme for the Raptors, who enter tonight's game on a three-game slide themselves. Six of their eight wins have come against teams missing one of their top players.

Date Opponent Player Missing
Dec. 3 Thunder Durant (knee)
Nov. 24 Sixers Brand (suspension)
Nov. 21   Celtics Rondo (hamstring)
Nov. 19 Rockets Brooks (ankle), Yao (leg)
Nov. 17 Sixers Iguodala (achilles tendon)
Oct. 29  Cavs Williams (personal) , Varejao (personal)

What To Watch: More Magic From Il Mago

So what can Andrea Bargnani do for an encore after the best performance of his career on Wednesday at MSG? The big man had a career-high 41 points, but was also solid on the glass (seven boards) and did a great job setting up teammates (six assists) in a tough loss to the Knicks. With key injuries up front for the Nuggets, Bargnani could be making headlines once again.

Regardless if Melo suits up or not, this is still a dangerous Denver team that can bomb away from the perimeter. The Nuggets sit seventh in the league in terms of three-pointers made per game and three-point shooting percentage, not too far behind the Raptors last two opponents in the Knicks and Pacers.

Prior to Denver's current two-game slump they had won seven straight and with their frontcourt dealing with injuries and Anthony in a bit of a recent shooting slump, it's been their guards stepping up.

Player   Season Avg.  Last 9 Games
Billups*  14.6 ppg, 5.2 apg  15.3 ppg, 6.4 apg
Afflalo  12.9 ppg  1.5 3PTM 13.2 ppg, 1.77 3PTM
Smith  11.4 ppg, 4.1 rpg 14.3 ppg, 5.1 rpg

*Billups has only played in seven of those games

Plus, reserve guard Ty Lawson had been slumping since the calendar turned to December, but he's coming off his finest performance of the season on Wednesday, when he scored 24 points off the bench in a loss against the Celtics.

Lineup Updates

For the Raptors, rookie centre Solomon Alabi has rejoined the team after a stint in the NBA D-League. Peja Stojakovic (swollen knee) is expected to miss a sixth straight game, joining Reggie Evans (foot fracture) on the sidelines.

Denver will be without big men Chris Andersen (small fracture in lower back) and Kenyon Martin (left patella tendon). 'Melo as mentioned, is a game-time decision.

Be sure to watch pre-game coverage on NBA TV Canada beginning at 7 p.m. The Raptors official Twitter account also brings you the latest info leading up to tip-off.

Last Time They Met

If you've got the stomach, relive the heartache of the Raptors 97-96 loss to the Nuggets on March 26 to your right. Anthony led all scorers with 25 points, including the game-winning 18-footer at the buzzer.

"I think hitting one on the road, you get that much more joy out of it," said Anthony post-game. "That much more satisfaction. You've got 20 thousand people against you and you can make a shot to silence them? That feels good."

That's just super Melo! That heartbreaker resulted in Toronto being swept by Denver in five of the last six seasons (1-11 during that stretch) and a third straight loss to Denver at ACC.

  Game #22: Raptors @ Knicks

Dec. 8, 2010, 10:31 AM

Raptors (8-13) vs. Knicks (13-9), Madison Square Garden -- New York, 7:30 PM, TSN2, FAN590

The Raptors make a third attempt at trying to stop the rolling New York Knick at Madison Square Garden tonight. We'll be discussing all the action with you in our latest LIVE CHAT, starting just before tip off.

The Big Story: Canceling The Long Distance Plan

The Knicks are starting to look like they're for real as winners of seven straight on the road and five in a row overall. But despite rounding into form after a rough start, only two of their wins have come against teams that currently boast winning records.

To the Raptors, who the Knicks can lay claim to beating twice this season, they probably seem very real.

Sunday's loss at ACC, in particular, drove home two pretty major points.

First, Amar'e Stoudemire is pretty good in the fourth quarter. His athleticism and explosiveness in the pick-and-roll makes him a really tough cover and although Amir Johnson did a pretty good job defending him for three quarters, Stoudemire went to work in the fourth. The man called STAT scored 15 points in the final 12 minutes, including a perfect 7-7 from the free throw line and several mid-range jumpers.

Shooting from even further out was the other killer. Sunday's game saw the Raptors having a tough time defending the perimeter as they were slow to close out on shooters and allowed 12 threes. It's an alarming defensive flaw that extended to Monday's blowout loss to the Pacers, where they allowed 13 from long range.

