Bargnani thrown back into the fire

STEVE BUFFERY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:22 AM ET

PHOENIX -- Raptors head coach Sam Mitchell shook up the starting lineup last night and a 7-foot Italian fell into the starting centre spot.

In a move designed to get both his team and Andrea Bargnani playing better, Mitchell inserted the second year forward back into the starting centre spot, while banishing veteran centre Rasho Nesterovic back to the bench.

INDIFFERENCE

The Raptors began the season by starting Bargnani, an all-rookie forward last season, at the five slot but a knee injury and some indifferent play prompted Mitchell to bring Nesterovic in as the starter a few games into the season.

But with the Raptors having lost two straight heading into last night's game against the Western Conference powerhouse Phoenix Suns, Mitchell decided to shake things up, hoping that by starting and playing Bargnani alongside all-star forward Chris Bosh, the Rome native will play his way out of his funk.

"It's always been our vision that Andrea and Chris play together (as) they cause matchup problems, because of their uniqueness -- both can go inside and outside a little bit," said Mitchell.

"At some point we have to get to that. Looking at our schedule and how Andrea's been playing coming off the bench, we feel like now is the right time."

Bargnani averaged 11.6 points and 3.9 rebounds as a rookie but in his last five games has averaged 2.2 points and 1.4 rebounds. And worse for Mitchell, he has not played well defensively.

Mitchell bristled when asked where he thought Bargnani's game "is at" right now.

"Where's the guy at? Hell, I don't know. He's a basketball player trying to get better. That's what all of them are trying to do," the coach said. "I hear Steve Nash after games always talking about trying to get better. There's never a finished product in this business. Michael Jordan added something to his game every day. Until the last day you dribble a basketball, you try to get better. So where's Andrea at? He's like all our players, trying to get better and improve."

SHOT DOWN

Mitchell also shot down the notion that players should be placed into the starting lineup based on merit, which would certainly preclude Bargnani.

"I make lineup changes based on what I think is best for the team," Mitchell said. "And right now, for us to be what we want to be, Andrea needs to get out there, and he needs to grow and understand and make his mistakes and learn from them.

"You only learn certain lessons sitting on the bench and you only learn certain lessons practicing."


Videos

Photos