Before the season started, Chris Bosh said playing in the NBA all-star game was a "realistic" goal.
Eighteen games into 2005-06, it looks very realistic.
If his team didn't have such a poor record (3-15), the third-year Raptors forward likely would be a lock for the game in Houston on Feb. 19.
But even though the Raptors are legitimate contenders for having the best odds in the 2006 NBA draft lottery -- despite two road wins in a row this past weekend -- the 6-foot-10 Bosh can make a strong case after the first month of the season.
His numbers in two key departments are up from last season. He is averaging 21.4 points per game, up from 16.8 last season, and is pulling down 10.1 rebounds per game, better than his 8.9 from last season.
The only power forward in the East ahead of him statistically is Jermaine O'Neal of the Indiana Pacers (21.9 and 10.9).
"Just growing up," Bosh, 21, said in the wake of a surprising 95-82 road win over the New Jersey Nets on Saturday night.
"I'm being aggressive early, but also sharing the ball. The numbers are coming for me, rebounding and the points."
Bosh has led the Raptors in scoring the past seven games, including his 29-point outing against New Jersey. He has 10 double-doubles in 18 games (56%), compared to 32 in 81 games (40%) last season.
"He's growing and learning," Raptors swingman Morris Peterson said. "He's maturing and he works. Chris works every day, comes in and gets his shots up. He really cares about playing hard and trying to do the right thing.
"He wants to play within the team and do what he can do. He's starting to learn how to pass the ball in double-teams. He's just doing the little things. This is about as good a stretch as I've seen him play."
The little things lead to big plays. Take Saturday night, when he fought hard for position under the net and tipped in a miss to complete a game-altering 8-0 Raptors' run in the fourth quarter.
Because he is playing more physically, Bosh is grabbing more of the tough rebounds.
"I just want to average 10 rebounds a game and that's just wanting to go get them," he said. "Plain and simple. Rebounding is all about how much you want it."
Bosh also is benefitting from the presence of fellow big man Charlie Villanueva.
The rookie and Bosh have formed a versatile one-two punch in crunch time.
"That's one thing we really take advantage of," Bosh said.
"He knows how to play, I know how to play and we both have young legs. We're quicker than most guys."
The Raptors complete their three-game road swing tomorrow against the Washington Wizards.