Archive for February, 2012

Raptors at Houston Rockets Points Per Game

- February 28th, 2012

All the attention is probably going to be on DeMar DeRozan’s tweet afterwards (he didn’t play in the fourth quarter, despite leading the team in scoring), but there are other things to discuss.

- What’s up with Jose Calderon? He’s fantastic at home, below average on the road. His home-road splits show quite a disparity. Calderon averages 13.7 points, 10.4 assists and 51% shooting at home, but away he averages 8.5 and 7.5 on 41% shooting.

- Raptors and Rockets have gone in opposite directions since the start of the season. Houston opened 3-7, but has gone 18-7 since (and 15-4 at home overall), while the Raptors went a surprising 4-5 early on, but slumped to 6-19 since.

- Toronto got Linas Kleiza back following a three-game injury absence. Casey said he’d be cautious with Kleiza’s minutes. “I’ll try to be smart. I haven’t been accused of that too often,” Casey cracked. Andrea Bargnani is doing on-court running, but the team is being cautious. “He’s got to listen to his body and go with that. Kind of on his terms, as far as his calf is concerned,” Casey said.

- I talked to Leandro Barbosa and he said all the trade rumours aren’t bothering him at all. He knows it is part of the business and out of his control. But it might not all be. Sources tell me quietly, potential landing spots willing to extend-and-trade Barbosa are being sniffed out. Barbosa said he loves Toronto and would happily sign long-term. As always though, we’ll see if the price is right and if the Raptors get an offer they can’t refuse.

- I don’t blame DeRozan for being frustrated. Unlike Calderon and Jerryd Bayless, who didn’t play in the fourth (aside from 11 seconds for Calderon), DeRozan was playing decent-well. Casey said he was thinking ahead to Wednesday’s game in New Orleans, but it seemed like an odd call, especially with Kleiza just back from injury. DeRozan played the entire third quarter, scoring 10 points before sitting.

- Like Casey, I’m a big fan of Kyle Lowry. Was convinced he’d be better than Villanova teammate Randy Foye and that certainly has proven correct. He does so many things well and as Casey said: “He’s a hell of a competitor. He’s their heart and soul and spirit of their team and I love the way he plays.”

Detroit Pistons at Raptors Points Per Game:

- February 22nd, 2012

Sometimes, emphasis on sometimes, the NBA – and pro sports in general – are quite predictable. The Raptors had four days off, the Pistons played a night earlier. The teams have similar records. The outcome, if you thought about it, was probably predictable. It was a 10 point win with the Raptors having more in the tank than the tired Pistons.

- Any talk of this game has to start with Jose Calderon. February has bee one of the best months of his NBA career and he switched from scorer back to his customary playmaker role seamlessly. Calderon is one of the most accomplished non-drafted players ever, along with Detroit’s Ben Wallace, who is winding down his fantastic career.

- The MVP chants for Aaron Gray were as ridiculous as the screaming demands for pizza, but Gray played very well. He was a major factor in this one, turning in a double-double against standout sophomore Greg Monroe. Gray has been a solid fit and should be retained next season if possible to help show Jonas Valanciunas the ropes.

- Hands up everybody who saw a back-to-back block sequence involving Jerryd Bayless and Gray this season?

- I’m not convinced Detroit’s hot streak will continue. I see them ending up close to the bottom of the East when this season is over even though I really like Monroe and think Lawrence Frank is a good coach. They don’t defend nearly well enough. They get a lot of steals, but don’t offer much resistance at the rim.

Short and sweet tonight. Time to get to work on Raptor report cards.

Wilson Chandler using Raptors for leverage?

- February 22nd, 2012

Now that I have re-read the new CBA, this post has been edited:

So, Wilson Chandler’s in town. At first it seemed it was just for pleasure, since his agent had said earlier this week that he definitely would be rejoining the Denver Nuggets for the rest of the season.

But things change and it appears the restricted free agent is using the Raptors – who have long coveted him – for leverage. Denver has a lot of money tied up long-term already and with Arron Afflalo and Danilo Gallinari the starters, might not want to make Chandler one of the highest-paid reserves in the league.

