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  Barbosa Resetting Internal Clock...

Oct. 29, 2010, 2:35 PM

Little about the Cleveland Cavaliers should surprise the Toronto Raptors.

For one thing, former Raptors Anthony Parker and Jamario Moon will start for the Cavs when they face the Raptors at Air Canada Centre tonight.

Another former Raptor, Joey Graham is on the roster as well.

The Cavs and Raptors share a similar story. The Cavs saw LeBron James head to South Beach. Raps fans did likewise with Chris Bosh.

“We both lost one important guy,” said Raps point guard Jose Calderon. “It’s like everything. Life goes on. They won the first game which is better than us. After that it’s the same situation.”

The Raptors dropped their season opener 98-93 on Wednesday. The Cavs took advantage of a tired Boston team and dropped the Celtics 95-87.

Opponents will see who left instead of who stayed when appraising the Raptors this season. The Raps, meanwhile, are determined not to make the same mistake with Cleveland.

“They have guys who really can play. We have to careful, they’re a pretty good team,” said Raptors centre Andrea Bargnani.

One of those guys, energetic big man Anderson Varejao is not with the team, but instead is with his father who is undergoing heart surgery.

Guard Mo Williams will be a game time decision. He has a groin injury.

The Raptors meanwhile are looking to even their record and there are several areas where they could bump their production. The Raps missed a handful of lay-ups, including three by Leandro Barbosa in the loss to New York. That’s not unexpected early in the season but Barbosa said he is getting used to a brace that protects his injured right wrist.

While Reggie Williams snared 16 rebounds, Bargnani flagged noticeably in the second half, scoring four after halftime and 16 before.

The Raptors embark on their first road trip of the season, a four-game West Coast junket. The Raptors come back for two more and then go out again for four.

“For us it’s really important,” said Bargnani. We have to come back tonight and work a little bit better before we go to the West."

  Barbosa Resetting Internal Clock...

Oct. 28, 2010, 5:22 PM

It was a time issue, obviously.

Leandro Barbosa scored 13 points in his debut with the Toronto Raptors, Wednesday. None came in the first half and the evening included what might be a personal high of three missed lay-ups for Barbosa as the Raps fell 98-93 to the New York Knicks.

“At eight o’clock he showed up,” said Raptors coach Jay Triano. “We explained the time difference between Phoenix and Toronto. He missed a couple early on and then he made a shot that rattled around. He’s a very streaky player who single-handedly got us back in the game in the third quarter.”

The Raptors host the Cleveland Cavaliers Friday night and they will be looking for a more timely appearance from the 28-year-old guard.

Barbosa, sent from Phoenix to Toronto in the deal that brought Hedo Turkoglu west, finished with 13 points on just six for 16 shooting over 24:25.

Barbosa admits his internal clock was messed up by the occasion. “I was talking to coach and I told him that it won’t happen anymore,” he said. “It was my first game and I was excited.”

"It’s totally different for me, new home, new apartment, new life, new team,” said Barbosa. “I appreciate everything in my life, but the basketball is the same."

If nerves got in the way of Barbosa truly breaking lose, there is the calming memory of Barbosa taking over the third quarter with two driving layups and a jumper in quick succession.

Barbosa has staggering footspeed but a tendon issue in his right hand has necessitated a wrist brace and the equipment, Barbosa said, made it difficult to manipulate the ball.

“It changes a lot because it’s stiff. Usually I don’t miss those layups. It’s affected me in the first game. Just let me get used to the brace and I will be fine.”

The injury is open, there is no surgery planned and as long as it doesn’t worsen, Barbosa need only worry about adjusting to the brace and handling the soreness.

“It’s just him playing through the pain and us trying to calm it down as much as we can,” Triano said.

“It’s a little sore, a little uncomfortable,” said Barbosa. “It will be fine. I’m not planning to have a surgery. This is a new opportunity for me. I want to be here for the team and work as hard as I can.”

In the Cavaliers, the Raptors face a team that lost a star to free agency, a team working to return its identity as a hard-working, committed team. The Cavs trimmed the Boston Celtics 95-87 Wednesday night in their home opener.

“They had a very good pre-season and they are one of the league’s best defensive teams,” Triano said. “They obviously played very well in beating the Celtics. They have balanced scoring, lots of energy, they share the basketball very well.”

  Raptors Ready To Start Anew...

Oct. 25, 2010, 5:06 PM

For the Toronto Raptors, 2010-2011 is the season of opportunity.

