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Toronto Raptors Morning Coffee Jan 6

Toronto Raptors rookie center Solomon Alabi said Wednesday he’s returning to Erie to play for the BayHawks.

Toronto Sun

Toronto went down big early to a club that has now won just one of its past 19 games, but little-used forward Julian Wright and hurting point guard Jose Calderon sparked the visitors to a 120-105 win at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.

Wright stuffed the stat-sheet with a season-best 15 points, nine rebounds and five assists and energized his team’s defence, while Calderon and Leandro Barbosa were on fire from the field.

In the end, the 12-23 Raptors prevailed over the 8-27 Cavaliers, snapping an 11-game losing streak in Cleveland that dates back to 2004.

“Everybody gave us something,” summed up Calderon, who said he came out “mad” because foot and ankle injuries forced him to miss Tuesday’s loss in Chicago.

Toronto — the NBA’s worst outside-shooting squad — shot 9-of-18 from deep.

Calderon fought through pain to roast the Cavs in a 20-point, 17-assist masterpiece which included perfect shooting from long-range.

Meanwhile Barbosa — forced to play backup point guard at times because Jerryd Bayless was unable to play behind Calderon — scored 22 points of his own.

Toronto Sun

Even though he was an afterthought this time around, if the NBA asks DeMar DeRozan to compete in the Slam Dunk Contest again, he’ll do it.

DeRozan’s good friend Brandon Jennings of the Milwaukee Bucks will take part in the 2011 event in Los Angeles along with the hometown favourite Blake Griffin of the Clippers, Washington centre JaVale McGee and Oklahoma City big man Serge Ibaka.

DeRozan was the runner-up last year, falling to Nate Robinson.

“No they didn’t ask (and) I wasn’t really paying too much mind to it,” DeRozan said prior to his team’s tilt with the Cavaliers on Wednesday night.

“(But) it would be fun to do it, it’s at home.”

When queried on whether he would jump in for Jennings, also from Compton, if the point guard is not healthy enough to take part (Jennings is currently out wit a broken foot), DeRozan confidently responded: “Yeah, I’d go. I’ll win it.”

Toronto Star

Toronto had also been on a three-game losing streak.

They snapped out of it thanks to Jose Calderon’s 38 minutes as the starting point guard. A night after sitting out a loss in Chicago with a sprained right ankle and a sore left foot, Calderon scored 20 points on 8-for-10 field-goal shooting while dishing out 17 assists; this while Jerryd Bayless, who started at point guard in a Tuesday loss in Chicago, sat in street clothes nursing a sore left ankle.

They snapped out of it because they improved their defence, sure. (Triano said they contested just 19 per cent of Cleveland’s shots in the first quarter, even as they’re aiming to have a hand in the shooter’s face on something more in the 40th percentile).

They snapped out of it because they turned one of their biggest offensive deficiencies into a momentary strength. Though they came into the game as the worst three-point shooting team in the NBA, the Raptors drilled nine of 18 attempts from deep, including three makes each from Calderon and Bargnani, the latter of whom led the Raptors with 25 points.

It didn’t hurt, of course, that the Cavaliers are dead last in the league at defending the three-ball (which suggests bad offence can beat bad defence). It didn’t hurt that the Cavs, one could argue, regressed to their average as shooters after that hot first quarter, making just 43 per cent of their attempts in frames two through four. (Which suggests bad offence — when it’s as bad as Cleveland’s — can have an awfully hard time overcoming even the softest of defences).

And it certainly didn’t hurt that the Raptors, a night after dishing out a combined 22 assists with Bayless running the point in a ball-holding disaster in Chicago, combined for 35 helpers on Wednesday.

Globe and Mail

Calderon injured his ankle Sunday when Boston’s Shaquille O’Neal stepped on him. He was excited to play again, and it showed.

“I was ready for this one,” Calderon said. “I really concentrated. It doesn’t matter how we played, this is a game we had to win. Everybody contributed. It was a bad first quarter, but after that everybody gave us something.”

After going scoreless in the first quarter, Bargnani, who recently missed four games with a strained calf, scored 14 in the second when the Raptors put up 40, erasing Cleveland’s lead and opening a 66-63 halftime lead.

Bargnani scored Toronto’s first nine points to open the period, and Barbosa went on a personal seven-point streak. Wright’s three-point play gave the Raptors their first lead at 50-48.

The Cavaliers gave up 62 points in the paint and allowed the worst 3-point shooting team in the league to shoot 50 percent from behind the arc and 56.8 percent overall.

How does that happen? It’s one thing if you’re packing the paint and daring guys to shoot from outside. But how is it possible to surrender the middle andthe outside?

"That’s a good question," Scott said after his team lost its eighth straight and its 18th in 19 games to plummet to 8-27. "We just didn’t guard tonight. Bottom line, we just didn’t do a good job of guarding anybody on that floor.

"We’ve got to take it personal. When you’re one-on-one with a guy, it’s got to be personal. Sometimes when those guys scored, it didn’t hurt. It’s got to hurt. It’s got to be painful."

It was painful to watch, that’s for sure. After taking a 15-point lead in the first quarter, the Cavs gave up 40 points in the second quarter and were outscored in the final three periods, 94-67.

Andrea Bargnani had 25 points and eight rebounds, Leandro Barbosa tied his season high with 22 points and Jose Calderon added 20 points and a season-high 17 assists as Toronto snapped a three-game losing streak and improved to 12-23.

"Everybody did something huge in the game," Bargnani said.

Slam Dunk Central

Night after night, game after game the Cavaliers are finding more and more ways to lose. Wednesday night at home in front of what seemed to be a crowd more worried about free mexican food and bobbleheads, the Cavs lost their 8th in a row, falling to the equally as sorry Toronto Raptors, 120-105.