In Toronto, he’d fit a need, a two-way small forward who can also play shooting guard. It’s still not clear who the real Chandler is – the guy who lit it up as a Knick, or the solid, but unspectacular guy who played for the Nuggets following the Carmelo Anthony trade? Either way, the Raptors like him and will make a play for him.

Right now they can’t do a sign-and-trade (under the rules of the CBA) and they can only offer him a contract starting at $4.3 million U.S. (what they have left under the salary cap). That won’t get it done, meaning they’ll have to make a trade that opens up some more cap space (trading out a bigger salary for a player or players making $2 million or so less or moving someone like Leandro Barbosa for a trade exception).

The team spent the new mid-level exception for room teams ($2.5 million) on Aaron Gray, allowing them to keep their remaining cap space.

Bryan Colangelo and Denver GM Masai Ujiri have a close relationship but with sign-and-trades not allowed during the season, it’s hard to see how that comes into play now. Surely Denver doesn’t want to lose Chandler for nothing though. Either way, expect Chandler to use Toronto’s interest to his advantage in order to win a big payday, from the Nuggets, Raptors or somebody else.

Raptors to revamp Davis’ jumper/footwork; Big game from Joseph and more

- February 22nd, 2012

Pistons Points Per Game coming by tomorrow morning but today wanted to do a roundup of assorted topics of interest:

First, congratulations to Cory Joseph, who got his first career start on Tuesday when Gregg Popovich decided to rest Tony Parker and Tim Duncan. It was an ugly game for the Spurs, but Joseph managed 13 points, three assists and 0 turnovers, hitting a pair of threes in a 4-for-13 shooting effort. Getting that chance will help him down the line. Believe only two 20-year-old Canadians have ever started a game in the NBA. Tristan Thompson earlier this season and now Cory.

- On to Ed Davis. A lot of people are asking me if the news that the Raptors intend to work extensively with Davis in the off-season on his jumper and footwork means he is part of the long-term plans? While it’s a positive for Davis supporters that they are talking about working with him this summer, I wouldn’t read too much into it. Dwane Casey wants to make the players he has better. That’s his job. He can’t be thinking that he won’t have certain guys to work with in the future. He can only think about what he has now and making the current Raptors better. It’s  up to Bryan Colangelo to make moves and give Casey the players to work with.

They have already worked on Davis’ jumper, like James Johnson, his mechanics look better, but they are very concerned with the way his left foot comes towards and crosses over his right when he takes a jumper (he doesn’t do this at the free throw line). The movement is all wrong, it is not a smooth motion and it is counter-productive. It will be rebuilt from the ground up in the summer.

EDIT: I do believe one of Davis or Amir Johnson will be traded this off-season. With Linas Kleiza a solid stretch 4, but ineffective at SF, Andrea Bargnani looking like the starting 4 of the future and even James Johnson putting up better numbers as a 4 than he does as a 4, that’s an awful lot of power forwards going forward. Jonas Valanciunas, Aaron Gray and possibly Jamaal Magloire should get the centre minutes next season and even if Bargnani shifts to the 5 a bit, there will still be at least one PF too many.

Davis is cheaper than Amir and would be easier to get value for based on upside potential so don’t convince yourself that just because they are talking about working with him in the summer that he’s definitely staying. I’d be shocked if both Davis and Amir are back next season. There likely isn’t room for both of them and Bargnani, Kleiza and Johnson don’t seem like likely candidates to be moved.

- Casey likes what he has seen from Davis recently after a down period. He has totaled 20 points and 15 rebounds on 9-for-14 shooting over his past two games and was one of the only Raptors to show up against the Bobcats on Friday.

“I thought Ed did a heck of a job against Charlotte, he competed, he rebounded, mixed it up in the paint. Ed is growing, up until the last 3 or 4 games he had been inconsistent, but I thought his effort and focus and productivity offensively have been there the last couple of games,” Casey said this week.

