Bargnani breaking out

MARK KEAST -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:23 AM ET

Maybe it came down to looking forward to turkey dinner at coach Sam Mitchell's house last night.

Or, finally winning a game after six losses in a row.

Whatever, things seemed happy and loose at Raptors practice yesterday before the team flew to Atlanta for dinner at the Mitchells -- well, for most of the team anyway -- and a date tonight against the Hawks.

Several storylines came out of yesterday's workout, good news following two weeks of losses and debate on whether Mitchell would keep his job.

On a more positive note was the continuing maturation of first overall pick Andrea Bargnani. The subject of Bargnani's playing time has been a topic of debate of late, especially since a recent interview with Raptors president and general manager Bryan Colangelo by ESPN Radio seemed to suggest a disconnect between the GM and his coach the rookie forward should be receiving.

That, however, appears to be a moot point if the past two games are any indication.

Bargnani made an impression with a solid performance against the Utah Jazz on Monday night (27:12 minutes, 15 points), then followed it up with 24:53 in Wednesday's win over Cleveland.

And it was some solid play on 3-for-8 shooting and aggressive defence, especially against Cavs' 7-foot-3 Zydrunas Ilgauskas, that stood out in Mitchell's mind.

"He is taking his time," Mitchell said. "He is thinking on the court. He is talking on the court. He is getting comfortable with his teammates, calling out the things we need to do defensively.

"Every day, he is getting better. It's the little things (the media) don't see on a daily basis, watching him in practice."

That is paying off in his blocked shots (in particular, one on Ilgauskas late in a close game), grabbing rebounds (five against Cleveland), being more aware of who is shooting and getting a better understading of a foe's on-court tendencies.

With Bargnani and Chris Bosh (second in the league at 12.8 rebounds per game) playing large, the Raptors seem to be drifting away from the no-holds-barred, run-like-mad style they preached earlier, and to a more measured game, playing up basketball's intangibles, taking smarter shots, getting to the free-throw line, and playing better defence.

No one is breaking out the rookie-of-the-year award for Bargnani just yet.

Asked about his progress, he said little: Still adjusting to the new rules, he said. Asked if he's getting more comfortable with more court time: "Yes, of course. That's obvious."

The man who seemed to get hurt the most with Bargnani's improved play was centre Rasho Nesterovic, who didn't see any court time against the Cavaliers. However, Mitchell said he wouldn't be surprised if Nesterovic finds his way back into the lineup tonight.

Nesterovic, spending a long time after practice yesterday helping Pape Sow get back into game shape, seemed unfazed by the whole thing.

"There was no reason to put me in the game," he said. "That's how it works."

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ROOKIE WATCH ... CLASS OF 2006

- How the top 10 picks from the 2006 NBA draft compare this season:

Pos GP Min FG% 3PT% PPG RPG BPG

Andrea Bargnani, Raptors PF 11 12.3 .407 .273 5.5 2.2 0.5

LaMarcus Aldridge, Blazers PF 7 25.4 .585 .000 10.3 6.0 0.7

Adam Morrison, Bobcats SF 11 35.9 .380 .354 14.7 2.9 0.2

Tyrus Thomas, Bulls PF 8 8.8 .250 .000 2.5 2.4 1.0

Shelden Williams, Hawks PF 9 22.3 .465 .000 5.9 7.2 0.6

Brandon Roy, Trail Blazers SG 5 27.2 .377 .000 11.6 2.8 0.4

Randy Foye, Timberwolves SG 10 12.6 .326 .100 4.3 1.2 0.1

Rudy Gay, Grizzlies SF 11 23.5 .340 .333 8.5 4.5 1.0

Patrick O'Bryant, Warriors C 4 8.8 .125 .000 .5 1.5 0.8

Mouhamed Sene, Sonics C 4 7.0 .000 .000 0.0 1.5 0.5


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