Villanueva gets last laugh

MIKE ULMER, TORONTO SUN

, Last Updated: 8:17 AM ET

Get used to it.

That's the message to the NBA from Raptors' rookie Charlie Villanueva, who Sunday opened eyes all around the league with a 48-point performance in a 125-116 road loss to the Milwaukee Bucks.

It was the most points by a rookie this season and the most ever by a Raptors rookie, easily beating the standard of 37 turned in by Marcus Camby in 1997.

Villanueva made 20 of 32 shots, including six of 11 three-pointers and rolled up the gaudy numbers despite only two free throws.

"Without a doubt it was a statement game," Villanueva said.

"I was actually planning on sending my boxscore to ESPN."

The joke was a dig at ESPN talking head Stephen A. Smith, who loudly mocked the seventh overall selection of Villanueva by then general manager Rob Babcock.

Who's laughing now?

If not for New Orleans-Oklahoma City guard Chris Paul, owner of a 16.2 points per game average, Villanueva would be the leading contender for rookie of the year and the statement game would be a whole lot more far-reaching.

ALTERED

As it is, Villanueva expects a slightly altered landscape when he and the Raptors return to the court Wednesday against the Miami Heat at the Air Canada Centre.

"That's going to be a good thing, guys are going to actually play me a little differently," Villanueva said.

"That'll actually create open shots, create things for my teammates, especially for Chris (Bosh). Chris is already getting double-teamed and if the guys are focusing on me, that's better for MoPete, Mike James, even for Chris."

The emergence of a second frontcourt option is what makes Villanueva's breakthrough so arresting. Bosh left the Milwaukee game in the first quarter after Pape Sow accidentally kicked him in the left thumb. Villanueva, as they always say, stepped up. Raptors coach Sam Mitchell said the club didn't run a single play for Villanueva.

"We moved the basketball. The open guy, which happened to be Charlie, knocked down shots. Like I told all our guys, your teammates know when you got it going and the ball just seems to find its way to you."

If Villanueva establishes himself as a consistent second scoring option (even with the 48 his average is just under 13 points a game), the Raptors begin to take on the look of a playoff worthy team.

If.

"I still think yesterday was a little glimpse of what I can do," Villanueva said. "I've got to be more consistent with it. That's what I'm striving for."

It also furnished a perspective of what Kobe Bryant did when he torched the Raps for 81.

"Forty eight is nothing compared to 81," marvelled Villanueva. "He damn near doubled it. Eighty one is unbelievable."


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