- As I wrote today, the Raptors believe the playoffs aren’t a pipe dream. It sounds crazy and it remains a highly unrealistic outcome, but you can’t hate on them for saying so. They are trying to win games not think about draft picks and the future.

“We have a long way to go, (but) can definitely turn things around this season and make a push towards the playoffs,” said Jerryd Bayless.

- Bayless is expected to play against Detroit on Wednesday, while Linas Kleiza’s status is dicier. A lot more factors come into play with Kleiza than with some other players (ie. scrutiny from outside affiliates).

Charlotte Bobcats at Raptors Points Per Game, Naughty By Nature edition:

- February 18th, 2012

Disappointed I didn’t get to see Naughty by Nature at halftime, also wondering why the heck Treach and Co. are doing halftime shows now? Sorry Matt and Jack, but I’m not as crushed about missing your halftime show.

- The Raptors let winless Washington beat them earlier this year, so perhaps it isn’t a surprise that Charlotte’s 16-game losing streak also ended against Toronto. The Raptors need to stop playing down, or up, to the competition.

- Raptors were smart to run on Charlotte early. You don’t really think of the Bobcats as a team to run on, but that definitely can be done against them. They should have ran a lot more.

- If Jose Calderon has played at a higher level either in the NBA or internationally, it is news to us.

- Charlotte has been knocked for not playing hard this season, but you could tell they were quite anxious to end a brutal 16-game losing streak. Getting D.J. Augustin back is going to help the Bobcats win a few games. He has become the squad’s best player. The Raptors were desperate not to let-down against such a brutal team, but the squad did not come out with the same energy as in the past few games. It took until late in the first half before the effort level seemed to pick up for the home side. The shooting also cooled noticeably from recent 50% or so shooting outings.

- Ed Davis seems to have a lot more comfortable taking jump shots. Tom Sterner helped James Johnson in that regard, and it appears Davis has improved based on those sessions as well. Not only does his form look better, but Davis also looks more comfortable when he is hoisting his shots, which any shooter knows is a big part of the battle. (Note, I am definitely not a shooter, but I know that is true). The Raptors have been giving Davis more minutes and a bigger role of late in an effort to see what they have in him.

- Don’t really like Kemba Walker off the ball as Charlotte played him a bit on Friday. Don’t think he’s a true point guard either, but he needs to have the ball and to be making the decisions. If his jumper develops, perhaps he can grow into a Ben Gordon-esque role, but that’s not his game yet. Walker’s a great slasher and can set up his teammates, but he’s not going to be an effective NBAer until he greatly improves his jumper and shot selection.

- Raptors director of sport science Alex McKechnie has headed to Lithuania to work with Jonas Valanciunas.

- With Jerryd Bayless back, didn’t expect to see the Calderon-Anthony Carter backcourt again, but it gave Toronto some decent minutes late in the first half.

- DeMar DeRozan could learn some bad things from Corey Maggette, but he also could learn some good. Few players can get to the free throw line as easily and often as Maggette. He’s a bit of a ball-stopper, but he really knows how to put defences on their heels, how to draw contact and create a ton of free throw opportunities. Maggette is best neutralized by turning him into a jump shooter. Meanwhile, DeRozan has really rebounded of late after a concerning stretch of the season. He had 18 points in the first half alone.

- Leandro Barbosa, Amir Johnson and Davis keyed the fourth quarter Raptors comeback, but it wasn’t enough and the team was booed off the court on fan night.

 

Spurs at Raptors Points Per Game:

- February 16th, 2012

Another good game, another tough loss. The Raptors are making an art of entertaining their fans, while still losing enough to stay in the Anthony Davis hunt. As usual, a few thoughts on the game and then some quotes I couldn’t get in to my story.

- DeMar DeRozan really needed that game after being a no-show too often of late. I keep harping on this, but he needs to be that aggressive player in order to succeed. He also took better control of the ball, which is needed since he can’t be turning it over off of strips 1-3 times every night.

- You have to appreciate the Spurs. Nobody ever pays any attention to them, yet all they do is win. Tony Parker: “We are nine in a row so if nobody talks about us, that’s good, we’ll keep playing good basketball.”

