Family first for Bargnani

STEVE BUFFERY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:51 AM ET

Sadly, Raptors rookie Andrea Bargnani will not enjoy his NBA Eastern Conference rookie-of-the-month award very much.

The Toronto forward, who won the award for the second consecutive month (January and February) was scheduled to fly home to Italy last night because of an illness in the family.

The Rome native missed yesterday's practice at the Air Canada Centre after the club flew to Toronto overnight from Houston and will miss tonight's game at the Air Canada Centre against the Milwaukee Bucks and tomorrow's contest in Cleveland against the Cavaliers. He is slated to return on Sunday and should be in uniform for Toronto's matchup in Washington on Tuesday against the Wizards.

Raptors management declined to discuss specifics of the illness, wanting to respect Bargnani's privacy, but sources said that it is serious, but is neither his mother nor father who is ill.

Bargnani is coming off one of his best game's of the season, in Toronto's 106-90 victory over the Houston Rockets on Wednesday night, scoring 20 points in 33 minutes off the bench. He is averaging 11.1 points this season and is a contender, along with teammate Jorge Garbajosa, for NBA rookie-of-the-year honours. His minutes will likely be taken up by Kris Humphries, who scored 16 points off the bench on Wednesday.

Still, the Raptors will miss the big rookie's presence. Shooting guard Anthony Parker will miss his second consecutive game tonight because of a sprained right ankle.

"He has been playing great," said all-star forward Chris Bosh, of Bargnani. "Against (Houston) he was fantastic from the three and the two. I think he's really starting to get comfortable, he's starting to find what he can do well. He has being unselfish. Everybody's being unselfish, but Andrea is really helping us out and I think he's starting to prove why he's the No.1 pick (in 2006).

"I think (him and I) can really start to build on something great here," Bosh added.

ROOKIE OF THE MONTH

Bargnani is the third Raptors player to win the award twice, joining Vince Carter (March and April, 1999) and Damon Stoudamire (November 1995, January 1996). In February, he helped the Raptors to a 9-3 record, posting averages of 14.3 points, 3.9 rebounds and 28.7 minutes in 12 games. He shot 51% (62-for-122) from the field, 48% (29-for-60) from three-point range and 83% (19-for-23) from the line during the month and led the team's bench in scoring seven times.

Garbajosa won the award for December. This is the first time Toronto has claimed three rookie-of-the-month awards in a season.

The Raptors, now 31-26 on the season, and fourth overall in the Eastern Conference, have not lost two games in a row since Jan. 3 against the Phoenix Suns.

"That really's important because teams take you seriously," Bosh said. "They know when they come in here, or when we go into their house, that they're going to have a tough game on their hands.

"When we move the basketball we're a tough team to beat and we just have to keep doing that," he added. "And once we keep doing that, the sky's the limit for this team."


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