The Knicks' game plan probably isn't going to change much tonight, so the Raptors have some adjustments to make.

What To Watch: Amir's Heating Up

Johnson had a quiet debut in the starting five back on Dec. 1, but he's been lights out the last three games with averages of 17 points, 11.3 rebounds (five offensive) and 1.66 steals while shooting an absurd 68 per cent from the floor.

The biggest of those three performances came against the Knicks last Sunday at ACC, where he tipped in and dunked everything in sight on his way to a season-high 22 points and a career-best 16 rebounds. Keep an eye on him tonight.

For more on Johnson, check out his one-on-one interview with Matt Devlin over at his blog.

Lineup Updates

Neither Reggie Evans (foot fracture) or Peja Stojakovic (swollen knee) traveled with the Raptors on their two-game trip through Indiana and New York.

Be sure to watch pre-game coverage on NBA TV Canada beginning at 7 p.m. The Raptors official Twitter account also brings you the latest info leading up to tip-off.

Last Time They Met

.. Was just four days ago. Check out our Game Rap for all the grisly details from that 116-99 defeat.

  Hoops On Tap In Canada This Week

Dec. 6, 2010, 1:07 PM

Here's what on the dial in Canada in terms of great hoops matchups for the remainder of the week. You can check out the full slate of games being show in Canada this season HERE.

Tuesday: Washington @ L.A. Lakers - 10:30 PM, SCORE

If you're an East Coast hoops fan that doesn't operate heavy machinery, it's worth showing up to work a little groggy on Wednesday as electrifying first overall pick John Wall makes his debut at Staples Center tonight.

The reigning champs have hit somewhat of a rough patch of late with losses in four of their last five, but a visit from the Wiz -- the NBA's lone team without a road win -- might be good for what ails.

Wednesday: Denver @ Boston - 7 PM, NBA TV Canada, Toronto @ New York - 7:30 PM, TSN2

Raptors fans can worry about the present in the form of the Knicks and scout ahead with a little channel surfing on Wednesday.

The Knicks are starting to look dangerous, especially on the road where they've won seven straight. But within the confines of MSG, it's been a different story as they've gone 4-5. Regardless of where this game is played, the Raptors are going to have to come up with a better solution for Amar'e Stoudemire, who's come up huge in both meetings this season.

Carmelo Anthony and the Nuggets hit ACC on Friday, but first up is a big matchup in Beantown against the Celtics. Both teams hit this one incredibly hot with each having won seven straight as of Tuesday morning.

Thursday: Orlando @ Portland - 10:30 PM, TSN2

Two teams moving in very different directions square off late-Thursday in Rip City. The Blazers have won just three of their last 11 games overall and have gone into the tank offensively of late, scoring just a hair over 91 ppg which puts them among the lowest-scoring teams in the NBA over that stretch. They did find some offensive spark early against the L.A. Clippers at the Rose Garden and earned a 100-91 win in their last game on Sunday.

Orlando continues to hum along as winners of eight of its last 10 games overall. Their only obstacles during those 10 games? The even-hotter San Antonio Spurs and the flu, which sidelined several Magic players -- including star centre Dwight Howard -- in a 96-85 road loss to the Bucks.

Friday: Raptors vs. Nuggets - 7:00 PM, TSN

Masai Ujiri statement game! George Karl may still be hunting for career win no. 1000! OK, if that doesn't move you, how about the return of the Raptors from their short two-game road trip to face those aforementioned Nuggets?

It will be game three of a four-game, six-night trip for the Nuggets, who have won three straight meetings at Air Canada Centre and six straight overall.

Saturday: Toronto @ Detroit - 7:30 pm, TSN, Miami @ Sacramento

Sensing a theme here? It's a very busy week for the Raptors, who thankfully only need to make the short trip to the Motor City to close out their second home-road back-to-back in a week. The Raptors haven't had much success until recently against the Pistons. Toronto was just 13-40 all-time against Detroit until a season-series sweep last season goosed those numbers somewhat.

There's also a nightcap as the Heat take their talents to another beach as they visit Tyreke Evans, DeMarcus Cousins and the struggling Sacramento Kings.