- Definitely some strange units out there. Dwane Casey said he was searching for offence with Bargnani, Bayless and Kleiza out. That left more defensive-minded players like James Johnson benched. He said he gave the red hot DeRozan a long break because of the back-to-back. Thought DeRozan would be able to give more down the stretch if he did that.

- Anthony Carter looked finished earlier this year, but now has found his game and is contributing.

- This team sure finds novel ways to lose eh? Five second call one night, two hands on the ball another. A foul out of bounds …

- The Raptors need to have better court awareness and stop taking a ton of offensive fouls. Too many Raptors are charging into opponents and it hurt them on Wednesday.

- Amir Johnson had been struggling mightily to hit mid-range jump shots this season, but he was nailing them on Wednesday

ONE OF A KIND

Metta World Peace one game, Popovich, the next? As a reporter, you can’t beat that.

The irascible Popovich is always a riot. With a dry, quick wit, Pop mixes bemusement with frustration as well as anybody.

He had some gems before the game:

To a larger crowd of media than he is used to: “It’s Toronto and San Antonio, take a break.”

On whether Cory Joseph should have stayed longer at Texas: “What am I, the answer man?”

On Joseph’s biggest challenge: “(Said dryly and in a short manner) “He’s a rookie.”

Some quotes on Joseph:

Cory Joseph:

“I don’t try to put pressure on myself, I just try to focus on the gameplan, play hard and let everything decide itself.

(Talks to Tristan about once a week). Only had like a week of training camp. Wanted me to get some game experience. Everybody looks at the D-League like it’s a bad thing, but Austin’s a good thing for me. Good coaching staff. (Soak up) A whole lot. Decision-making, what decisions I should do within the system. Just try to soak up as much as possible. Anybody can play in this league just given the opportunity.

(Watch Texas?) Obviously I miss it, but I’m happy where I am now. I watch them a couple of times when I’m able to. Hopefully they can win this next couple of games to solidify themselves in the tournament. That would make me happier.

Talk to Myck. Tell him to run your team, make sure you get the wins.”

Tony Parker:

“They played them all the way to the end. Just tough games for Toronto.

If we play like that, move the ball great and everybody’s healthy, we have a good chance to go all the way.

We played basketball all season long then TD got hurt and Manu went down the last game (last year).

On Cory: It’s tough as a point guard he’s not playing that much and we don’t practise so it’s tough for him to get some minutes because he doesn’t know the system, he doesn’t know the plays and Pop, sometimes he calls plays he didn’t call for 10 games. I’ve been here 11 years so I know the plays, so it’s tough for Cory. When you’re a point guard and you have a coach like Pop, you need practice time and you need to know all the plays and right now we never practice, we just rest, play, rest, play. He’s talented, we just have to be patient with him.”

Dwane Casey:

“Health is an important thing in this league and when you don’t have it you search. Tonight I was searching for any group that could help us.

This is a difficult team to play. We’ve played three emontional games, and I think our team competed in each of them. My hat is off to our guys because I think they competed and any basketball person, in seeing who we have in the floor, talked about how we competed.

That’s important to me, to the organization going forward. It’s going to help us once we get our program on the right spot. We want to continue this culture of playing hard, competing and putting yourself in position to win. What we have to do is execute … executing down the stretch. The game within the game (double dribble, holding call even though he was out of bounds). All the young guys need to learn how to play in those situations.”

“DeRozan. His major challenge this summer is going to be getting in the weight room, getting bigger, getting stronger. (Looking at Kobe and LeBron) looking at how big and strong those guys are and keeping the athleticism.”

“Good for psyche? No question. We don’t want to be satisfied with close, but with the growth that we’re making against the top teams (without top scorers), my hat is off to the guys who competed. The guys took up the slack.”

