Villanueva stepping up

MIKE KOREEN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:50 AM ET

Charlie Villanueva is a work in progress as a small forward, but the Raptors rookie is heading in the right direction.

Since being elevated to a starter in a new position four games ago, the taller-than-usual small forward (6-foot-11) has averaged 16 points, 6.2 rebounds and 37 minutes, up from his season averages of 12.5, 5.3 and 25.5.

Even more importantly, Villanueva has held his own defensively, a problem at times this season.

Coach Sam Mitchell praised Villanueva for his defence after an 88-73 win over the Charlotte Bobcats on Friday, during which Bobcats starting small forward Jumaine Jones was just 2-for-10 from the field.

"It's tough, but you've got to play both ends of the court and I thought Charlie did a good job of that (Friday night)," Mitchell said after a two-hour practice yesterday at the Air Canada Centre.

The Jalen Rose for Antonio Davis trade freed up a starting spot for Villanueva, allowing him and star forward Chris Bosh to spend more time together on the court, a combination which has been effective this season. Bringing in Davis as a starting centre also gives the smallish Raptors some badly needed size up front with their first unit.

"I kind of like it," Villanueva said of his new role.

"I think it fits me pretty well and it's the right position for me. I've committed to it, I've worked real hard for it. Coach challenged me and I've been answering the call."

ROAD WARRIORS

The Raptors better get used to living out of their suitcases.

After a home game tonight against the Portland Trail Blazers, most of the Raptors will not return to their Toronto homes until Feb. 28.

The Raptors are on the road for the next five games, which surround all-star weekend Feb. 17-19 in Houston. Toronto has three days off between road games in Memphis (Feb. 21) and Dallas (Feb. 25), but has opted to stay and practise in Dallas, which probably suits Dallas native Bosh just fine.

Most of the team will be 15 days away from home.

"That's crazy," Raptors swingman Morris Peterson said. "I guess I've got to start packing now."


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