Yes, fans will enjoy their free Taco Bell Chalupas, and they did have fun playing with their free Antwan Jamison bobbleheads, but what they didn’t enjoy was watching their home town team play what very well could have been their worst game of the season.

It was a tough night for the Cavs, who lost guard Daniel Gibson to a left ankle sprain. He had 13 points before exiting. They also didn’t even play J.J. Hickson, who seems to be in the doghouse of coach Byron Scott. Also leaving was Mo Williams, who got wrapped on the bench with an undisclosed injury, and didn’t come back.

Raptors Watch

Jose Calderon found himself back in the starting line-up, and his presence impacted the game significantly. Jose Grabbed 12 points on 8-of-10 shooting (3-of-3 from behind the ark), and dished out 17 assists.

Probably, the biggest stand-out after Jose was Julian Wright. Most Raptor fans have come to the consensus that Julian needs more minutes. Any time he gets floor time, he impresses, and brings great fundamentals to the team. Against the Cavs tonight, Wright grabbed a season-high 15 points on 7-of-10 shooting, pulled down 9 rebounds, and dished out 5 assists.

The most efficient aspect to Wright’s game though is his defense. Regardless of what he does on the offensive end, you can feel at ease knowing that Julian will be doing all the right things on the defensive end. His defensive organization of the team also compliments the likes of Andrea and Jose – more-so than Kleiza does.

That’s What I’m Saying, Guy

Wright’s performance not only shocked the world, but also did its part to make Matt Devlin and Leo Rautins fall even more in love with the man that came in with season averages of 3.1 points and 1.7 rebounds. Devlin’s praise for the young fella grew with each offensive board and sweeping drive, eventually getting inappropriate when he enthusiastic urged the audience to “look at the sweat pouring off his body!” late in the fourth quarter. To Wright’s credit, he brought it for one of the few times in his four-year NBA career, and those gaudy numbers still count even if they come against the 8-27 Cavs.

It also counts as a rare one in the win column for the Raptors, who rallied from a 15-point first quarter deficit and bounced back from a 20-point loss in Chicago last night. Calderon, who had what was probably his best game of the year, summed up Toronto’s season in a post-game interview with Rautins by noting that the game “was like our Finals”. Consider me intrigued to see how the remaining three-plus months of the regular season shapes up.

Go Erie

Toronto Raptors rookie center Solomon Alabi said Wednesday he’s returning to Erie to play for the BayHawks.

"Probably (Thursday)," Alabi said before Toronto played the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena. The Cavs and Raptors are Erie’s NBA affiliates.

Alabi said he expects to join Erie (11-6) for its 7 p.m. game Friday against Sioux Falls (2-12) at Tullio Arena.

"I’m excited," Alabi said. "I’m looking forward to it. I’m just going to go out there, stay positive and if the coach puts me out there, I’m going to go out there and play."

A second-round pick in the 2010 NBA Draft, the 7-foot 1-inch Alabi, 22, averaged 8.6 points, 6.7 rebounds and three blocks in seven games for the BayHawks.

Alabi has played in four games for the Raptors since returning to the team Dec. 8. The former Florida State standout has played in five games overall for Toronto. He’s played 14 minutes total, hasn’t scored and attempted just one shot from the floor.

"We’ve got to get him as many minutes as we can," Toronto coach Jay Triano said Wednesday. "He’s not getting in. He’s not in the rotation right now. He’s had a great attitude and he’s been with us, but we need to get him some minutes."

When asked if Alabi was returning to the D-League anytime soon, Triano said, "Possibly yes."

Toronto Sun

Starting today (Wednesday), NBA teams can sign players to 10-day contracts.

That’s why there was a rush to waive end-of-bench types on Tuesday and Wednesday (including the Raptors who cut little-used forward Ronald Dupree).

With point guards Jose Calderon and Jerryd Bayless gamely playing through considerable pain, the need for a 3rd/emergency point guard on the roster is glaring.

One would have to expect Bryan Colangelo to grab a floor general. Players can be signed to multiple 10-day contracts before they have to be signed to a more guaranteed contract.

The Cheap Seats

Regardless of perceived needs, there may be no greater target for GM Bryan Colangelo over the next six weeks than cap relief and young assets. While the team has lots of holes that it needs to plug, accumulating financial flexibility and youth for the future may trump any other concern in the present. The Raptors aren’t about winning games today, they are about building a foundation for the future, and unless a trade brought them an impossible bounty of talent, they are unlikely to sacrifice their financial flexibility or break up their stable of youth in a trade this season. Using pieces like Stojakovic, Barbosa and the large Traded Player Exception they got in return for Chris Bosh, the Raptors may attempt offer financial relief in exchange for young assets and draft picks. They’ve already gone this route once in acquiring Bayless, and will likely look to make similar trades leading up to the deadline. Expect young players pushed to the fringes of their teams (Hasheem Thabeet, Brandan Wright, Anthony Randolph, Jonny Flynn, Earl Clark) to hold particular interest to the Raptors, as might higher-profile guys (Rodney Stuckey, JaVale McGee) if the Raptors feel they have the pieces to make a move like that happen. It’s sort of a ‘get the player now and figure out where he fits later’ mentality, but young assets have a high resale value once the team figures out who is worth keeping and who is not right for the long haul. Usually weighing moves for guys of this ilk comes down to what kind of riders come attached to these players (like Stojakovic was with Bayless), but if the Raptors see a chance to get a player or two that they like, they’ll more than likely the willing to take on the baggage that comes with them. Ideally, of course, they’d be able to land some young players that actually fill some of the team’s other needs, as well.

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