New York Knicks at Raptors Points Per Game:

- February 14th, 2012

First off before any Linsanity, the Dwane Casey/Tyson Chandler ring ceremony before the game was a nice touch.
- The Raptors have been starting most games terribly, but led by Jose Calderon, they really played well in the first quarter. The pressure was turned up on Jeremy Lin and the offence was solid.
- I’ve liked what Ed Davis has done of late. He isn’t blowing anybody away, but he’s doing a number of nice things – such as his early post-up – while cutting down on some of his mistakes.
- The difference between the horrible offensive basketball we saw the last time Andrea Bargnani was sidelined for weeks and this time? The play of Linas Kleiza. Kleiza has been sizzling and his play has helped make up for many of the 20-plus points the team misses every night without Bargnani.
- The Knicks gameplanned around DeMar DeRozan. They didn’t give him any room to operate and the pressure frustrated him.
- Ridiculous stuff from Lin at the end. Simply ridiculous. What a story.
- Some horrible rebounding by the Raptors down the stretch is what set up Lin’s heroics. He wouldn’t have had that chance without the Raptors struggling to pull down important boards.
- Something has happened to Amir Johnson’s shot this year and it hasn’t been a good something. The form doesn’t look as smooth and the jumpers are not falling anywhere close to as often as a season ago. His shocking breakthrough at the free throw line also looks like it was a one-year wonder.
Johnson’s defence remains excellent though, and he gave Amare Stoudemire some trouble, blocking four of his shots.
- Similar things could be said about Landry Fields. So good as a rookie, Fields has lost his effectiveness this year. He doesn’t look like the same guy who was so consistent as a rookie.
- Lin definitely is an NBA player but I think he’s going to be a good backup, not the star everybody already have pegged him as. He has skills, but tries to make the most difficult play too often, which leads to turnovers. He also can’t defend. Putting Iman Shumpert on Jose Calderon helped turn around the game.
I still want to see a bigger sample size before I anoint him a sure-fire starter, but no doubt he belongs in the league. But he’s proven everybody wrong already, so what do I know?

Lakers and Kobe stun Raptors Points Per Game:

- February 13th, 2012

That was one entertaining contest on Sunday, moreso because I wasn’t writing on deadline.

A few Raptor points before I get into some good stuff from the Lakers, who I was assigned to for the day.

- The shooting line for DeMar DeRozan was ugly but he did a lot of good things in other areas. Career high in assists was most notable, obviously, but he also played nice early defence on Kobe Bryant and looked to attack offensively. He had good looks but they weren’t falling. Metta World Peace and Bryant also are much beefier and stronger than DeRozan and they are great defenders who gave him some problems.

- Ed Davis rebounded from an invisible first half to play quite well in the second half. Amir Johnson went from outstanding against Boston to a complete non-factor. Have to give a hand to Jamaal Magloire – as LAkers head coach Mike Brown did – for his performance, which was a major reason why the Raptors came back from an 18-point deficit.

- James Johnson is starting to become a fan favourite for his energy, athleticism and defensive results. While his jumper is coming along, there is still work to do in that regard.

- From where I was sitting Rasual Butler definitely didn’t call time out in time … BUT Dwane Casey definitely did. The refs blew it, despite what the NBA says.

- Not sure I’ve seen Bryant utilize the Dirk-esque one-footed, leg kicking jumper he displayed. Like when Dirk shoots it, it is pretty much money every time.

- A lot of love for Jose Calderon after his career-high 30 points. Pau Gasol says he can do that whenever he wants to if defences aren’t going to challenge his shot. Bryant said he is a big fan of Calderon (hint hint Mitch Kupchak. Unfortunately for Bryant, there doesn’t seem to be a way to bring Calderon to L.A. trade-wise).

Now on to some quotes I couldn’t work in here or here

Kobe Bryant:
“I wasn’t surprised, it was five seconds. I didn’t go to college but I can count.
It’s five seconds, it was good defence on our part.
DeMar? I think the world of him as a player. I’ve seen his game grow tremendously from last year to this one in terms of adding a pull-up jumper to his game. He has a post game as well, but he wasn’t able to show it tonight because we have significantly bigger guards but he can post, he can handle, developed the mid-range jump shot, can obviously finish at the rim so I’m liking what he’s doing.
Olympics. It’s a big Olympics for us. We have an opportunity to kind of cement ourselves as the powerhouse. We won the last Olympics, we won the worlds, winning the Olympics in London will put us back where we belong. (Wear and tear). Not worried. With that team, I’ll just coast. I’m there if they need me. Big shots? That’s what I do. They can do all the heavy lifting.”

