Rook looks good

MIKE KOREEN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:38 AM ET

ORLANDO -- When Charlie Villanueva earned a trip to the free-throw line with an impressive move here Wednesday, Raptors coach Sam Mitchell jumped up and bellowed, "Way to go, rook!"

It is obvious Mitchell believes the rookie forward can be something special and games such as the team's most recent one against the Orlando Magic give him some evidence at the tail end of a gloomy season.

Slowed by a flu-like virus the past few weeks, Villanueva busted out with a 19-point, six-rebound performance while playing through foul trouble in a 103-96 loss against the Magic.

ENERGY

The 6-foot-11 Villanueva brought energy at both ends of the court, something the team desperately needed with fellow forwards Chris Bosh and Matt Bonner likely done for the season.

Consistency has to be the name of the game for Villanueva next season and Mitchell is hoping the Connecticut product is learning just what he can be.

"It seemed like he played better after he got in foul trouble, especially in the fourth quarter," Mitchell said. "The thing he did well is he really fought Dwight Howard on the post. Hopefully he understood if you're not scoring the ball, you can kind of get into the game on the defensive end and your offence picks up.

"After he started working on defence, he got more active on the offensive end and he made some good drives to the basket and hit some shots. I thought Charlie played well, especially defence, battling Darko (Milicic) and then Howard for most of the night."

Usually weak on the boards, the Raptors outrebounded the bigger Magic 41-37, a statistic from which the team took some solace.

"That's something we definitely look for," Villanueva said. "We're young, we're all young. This shows we battle on the boards and we (can) outrebound a team ... It just shows how good we can be. We've just got to put it together."

Villanueva has to put it together every night. Too often this season he has followed up great games with not-so-great ones. Defence, especially at his new small forward position, remains a work in progress. But he gives the Raptors more than a few flashes of brilliance, the reason he is in a strong fight with Raymond Felton of the Charlotte Bobcats for second in the rookie-of-the-year race behind favourite Chris Paul of the New Orleans Hornets.

"You can't ask for much more," Mitchell said of Villanueva's effort Wednesday.

What Villanueva does for an encore will be the real test. The Raptors play host to the league-leading Detroit Pistons tonight.


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