Barney, bench mates could be key

STEVE BUFFERY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 7:21 AM ET

Raptors coach Sam Mitchell called his bench players, particularly Andrea Bargnani, the X Factor heading into the Eastern Conference playoffs against the Orlando Magic.

"We had a long talk (yesterday), Andrea's key for us in the playoffs," Mitchell said. "He's one of our more talented players."

"Andrea can play three positions for us (small forward, power forward and centre). He can guard smaller guys, he can guard bigger guys. He had a good playoffs for us last year and it seems like he's feeling better than he has in a while -- he has been sick a little bit. But he had a really good practice (yesterday)."

Mitchell said the coaching staff has been working with Bargnani on his three-point shot, which has been inconsistent of late (he shot 2-for-14 in the past three games).

"We feel comfortable Andrea's going to shoot the ball well," Mitchell said.

But one has to wonder if Bargnani, whose regular-season numbers were down compared with his rookie year, is really up for the playoffs, given his rather blase demeanour after practice yesterday. He shrugged off his shooting problems, adding that he hasn't done anything special to turn it around.

"No. I always work on my shooting. I always take a lot of threes at the end of the practice. I didn't do nothing special, no," he said.

He also waved aside suggestions that he has anything to prove in the playoffs, given his average season.

"No, I don't think I have to redeem nothing," he said. "I play my best. I played a little bit less than last year."

The second-year NBA player did admit, however, that he has to get more aggressive under the basket and rebound more.

RATINGS ARE UP

The Raptors announced that TV ratings for the 2007-08 season showed a significant increase. The Raptors' four returning broadcast partners, The Score, TSN, Rogers Sportsnet and Raptors NBA TV, all saw an increase in audience size in the Viewers 2+ demographic, compared with the 2006-07 season.

Rogers Sportsnet saw an 11% increase in viewership during 12 games, followed by TSN (7% in 21 games) and The Score (7% in 30 games). Raptors NBA TV had a 171% increase in 12 games this season.

During its first season broadcasting Raptors games, President's Choice Raptors Basketball on the CBC averaged 188,000 viewers. The CBC showed seven games during the 2007-08 season.


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