Pau Gasol:
“There’s games wehre he is going to take more shots because they are there. If he’s making them, he’ll continue to shoot things if they’re available. He’s not going to force things for you.
We have weapons. We have players that are experienced and have been successful throughout their careers offensively and defensively so that’s the depth and the weapons that we do have and we can go to them at a specific point.”

Metta World Peace:
“Ettore Messina. He’s a great coach. He’ll be a head coach. He reminds me a lot of Phil Jackson. He won championships. How many he win, 20, something stupid like that, it’s ridiculous. I just talk to him about the game. Cool to see European coaches come to the NBA. Changes it up.
(On mega-rich stars like Mike Tyson blowing all their money) “It’s cool. How many people get a chance to fail? Even a guy like Tyson. How many people have a chance to get $300 million and lose it? Not many people have a chance to fail. Not a bad thing, just move on with your life. Do something else, be positive. At least he touched it.

I can’t (score) with this team. Right before I came, I was on Houston, I was averaging 20 in the playoffs or something. I came here it went pffft. People forget, but that’s OK.
I can still put up numbers, there’s just no rhythm now. If I had to score. With Drew getting better, Kobe still playing better.

(On Kobe): “He’s in shape he takes care of his body. Those guys like Kobe, they came and they went. Kobe don’t take nights off, never. I seen him adjust his game sometimes, but no nights off. Maybe he passes more.
I’ve seen potentially more natural scorers, but Kobe got fundamentals. Kobe’s just different. I’ve seen people that were more talented than Kobe, but did they have the fundamentals and the work? He understands the little things the fundamentals, the footwork. It’s like writing a story, the same words over and over again, that’s not going to fly. You’ve got to change it up.
His technique is ridiculous.”

Mike Brown:
“Dwane Casey is a heck of a coach, those guys made a good choice picking him as the head coach. They did a terrific job of mixing in zones and brought us to a standstill a little bit at times.”

 

 

 

Boston Celtics at Toronto Raptors Points Per Game:

- February 11th, 2012

So, that’s why they play the games eh? It wasn’t impossible to see this one coming (I noted yesterday that for once, the Raptors would be at home rested waiting for a tired opponent and then the Celtics went to overtime in a battle with the Lakers to exhaust them even more). But still, considering Boston had taken 17-of-19 from the Raptors and beat up on them multiple times this season, it was still somewhat of a shock that Toronto upended Boston on Friday night.

- Boston had been averaging 98 points to Toronto’s 68.5 in the season series, shooting 50% to 35.9% for the Dinos.

- After being called out by Dwane Casey and humbled by the Celtics repeatedly, the Raptors showed some pride by taking this one. Gold quote from Amir Johnson:

“Excuse my language but I guess we just got tired of getting our asses busted,” said Amir Johnson, who had 12 points to go with 12 rebounds. “They have been beating us all season and the preseason. We finally stood up and hit them in the mouth.”

- The trick for the Raptors will be building on this without a letdown against the Lakers on Sunday. Los Angeles is going to be coming for the jugular thanks to their struggles.

- Casey showed some smart coaching by making his team run on the tired Celtics, who are old in the first place and had nothing in the tank after Thursday. Starting off hot was a key, jumping on Boston early was the only way to beat them. Toronto managed that with a higher compete level and an extra effort for 50/50 balls and second chance opportunities. Toronto has the young legs and athletes to do that all the time. It’s just a question of effort and willingness to do so.

- Jose Calderon rebounded from some spotty efforts with 14 assists and zero turnovers. The turnovers were the key as he had been making some uncharacteristic mistakes the past few weeks. I believe he’s the first Raptor ever to post 14 assists or more in three straight games, though Damon Stoudamire also might have pulled it off.

