His wonky calf covered with a black compression sleeve, Andrea Bargnani went through his paces in a quiet end of the Air Canada Centre on Monday afternoon, ready to rejoin his teammates after a three-game absence.
He can’t come back soon enough for a team ravaged with injuries and carrying the weight of 11 losses in its last 14 games to push it further down among the dregs of the NBA’s Eastern Conference.
It will now be up to Bargnani to hit the ground running in games in Chicago on Tuesday, in Cleveland on Wednesday and in Boston on Friday.
“I didn’t play for a week and a half so hopefully it’s not going to be a big deal,” he said. “Of course, I have to get back I in shape a little bit and hopefully it’ll be an easy thing.”
Whatever the team’s leading scorer can give the Raptors will be welcomed. Even though DeMar DeRozan had two breakout games with a career-best 37 points in Houston on Friday and a team-best 27 against Boston on Sunday, Toronto’s overall offence has been less than impressive in Bargnani’s absence.
The trick now is to keep DeRozan going at his current pace while also allowing Bargnani to get his typical 20 points a night.
“When Andrea comes back, we’re going to need them both to score so he (DeRozan) has got to find the in-between somewhere where he can still take the ball to the basket,” said coach Jay Triano. “I don’t think Andrea will take that away from him because Andrea is lifted a lot (out on the perimeter in Toronto’s offence).
“We’ll have to get Andrea touches but at the same time, DeMar’s going to have open floor to play with.”
Or ask Andrea Bargnani what it’s like to watch a game instead of play in one.
“It’s boring. It’s like, the worst thing,” said the seven-foot centre, who’s watched six of the Raptors’ previous eight games because of a calf injury.
Injuries are part of professional sports, but Toronto has been stuck with more than its fair share in recent weeks. The team kicks off a three-game road trip in Chicago on Tuesday against the Bulls, and it’s difficult to predict just who will be left standing when they wrap up in Boston versus the Celtics on Friday.
Clearly, the hobbled ones are antsy.
“This is the worst thing I’ve ever had in my life,” said Sonny Weems, who along with Evans (broken foot) and Stojakovic (swollen knee) will be grounded for the trip.
Since Weems was suddenly sidelined with back spasms on Dec. 17, the 24-year-old shooting guard has come to appreciate stretching for the first time in his life. “Guys around my age, we really don’t pay attention to stretching that much. We think it’s all just BS. But, I mean, it’s very important. You can see what I have to go through.”
Forward Amir Johnson did not practise Monday because of the sore back, but will travel and probably play through pain.
Starting point guard Jose Calderon is questionable – not because of the sore left foot that has hampered him recently, but because of the right ankle sprain he sustained in a home matchup against the Celtics on Sunday night.
Despite having a worse record than they did last year at the same point in the season, this group, this thinned out injury ravaged group, has shown way more gumption than the listless group of ‘under-achievers’ we cheered for last season. This group we’ve been watching this year has not wilted with nearly the same frequency that Chris, Hedo and company did a year ago, even with all-world rebounder and general effort/grit guy extraordinaire Reggie Evans on the shelf for the last 5 or 6 weeks.
Now, understandably, guys are a little more motivated in the climate they find themselves in here as compared to the one that was clouded by the uncertainty of Chris Bosh’s future a year ago. Not to mention the inevitability in 09/10 that the ball would end up in his hands no matter how hard you worked your ass off.
This Toronto Raptors season has gifted once in a lifetime opportunities to fringe NBA players, providing extended opportunities for guys like Joey Dorsey to prove they belong with the big boys.
The modest payoff for fans has been that contributions from players like Dorsey, Jerryd Bayless, and even Julian Wright have kept the Raptors close in many games where a blowout would otherwise have been assured. And the odd time, sweet victory has been tasted against the unsuspecting elite in the league like the Orlando Magic, Boston Celtics and Dallas Mavericks. These were all great wins (the Dallas game, especially), but there haven’t been enough of them, thankfully, to create the illusion of imminent contention.
Now, believe it or not, the Raptors have been on a roll against the Bulls in Chicago. The dinosaurs have won five of their last six games in the United Center, including the last three in a row. According to STATS LLC, Toronto has averaged 107.2 PPG while holding Chicago to 93.2 PPG during that stretch. Over the last three of those games, Derrick Rose has scored 13.7 points and shot 42.9 percent.
Of course, the Raptors haven’t played in Chicago since losing Chris Bosh. Or, for that matter, since Carlos Boozer started suiting up for the Bulls. So perhaps only recent history matters. When the Bulls played in Toronto on December 15th, Rose struggled in the scoring department (6 points on 3-for-9 shooting), but he had 11 assists as Chicago shot 53 percent as a team and won 110-93.
However, Bargnani didn’t play in that game. So there’s that.
The key to this game is that the Raptors are a terrible defensive team, one of the worst in the league. As long as they’re patient and execute their offense, the Bulls should be able to get any shot they want. Chicago’s biggest concern should be protecting the offensive glass, since Toronto is ranked fourth in Offensive Rebound Percentage. And the Bulls are ranked only 14th in Defensive Rebound Percentage (.747), making them roughly average. Particularly in Joakim Noah’s absence.
- Jose Calderon – despite his injuries – has maintained his production and finally caught up to Reggie Evans in terms of total wins produced, with 0.9 wins over the last six games.
- Amir Johnson has struggled recently. In eight games he’s put up -0.3 wins. Apparently he’s been a bit hurt, but since the Raptors have been low on bodies he’s had to suit up.
- Joey Dorsey produced 0.9 wins in eight games. Even though he’s only 6’8, he’s been playing a lot of centre with Bargnani out, so he’s not as productive as he should be. That being said, his raw productivity has also declined somewhat.
- In six injury-filled games, Jerryd Bayless produced -0.3 wins. I guess it was a bit early to proclaim him a star, but we’ll see how he performs once he returns to health.
- Rookie Ed Davis produced 0.6 wins in eight games. Like Dorsey, Davis has been spending a lot of time out of position at centre, although Davis has actually boosted both his raw productivity and his WP48.