Raps need Bargnani on defensive

STEVE BUFFERY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:22 AM ET

A group of Italian journalists are in town to see home boys Andrea Bargnani and Marco Belinelli face each other this afternoon at the Air Canada Centre.

Their timing couldn't be worse.

Bargnani, who was moved to the bench after starting the first five games at centre, is in a funk, while Belinelli, the Golden State Warriors rookie, hardly is playing at all.

What Belinelli has to do to get more minutes is up to Golden State coach Don Nelson. But for Bargnani, who has averaged just 10 minutes the past two games, the answer is simple, and it has very little to do with scoring.

"The thing we're trying to get Andrea to concentrate on is defence and rebounding," Raptors head coach Sam Mitchell said yesterday.

"The offence will come. We know he can score the basketball. We're not worried about him scoring.

"And I'm not worried about him missing a wide open shot," Mitchell added. "That doesn't get you taken out of a game. Your breakdowns on defence and not rebounding is what gets you taken out of the game."

Which is exactly what happened in Toronto's 110-101 victory over the Indiana Pacers on Friday. Bargnani came off the bench for 41/2 minutes and then sat down for the rest of the game after he picked up three quick fouls, while appearing somewhat disinterested on defence.

In the game before, a 92-88 loss to the Utah Jazz on Wednesday at the ACC, Bargnani shot 1-for-11 from the field (0-for-5 from beyond the arc), while picking up three rebounds.

Mitchell said he can live with Bargnani's occasional bad offensive outing, but it's the work on the other side of the court that the coach hasn't been happy with, particularly his transition defence.

"If you can run, you can get back on defence," Mitchell said. "I (just) think he's worried about his offence, right now."

Bargnani, in fact, has not played particularly well since Mitchell moved him to the bench after starting him in the first five games of the season. In four games coming off the bench, last year's NBA all-rookie forward has averaged just 6.8 points (he averaged 11.6 as a freshman last season) and 1.25 rebounds, while still picking up too many early fouls.

Mitchell insisted, however, that he is not angry with Bargnani, only that he expects more from the 7-foot Italian.

"He is a young player. All young players go through this," Mitchell said.

"I wish people would understand, it's his second year. He hasn't played 82 games yet. He missed a month last year. So the kid hasn't played (a full season) and everybody expects him to be all-world."

Mitchell said that he likely will start Maceo Baston again at centre against the Warriors in place of the injured Rasho Nesterovic (sprained ankle) against Indiana on Wednesday. Baston played 18 minutes against Indiana, collecting six points and two rebounds, but played well defensively.

"It wouldn't make sense to change the (starting) lineup," said Mitchell "Maybe (Baston) will be a little more comfortable out there (today)."


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