- Aaron Gray was one of the rare effective Raptors in Boston this season, and he had another nice night, pulling in 11 rebounds. I like the spacing he gives the team with his size and his screens. Will be interesting to see a Bargnani-Gray combo once Andrea gets back.

- Have to love what James Johnson is giving the Raptors at both ends. He has proven that at worst he is going to be a great reserve forward and defensive stopper going forward, and possibly much more than that. While Bryan Colangelo deserves the hammering he takes for some of his disastrous moves (Giving up all-star Roy Hibbert and more for Jermaine O’Neal, than giving up way too much to get rid of O’Neal and allowing Miami to get the cap space to form the Big Three for example), but stealing Johnson for a late pick in a bad draft was a heist that keeps looking increasingly astute.

- And, just to get some pageviews, the Jeremy Lin story is absolutely ridiculous and very cool to see. Even if he turns back into a pumpkin on Saturday, it has been a fantastic story and a reminder of why we love sports. Linsanity will be in the house Vinsanity built on Tuesday and all of a sudden a dull meeting with the possibly Melo and Amare-less Knicks becomes a likely sellout and a must-see for basketball fans.

 

Milwaukee Bucks at Raptors Points Per Game:

- February 9th, 2012

Lost in the very valid points about lack of practice time causing “defensive slippage” like in Wednesday’s loss to Milwaukee is one major factor nobody seems to be mentioning. Andrea Bargnani, shockingly, was playing fantastic defence. Without him, the team takes a major step back on that front (yes I never really thought I would write that sentence). Sure lack of reps is hurting the team, but I’d say the lack of Bargnani has been as much or more of a factor. Toronto is now just 2-12 without him and a return is nowhere close.

- It will be interesting to see if Bargnani is activated before the all-star break so he has a chance to be an injury selection. I know the franchise lobbied hard for him to be included and if he returns for two or three games he has a shot, especially since Andrew Bogut, Al Horford and Brook Lopez are injured. If Melo and Stoudemire are injured too (which seems to happen often), that will open up a forward spot or two (Stoudemire doesn’t deserve to be an all-star this year, but he plays in New York so is overhyped and could make it again).

- That said about Bargnani, I have no doubt the team is tired, mentally and physically, and that is why the defence has regressed. With a ton of practice time coming up, I think things will pick up in that department.

- Jerryd Bayless’ inability to stay healthy (ankles) has to be a concern for the Raptors. I still keep him over Barbosa long-term (cheaper and younger), but at some point they might have to question whether he is durable enough to be a building block.

- DeMar DeRozan seems to be taking to the small forward position doesn’t he? His numbers are better there and he seems more aggressive, since he can take slower threes off of the dribble. He seems more comfortable there, even if he often gives up a few inches. James Johnson told us that he actually prefers the power forward spot to the three, which makes DeRozan’s emergence at small forward even more intriguing.

“Ya, it’s easier for me. I dont have to run as hard as on the wing. It’s getting pretty simple, the problem was not knowing the plays, not knowing where to be,” Johnson said of playing small forward.

“I prefer (to play) whatever. I just want to win. Whatever makes us win, let’s do it.”

Johnson said assistant coach Tom Sterner has rebuilt his jump shot and given him a lot more confidence.
“That’s all Tom Sterner. Me and him rebuilt my jumper. It’s in rhythm, NBA rhythm, not one of those guys can get to or close out to. I’m getting more comfortable taking them. I’m not thinking of the fundamentals of the jumper anymore. I’m thinking about am I open.”
“I’m finally learning the catch-and-shoot or catch and make a faster decision.”

- Had a chance to talk to Ed Davis a bit before the game about his being snubbed for the rookie-sophomore game. He said he isn’t too concerned about it, but of course wants to gain recognition through his play. He maintains he will be an all-star one day.

- Funny Brandon Jennings line on whether he talks or see DeRozan much during the season. He said no but …

“We’re both doing different things. But when we see each other it’s all love. We’ll always probably go hit up Roscoes Chicken and Waffles when we’re in L.A. Just do something.”