Sonny Weems was back at practice Tuesday, back to his trash-talking routine with DeMar DeRozan with the hope of getting back into Toronto’s rotation.
Whether Weems’ extended stay on the inactive list ends Wednesday night against the visiting Atlanta Hawks will all depend on how his ailing back holds up.
But Weems was encouraged following Toronto’s workout, being able to run up and down the floor, even though he admits any sudden movement caused some discomfort.
“I feel happy,’’ Weems said. “I looked at DeMar when I was guarding him and he told me I wasn’t ready for this. I told him he could be right because I’m not 100%, but I’m getting there.”
If his back doesn’t lock up on him Wednesday morning, there’s a good chance Weems will at least be available for the first in 11 games.
Weems suffered a setback on Saturday when the Raptors convened to prepare for Sunday’s matinee against the visiting Sacramento Kings.
“If I don’t have to strain myself to get out of bed, that’ll be a good sign for me,’’ Weems said. “If that doesn’t happen, I should be ready to go.”
When he met with the media following Tuesday’s gathering, Weems said he felt good .
“My conditioning is fine,’’ he said. “It’s just a matter of working hard and getting back. I certainly have a lot of confidence in myself.”
The Raptors can use any break, but they caught a bad break with Tuesday’s postponement of the scheduled Tuesday night tip in Atlanta featuring the Bucks. Instead of playing the back end of a back-to-back set, the Hawks will be well rested, ready to initiate their free-flowing, uptempo game against a Toronto team not exactly known for its defence. One through five, the Hawks are quick and can go off at any time. When Joe Johnson is making shots, when Smith is exercising good shot selection, so much of the floor gets opened, which allows the likes of Al Horford and Mike Bibby to flourish. Marvin Williams is no slouch at small forward and Jamal Crawford is more than capable of lighting it up coming off the bench.
For reasons that are as obvious as the Raptors’ inability to defend, Barbosa, a native of Brazil, earned the Brazilian Blur moniker as a member of the Phoenix Suns for his ability to blow by opponents in the open floor or in the half court.
Put him behind the wheel of a car when the weather isn’t exactly comparable to Arizona and Barbosa is as slow as any first-time driver.
“It was crazy,’’ began Barbosa of his ordeal driving through Toronto’s streets during a recent snow storm. “It was the first time I saw snow while driving and it was crazy.
“I was going so slow that everybody was passing me. All I kept saying was: ‘Oh my gosh.’ I had to be very patient.”
Other than his adventure behind the wheel, Barbosa admits he doesn’t spend much time outside.
“It’s too cold,’’ he said of Toronto’s weather. “I never bought any winter clothes because all I do is go from the arena to the garage to my apartment.”
Even before his back woes came up, coach Jay Triano had decided to replace him in the starting lineup with Linas Kleiza and that move isn’t going to be undone simply because Weems is getting healthy.
Triano couldn’t even guarantee Weems will be in the regular rotation.
“A lot of it is going to depend on the guys playing in front of him,” said the coach. “If they play well and they remain injury-free, he’s going to have a hard time trying to crack it.
“Leandro (Barbosa) has been playing well, LK’s (Kleiza) been good. He and Julian will probably have to fight for what we need. Do we need something offensively (which Weems can provide) or do we need some energy at the defensive end (which is more Wright’s specialty)?”
While Barbosa and Weems don’t play the same position, not having Weems available has shortened the rotation at the shooting guard (Barbosa) and small forward (Weems) spots, and Barbosa has thrived lately.
“He knows when he’s coming in, he knows he’s going to be on the floor longer so it’s allowed him an opportunity to get a feel for the game as much as it is anything else,” Triano said of Barbosa’s run of good play.
“And another thing is we play him out of position a lot. When we ask him to be a backup point guard and handle the ball, it’s pretty tough to become a shooter at the same time. We’ve tried to play him and Jose together a little bit, even when he was a backup.”
After a four-game stretch in which he missed 14 straight three-point attempts, Barbosa has made 11 of 23 over in his last four.
Not bad for a guy battling wrist pain every day.
“It’s not comfortable but I try to forget it when I go to the game and try to feel comfortable playing the games,” he said. “If I have it in my head, I cannot play how I want to play.”
As long as snow doesn’t foil their plans, the Toronto Raptors could get a glimpse at their future on Wednesday when they face the surging Atlanta Hawks.
“They’ve put together athletic guys that have grown together,” Raptors head coach Jay Triano said of the Hawks on Tuesday. “Yeah, that’s what we’d like to do. We’ve become more athletic and we’d like to have these guys grow together and learn to play with each other.”
The Hawks (25-14) were scheduled to board a 9:45 flight to Toronto on Tuesday night after their game against the Milwaukee Bucks was postponed due to a snowstorm. So instead of playing their second of back-to-back games, the Hawks should have fresh legs when they face Toronto on Wednesday night.
“They’re a very tough team for us,” Triano said of the Hawks, now fifth in the Eastern Conference and seeking their fifth straight win. “They’re big, strong and athletic. We seem to struggle with that.”
Barbosa and DeRozan both point to success Toronto has had against some of the top teams — wins over Boston, Orlando, Dallas and Oklahoma City. But it is the standings that offer the most hope.
“That we are two games from the eighth spot,” Barbosa said, “that confirms … that we can definitely make the playoffs.”
Of course, that might not be the best news for fans focused on the long term. While it would be ironic to make the playoffs in the first year after Chris Bosh left for Miami, it would take away a chance for a high draft pick. And the reward for finishing seventh or eighth is likely either a first-round match up with either the Celtics or the Miami Heat.
Barbosa dismissed the notion a post-season trip would be doomed to be in vain.
“Playoffs is a totally different game,” he said. “It’s not first place or last place. It’s whoever’s done a better job in the game.”
Triano, too, seemed confident his team is capable of making a run, especially if and when it gets healthy. But he is still going to try and keep focused on much smaller goals for now.
“We know that we’re getting better and that the players are individually getting better, and we want to keep getting better as a team,” he said. “We can’t control the teams in our division. We can’t control anything but us getting ready.
“And the standings, they’ll play themselves out.”