The Raptors open their 16th NBA season Wednesday when they host the New York Knicks at Air Canada Centre.

The old is out and the new is in.

Franchise player Chris Bosh now winters in Miami. Hedo Turkoglu is in Phoenix. Both were major distractions, Bosh because he threatened to go, Turkoglu because he just might stay.

Despite the usual point guard controversy, the Raptors went 40-42 and barely missed the post-season last year. Now the emphasis is on team play. With only DeMar DeRozan flashing real star potential, they will have to take advantage of a hungry cast of characters to be competitive. That said, coach Jay Triano is looking forward to bringing a surprise or two to late game situations.

“Last year if we didn’t run a certain play late in the game it was like ‘why would you pay this guy this much money and not give him the basketball,’ Triano said diplomatically.

“Now, we can disguise a lot of things. We can go to more guys.”

“This is going to be a team about sharing the wealth,” said point guard Jarrett Jack. “I don’t want to compare us to this team because they were really good but (I am thinking of) the Knicks of old. They just played. You didn’t have a guy who you would stop and that meant you had shut them down. They had a number of very capable guys who, collectively, were able to achieve a bigger goal.”

The Raptors will turn to Linas Kleiza at small forward. Reggie Evans had an impressive fall but it is unclear whether he will start at power forward. In fact, the only certainty is at centre, where Andrea Bargnani enters his fifth season and shooting guard where DeMar DeRozan should start every night.

The club would love to use Amir Johnson more often but chronic foul problems limit how much he can do. Still, he has shown himself to be a potentially devastating rebounder.

The spirit of a fresh slate is everywhere, according to Jack.

"A lot of guys are finally getting their turn so to speak. Linas being in Denver playing behind a guy like Carmelo Anthony, he didn’t get too many opportunities to establish himself as a pretty good scorer off the bench. Reggie hasn’t been in a starting role since Seattle. Andrea is now the new focal point. DeMar has come of age after one season."

Bargnani, meanwhile, pronounced himself ready to go.

"This is my fifth year so I have learned a great deal," he said. "I have been working on my low post play but it is something I must keep improving."

The Raptors are keen to begin playing in earnest.

"We know who we are," Triano said. "There are no clouds. The season is in front of us."

  The Character With Character...

Oct. 19, 2010, 12:06 PM

I didn’t set out to write about Reggie Evans.

I was writing about Linas Kleiza yesterday, but when Reggie Evans is talking to the media, as he does without fail and with startling length and a sweet openness, you stick your ear into the scrum.

He was talking about the cheat day on his diet. It’s Saturday. He eats candy, with a preference for Skittles. When he goes home to the neighborhood in Pensacola, Fla., the kids watch for him going into the convenience store. “They know if I’m getting some, they’re going to be getting some,” he said.

The Toronto Raptors are not the most talented team in the NBA. They are, instead, a collection of specialists who could merge into a playoff-worthy entity.

But they promise to work hard, to defend, and to play with an unencumbered joy and athleticism. Much of the highlight reel dunks you will see this season will be the result of the trench work provided by Reggie Evans, the Candy Man.

There is only one Reggie. Facing his old Philadelphia team on Sunday, Reggie draped his arms around the shoulders of former teammates and stuck his head into the huddle. Don’t look for that in the regular season.

The point is Reggie Evans is sweet. He smiles as often as he inhales and the corners of his mouth tend to abut his ears.

He has not had an easy life. Once back in the neighborhood, a man walked up to him and began robbing him.

Reggie, a peaceable man did not argue.

Only after being told to hand over his coat did Reggie realize that he knew the identity of the thief. “Reggie,” the bad guy said, “Is that you?”

The thief was contrite. Everyone likes Reggie. He gave all his stuff back and apologized.

Reggie has no problem with the truth. It was pointed out to him after the Raptors win against Phoenix that when he snared an offensive rebound he invariably got the ball back to the point guard. Reggie does not have a lot of inside moves. What he does have is a good memory. His coach in high school told him the best way to get ahead was to always listen to his coach. This time, Triano’s orders were explicit. Go get it then get it out.

“Me and Jay had a brief talk, real brief, straight to the point,” Reggie said. “I do what the coach says.”

Reggie is not one for alibis. When you point out how a foot injury scuttled last season, he downplays the injury. It just wasn’t a good year he says. It didn’t get done. Simple as that.