Sunday: Cleveland @ Oklahoma City - 7:00 PM, Sportsnet One

The week ends with a visit to raucous Oklahoma City Arena, where the high-octane Thunder try and keep pace in the Northwest division. The Thunder have a healthy Kevin Durant back in the lineup after a knee sprain and despite a brief benching in Chicago on Monday, the MVP-candidate is still filling it up with 28 and 29-point efforts since his return.

  Game #20: Raptors vs. Knicks

Dec. 4, 2010, 5:31 PM

Raptors (8-11) vs. Knicks (11-9), Air Canada Centre -- Toronto, 1 PM, Sportsnet, FAN590

The Raptors and Knicks both roll into an intriguing divisional matchup on Sunday afternoon at ACC. Akil Augustine and I discuss it all in our latest courtside LIVE CHAT, beginning just before tip-off.

The Big Story: Big Back-To-Back

So 19 games in and the Raptors find themselves staring at what suddenly feels like a fairly meaningful back-to-back, beginning with the Knicks on Sunday before traveling to face the Pacers the next night.

The Raptors hit the quarter-pole as winners of six of their last eight, but could be looking at a key point on the schedule these next two games.

The East couldn't be any more wide open after the top few teams and at 8-11 the Raptors would be playing in the post-season if the playoffs started today.

Here's the problem. The playoffs most definitely do not start today.

The reality is that the Raptors are also just three games up on the last-place Sixers.

But there's opportunity in these next two days against the two teams immediately ahead of the Raptors in the conference standings.

Win both games and they could vault a spot and are right near that .500 mark again. Lose both or even split them and they're falling back with a handful of teams right behind them. It's not make or break for a young team that's clearly going to experience inconsistency. But maybe it's one of those points on the schedule you look back on at season's end and notice it's where things started moving in a particular direction.

What To Watch: Gotham Road Warriors

Enough with looking ahead two games. Sunday's game pits two high-scoring teams against each other that are both going pretty good right now.

New York has won eight of its last nine and has been very good away from MSG, where its piled up eight road wins to tie San Antonio for a league-high.

Only three of the Knicks' 11 wins on the season have come against teams with winning records, but their last victory on Friday was an eye-opener. Amar'e Stoudemire put up 34 points and 10 rebounds as they took charge in the fourth quarter against the Hornets and earned a convincing 100-92 road win. It was the third straight effort with at least 30 points for Stoudemire.

Also seeing good things in threes was starting point guard Raymond Felton, who added his third straight double-double with 17 points and a game-high 13 assists in the Knicks' sixth straight road win.

For the Raptors, just take the footage of Friday's third quarter against the Thunder and keep it handy for whenever this team needs a reminder of what it can do. Bench play has been a strong suit for this team all season long, but when the starters come out and set the tone like they did after halftime on Friday, this team can be pretty fun to watch.

It's been an impressive week for the Raptors, who enjoyed their best offensive performance of the season against Washington and possibly their best quarter on both sides of the ball Friday vs. OKC. Those efforts helped boost their scoring average to just over 103 ppg during this recent eight-game stretch and that bodes well against a Knicks team allowing 106 ppg.

Just a reminder that Sunday is also Canada Basketball Day at Air Canada Centre with a lot going on throughout the afternoon.

Several athletes from our various national teams and new appointments will be in attendance, plus we'll see a pre-game presentation highlighting MLSE's ongoing financial commitment to the program.

Whether you're on hand to celebrate or not, you can also help support Canada Basketball with their GIVE THE GIFT OF THE GAME campaign for this holiday season. Visit basketball.ca today to find out how you can help by purchasing gear online, bidding on some cool experiences and memorabilia, buying discounted tickets to Sunday's game or simply by making a charitable online donation.

We'll have video and photos of all the festivities right here after the game.

Lineup Updates

Reggie Evans (foot fracture) and Solomon Alabi (NBA D-League) will be inactive for Sunday's game. Peja Stojakovic (swollen left knee) who has missed the last three games with a swollen left knee, remains listed as day-to-day.

For the latest injury updates, be sure to check out our pre-game coverage on NBA TV Canada, beginning at 12 p.m., and follow the official Raptors Twitter account.

Last Time They Met

Stoudemire was big down the stretch in Toronto's 98-93 loss to the Knicks in Toronto on Nov. 27. In the game's dying minutes, the veteran blocked a Bargnani lay-up attempt, made one of two at the line and proceeded to rattle off three straight field goals that restored an eight-point Knicks cushion.

