Lost in translation

FRANK ZICARELLI, TORONTO SUN

, Last Updated: 7:47 AM ET

Andrea Bargnani found himself with the ball in his hands, foul-line extended, with the Dallas Mavericks playing token defence.

He could have put the ball on the floor and, one dribble later, could have heaved a mid-range shooter.

He simply could have shot the ball once he caught it.

In one of those moments that pretty much defines Bargnani's game of late, he elected to pass the ball into the paint and into the unsuspecting hands of Chris Bosh.

What was an opportunity and should have been a made basket, became a sequence that led to a turnover, a three-second violation, because no Raptor anticipated Bargnani making such a decision.

But indecision has become Bargnani.

He doesn't know when to shoot, when to put the ball on the deck and when his minutes will come.

Bargnani is more mystery than a mainstay on a Raptors team that continues to draw closer to either being tweaked or completely overhauled.

Against last night's opponent, Bargnani wasn't the only one to exercise poor shot selection or take ill-advised three-point attempts with 20 seconds left on the shot clock.

But his game has come under the microscope, the scrutiny being that much more intense given Dirk Nowitzki was paying his first and only visit to the Air Canada Centre.

For reasons that defy all logic, people have tried to compare Bargnani to Nowitzki.

Maybe it's the European connection, the colour of their skin, the fact each can put the ball on the floor and extend their offence as seven-footers.

It's really an exercise in futility to even attempt to group the two because Bargnani is never going to earn league MVP honours.

In time, he may develop into a consistent player who will post averages of double-digit scoring and provide just enough of a rebounding and defensive presence to shed his liability label.

Right now, and based on his recent play, Bargnani is lost, as are the Raptors, losers last night, 96-86.

As a starter, Bargnani averaged 12.1 points and 5.0 rebounds when the Raptors went big with Bosh and Jermaine O'Neal in the frontcourt.

To the surprise of no one, Bargnani had a difficult time defending his position at small forward, no small feat given the athletic demands that go with the job.

While he's reluctant to discuss his personal travails, it's not difficult to see that Bargnani isn't at all comfortable coming off the bench.

Not once did Bargnani feel comfortable last night and, during a rare trip to the free-throw line, the restless fans booed him when his first attempt wouldn't drop.

Raps coach Jay Triano had no choice but to use Joey Graham as his first sub after Josh Howard scored the Mavs' first nine points, with Jamario Moon playing some kind of defence that was pretty offensive.

When Bargnani entered the game, he got matched up against Nowitzki, setting a good screen that allowed Graham to bury his fourth consecutive jump shot.

When matched up against Brandon Bass, Bargnani's first attempt from the field came up short from the top of the circle.

Then came a baseline heave that hit iron, followed by more misses and more discontent among the faithful.

It wasn't until 6:22 remained in the game that Bargnani would make his first field goal.

He stayed on the floor, but simply gave Nowitzki too much space and Disco Dirk buried two consecutive shots.

The shots Bargnani now is taking are of the verbal variety and it threatens to get worse as Toronto continues to lose.

Who knows what the Raptors will look like when they return from a six-game trip, but the look on Bargnani, his body language, his inability to find any kind of rhythm, reveals problems that will not soon go away.

Scouts will tell you that Bargnani should be playing at power forward, like Nowitzki, but Bosh is the incumbent.

Bargnani should never have been put in the position of playing centre because his back-to-the-basket skills are marginal.

The dilemma is obvious: How do the Raptors get Bargnani on track when both Bosh and O'Neal need touches?

These are tough times for the Raptors, but none tougher for Bargnani, who entered the night having made 25% of his shots in the past seven games.

He finished last night with three points on 3-for-7 shooting, four personal fouls and three rebounds, which included a tap back by O'Neal and one following a missed Mavs field goal.


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