Reggie has a bit of a split personality. As docile as he is off the court, he is vocal and determined on the floor, at least during the regular season. He is famous for grabbing too much of Chris Kaman’s shorts during a scrum underneath the basket. He is in spectacular condition. When you run into one of his picks it hurts your whole family. He will give you what he has every night and, perhaps most importantly, serve as an example for DeMar DeRozan, Sonny Weems, Solomon Alabi and Ed Davis.

If you are a work in progress, as the Raptors are, you had best be an interesting one. With a goatee that threatens his Adam’s apple and a bald head, Reggie is instantly recognizable. He brings character. Perhaps as importantly, he is a character. There is only one Candy Man.

  One Raptor's Road To The NBA

Oct. 18, 2010, 4:33 PM

The Raptor’s story is a familiar one.

Basketball was the way out and the kid’s hard work and talent led to a scholarship and a better, safer place.

“Where I come from it’s a rough area,” he said. “I didn’t grow up studying art. Growing up it was tough.“

There were precious few who found a life outside.

“I come from a place where not a lot of people made it out,” he said. “Some people did, a couple of my friends, my brother. My grandparents and parents did a great job trying to keep us out of trouble. Basketball was a big factor in keeping me out of that."

The temptations were the usual ones. Crime, drugs and booze and while parts of his city would be known for museums and galleries, the player’s neighborhood might as well have been in a different galaxy.

“It was hard to get a job,” said the Raptor.

“People don’t want to go to school. A lot of people didn’t graduate high school. People my dad went to high school with are living with their mothers. It’s kind of a black hole.”

The city is Kaunas, more or less the midpoint of Lithuania, a city of 3.5 million people founded by the Romans and in the last century occupied by both the Germans and Soviets whose terrible legacy is the extermination of the area’s Jewish population.

In 1990, Lithuania became the first country to declare itself freed from the Soviet empire and in 1992, the players who had been the backbone of the Soviet’s basketball program played for their country at the Olympics and brought home the sweetest bronze medal in any sport and any country.

Basketball is Lithuania’s greatest and most important export.

“In Lithuania basketball is above everything else,” said Jay Triano one of the NBA’s savants of the international game.

It’s tempting to view basketball as the Lithuanian version of hockey with the part of Wayne Gretzky played by the great Arvydas Sabonis. Linas Kleiza however, doesn’t play along.

“I think basketball in Lithuania is 10 times more than hockey here. People live by basketball. They say we are Catholic first, but basketball is almost even. It’s very important.”

Kleiza has the requisites of the Lithuanian basketball player. He is technically sound and he loves to shoot the ball. The same could be said of another Lithuanian, Miami’s Zydrunas Ilgauskas.

Kleiza arrived in North America at 16, went to prep school in Maryland and then played college ball at Missouri. At 25, his game has evolved, said Jarrett Jack, who played against him in high school.

“In college he was a post up player. He’s definitely made a great transition to the wing. His shooting touch is unbelievable.”

Kleiza knows he is lucky. He had a skill and the frame and the help.

“I love what I am doing,” said the Raptors’ survivor of the mean streets.

“I enjoy life and I am trying to be the best player I can become. I am trying to get better as a person every day.”

  The Future Is Now For NBA TV Canada

Oct. 15, 2010, 12:30 PM

The future for NBA fans in Canada was the subject of a star-studded debate on Friday.

A panel discussed the evolution of technology in NBA productions, initiatives to continue the league’s global growth, efforts to expand Canadian NBA viewership, the evolution of 3-D broadcasts and the ever-evolving world of social media.

The conversation included Emmy Award winning sportscaster Ahmad Rashad, former Raptor Charles Oakley, Toronto GM Bryan Colangelo, Marc Eversley, the Raptors assistant general manager, NBA executive vice president of operations and technology Steve Hellmuth and Aaron LaFontaine, director of business development for MLSE’s broadcasting arm.

The event was convened at the Real Sports Bar and Grill in Maple Leaf Square.

Meanwhile, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment officials have moved to rebrand its basketball channel from Raptors NBA TV to NBA TV Canada.

“We wanted to put forward a name that more accurately represented who we are and what we are doing,” said LaFontaine.

“We have a terrific mix of NBA content as well as the final word on Raptors coverage. Our channel is also home to NBA games and NBA TV programming and we still serve our Raptor fans through shows such as Raptors Game Day, Raptors Post Up, Game in an Hour and Raptorspace.”

Over the last two years the audience for live U.S.-based games on the channel has increased 240 per cent. More than two million people subscribe to NBA TV Canada.