Bargnani barging into role

MIKE GANTER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 7:14 AM ET

MIAMI -- After watching the Los Angeles Lakers turn themselves into a championship contender with the addition of Pau Gasol, a question about the Raptors begins to form.

What would move the Raptors into that upper echelon in the Eastern Conference, a group that contains Boston and Detroit with Orlando on the periphery?

The answer might be Andrea Bargnani.

Not the Andrea Bargnani who plodded through a miserable December. Not the Bargnani who couldn't stay on the floor long enough to hit double digits in any statistical category because he consistently was in foul trouble too early in games, but the Bargnani we've seen glimpses of this past week when he has been hitting those effortless threes. The Bargnani who is driving to the basket with a semblance of control for maybe the first time in his NBA career.

It's no accident that the Raptors' two best games in the past 10 days came with the killer B's, Chris Bosh and Bargnani, operating at peak efficiency. We saw it in Boston 10 days ago and again Wednesday night against Washington.

Bargnani had it going again Friday against the Lakers when he put up a career-high 28 points in a season-high 40 minutes and 29 seconds. The points are a good indicator that he is coming around but perhaps a better one was that Raptors head coach Sam Mitchell left him on the court for more than 40 minutes. Mitchell doesn't give minutes to his players. He makes them earn them.

Mitchell said he is starting to see a little of the Bargnani who turned heads in his rookie year.

"He has got that little look back in his eyes and he's starting to get his confidence back," Mitchell said. "Some shots are starting to fall for him but the thing I liked (Friday) is that he didn't settle every time. He drove to the basket, had four dunks on drives over people. We need him to continue to do that because it puts pressure on other team's defences."

Mitchell isn't the only one who has noticed a change in Bargnani.

"Any time Andrea is being aggressive and getting to the rim, he had a few dunks tonight, he can always fall back on that jump shot," Bosh said. "He can shoot the ball well, but when he's being aggressive, it kind of opens up his game and it opens things up for everyone else too. He's unselfish with the ball too so he can really put us in some good drive and kick situations."

Bosh said it's just another example of a young player figuring things out for himself.

'HE GETS IT'

"I think he finally gets it on offence," Bosh said. "People are going to play him for his shot and I think he's finally starting to figure that out. If he continues to drive and kick or finish at the rim and continues to get better on the boards he's going to be a big plus."


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