The Raptors managed to get it down to just 96-93 with a minute to play, but Linas Kleiza and Leandro Barbosa both missed three-point attempts, allowing Felton to ice it at the line with two free throws.

  Game #19: Raptors vs. Thunder

Dec. 3, 2010, 10:41 AM

Raptors (7-11) vs. Thunder (13-6), Air Canada Centre -- Toronto, 7 PM, TSN2, FAN590

The Raptors aim to carry some momentum from a big win on Wednesday into tonight's matchup with the explosive Oklahoma City Thunder. Don't forget, Akil Augustine and I will be discussing all the action with you live from ACC, beginning just before tip-off.

The Big Story: The Kids Are Alright

It's easy to get cynical and say that Wednesday's 127-108 win at ACC over the Wizards was nothing to get too excited about. The Wizards remain winless on the road this season and still managed to put up 108 points in a blowout loss.

But Wednesday's win wasn't impressive so much for the 19-point spread, it was really more this team's young core not just stepping up but thriving in a dominating win.

Andrea Bargnani (18 points), DeMar DeRozan (game-high 20 points), Sonny Weems (18 points), Ed Davis (11 points, six rebounds, two blocks) and Jerryd Bayless (16 points, six rebounds, five assists) were all big factors in the win and if that carries over tonight, we're in for a fun matchup with a Thunder team that boasts just as much youth, athleticism and scoring.

In order to grab a win tonight, a good start is imperative. The Thunder can fill it up and will allow opponents to get theirs on offence, but they've got the necessary defenders at a couple of key positions to stifle the Raptors.

The Thunder also don't share the ball particularly well (but take pretty good care of it) and like the Raptors, outside shooting isn't exactly its forte. The challenge for Jay Triano and the Raptors' defence tonight is to limit high-percentage drives and try and force the Thunder to become shooters.

What To Watch: Booming Thunder

All eyes are going to be on the possibility of the Kevin Durant suiting up at ACC tonight, but the Thunder have a couple of other weapons that have been doing just fine lighting it up without KD.

Most notable is Russell Westbrook, the explosive guard who put up 38 points with 15 rebounds and nine assists in the Thunder's 123-120 triple overtime road win over the Nets on Wednesday. He's been on absolute tear this season and containing him might be a bigger priority as he's the one that makes this offence go.

Also shining for OKC in Wednesday's win was forward Jeff Green, whose 37 points continues his strong return from a left ankle injury that sidelined him for seven November games. If Durant can't go, expect Green to slide over to the starting small forward spot once again.

Lineup Updates

Durant sprained his left knee on Monday versus New Orleans and by all accounts it's not considered to be serious. But his absence would be a factor. According to John Rohde of the Oklahoman, the Thunder are 8-2 with their traditional starting five of Westbrook, Sefalosha, Durant, Green and Krstic intact. They're just 5-4 if they need to switch it up.

For the Raptors, leading rebounder Reggie Evans has undergone successful surgery on his right foot and will be sidelined for an estimated eight weeks.

Forward Peja Stojakovic, who remains day-to-day with a swollen left knee, is expected to miss a third straight game.

For the latest injury updates, be sure to check out our pre-game coverage on NBA TV Canada, beginning at 6 p.m., and follow the official Raptors Twitter account.

Last Time They Met

Back on March 19, the Thunder used a 17-4 run at the end of the first quarter to take a 39-25 lead after 12 minutes at ACC and the rout was on. Durant scored 31 points in 31 minutes, Green scored 25 and Westbrook added 11 points and 10 assists in an eventual 115-89 blowout win for OKC.

We'll skip both of those matchups entirely as we flash back to happier times against the Thunder (then the Seattle Sonics) on NBA TV Canada, beginning at 4 p.m.

  JBay Loves T.O.

Dec. 2, 2010, 12:58 PM

Great win for the Raptors last night and guard Jerryd Bayless was a big part of it with 16 points, six rebounds and five assists. He's also clearly becoming more comfortable with his team and this city with each passing day. Here's a sample of his latest entry posted on his personal blog on Wednesday.

"... A new country, a new climate, a new beginning. I can't lie and say that I knew to much about Toronto prior to being here, but for the short time that I have been here I hope this is something that doesn't come to an end. It's not only a city that embraces us as the players we are, but as the people we are as well..."

Check out more of it here and you can hear more from Bayless on Twitter.