Leandro Barbosa is hoping to return to action for the first time since Jan. 14 when he hurt his right hamstring in a home loss to the Pistons.
Given the fragile state with these Raptors, a lot more will be known prior to Friday night’s visit by Minnesota, but Barbosa did take part in practice on Thursday.
“I’m a little winded,’’ Barbosa said long after most of his teammates had departed. “But it feels good to be back.”
With Jerryd Bayless (knee) questionable, Barbosa’s ability to back up starter Jose Calderon at the point and provide any spark off the bench would be welcome.
Even if he isn’t in 100% game shape, which is understandable given his extended period of inactivity, Barbosa’s presence will at least provide a scoring option that hasn’t existed recently on a Raptors team short on scorers.
“We’ll monitor his minutes,’’ head coach Jay Triano said of Barbosa. “A lot will be based on feel (as it relates to the game’s flow) and how he’ll respond (on Friday).
“If he comes in and is sore, we could be in for a lot of trouble.”That statement has basically has characterized the Raptors.
When Kevin Love and Michael Beasley are scoring in the paint, the T’Wolves are somewhat competitive. Keeping guys in front of them and denying penetration have been season-long issues with the Raptors, who got blown out in Minny last Saturday. Jonny Flynn made his first start of the season at the point while filling in for Luke Ridnour (family matter) on Wednesday, when Minny lacked ball movement. Whomever nets the nod tonight, it’s incumbent to feed Love as often as possible.
DID YOU KNOW
Tonight’s game is Minny’s third in six nights, including its second tip against Toronto … T’Wolves have lost 17 of their past 18 away games, their only win produced in Cleveland on Boxing Day … Love leads the NBA in double-doubles with 43, including a streak of 34 straight … Prior to last Saturday’s win, Minny had dropped 12 in a row to the Raptors. The T’Wolves haven’t won in Toronto since Jan. 21 2004..
There was no hint of Kleiza’s long-term absence at Thursday’s practice, no definite timetable until the assembled media was informed of a release issued by the club.
In a nutshell, the release stated that Kleiza underwent arthroscopic surgery on Wednesday by Dr. J. Richard Steadman in Vail, Colo., “to address both a meniscal tear and chondral defect of his right knee … Due to the nature of the microfracture procedure performed, the recovery time is expected to be nine to 12 months.”
It may take that long for the Raptors to repair yet another blow to their image.
By no means was it the club’s fault that Kleiza got hurt in the first place, but his extended absence and uncertain future do pose the big-picture question of the type of players Toronto has brought to town and the financial commitment that was necessary to attract a player.
During his time in Denver with the Nuggets, Kleiza was a decent role player coming off the bench, a guy who could score in certain matchups but had deficiencies on defence.
Before the Raptors extended their offer sheet, Kleiza was the talk of the Euroleague while playing in Greece and he certainly turned heads at last summer’s world championships in Turkey.
But European basketball and international play aren’t exactly on par with the NBA, where scorers must be able to create.
While Kleiza did emerge as Toronto’s best player following the pre-season, in hindsight all it really served was to expose the Raptors’ flawed roster.
On teams with depth, Kleiza would be a good piece.
On a team as thin as the Raptors, Kleiza put up numbers but someone invariably has to post numbers, much like Andrea Bargnani and DeMar DeRozan have done.
But the numbers that will forever be attached to Kleiza are the four years and $20 million, a painful proposition to stomach now that Kleiza has been shelved for as long one calendar year.
Defensively — an aspect of the game in which Toronto is hugely deficient — he’s trying to instill some sense of responsibility in his players, even at the cost of a few possessions each night.
“I want our guys to be a more accountable in man-to-man, too,” he said. “I’m not going to bail them out and let them play zone, see if we can get better at what we want to do right now.”
But while the results have been negligible — the Raptors can’t seem to win no matter what defence or offence they play — there might be some good news on the near horizon.
Friday’s opponent, the equally-inept Minnesota Timberwolves, may present the best opportunity for the Raptors to win before the Feb. 18-21 all-star break. With a road game in Milwaukee followed by home dates against San Antonio, Portland, the Los Angeles Clippers and Miami, it’s hard to look ahead and see many wins.
The status of guard Jerryd Bayless remains in question.
Bayless was absent from practice Thursday, having his right knee checked out. He sprained the knee in the third quarter during a loss Wednesday in Atlanta against the Hawks.
You can’t blame Triano for not wanting to spread the news about Kleiza, one of few positives in what otherwise has been a truly horrible season for the Raptors.
The rugged forward, who last played on Jan. 21 against the Orlando Magic, has averaged 11.2 points and 4.5 rebounds in 39 appearances this season.
Triano has weightier matters on his mind – like how to snap the mind-bending 13-game winless string the team is riding, tied for the second longest in team history.
The Canadian-born coach won’t talk about that, either, preferring to try to accentuate whatever positives he can glean from a team that sports a 13-37 record.
Minnesota represents as good a chance as any to end the misery as the Timberwolves enter the game with a poorer record than the Raptors at 11-37.
But that hope goes up in smoke with the reminder that it was the Timberwolves who emerged with a 103-87 victory when the two teams last met up last week in Minneapolis.