New year, new Raptors

LANCE HORNBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 11:01 AM ET

Yao Ming was all set to dine Italian.

But what better night for Andrea Bargnani to give the Chinese star and his Houston Rockets pals a lot of indigestion than with Chris Bosh, Jose Calderon and Jermaine O'Neal either hurt or looking human.

Spending much of the game locked against Yao, while the rest of the Raptors were pawing at the 7-foot-6 centre from down below, Bargnani was the catalyst in Toronto's biggest win of an NBA season that can yet be salvaged in 2009. Toronto's 94-73 win was a season low output by an opponent, while a 5-for-12 Yao was kept to 14 points.

"We held a team that has 21 wins already to 34% shooting," coach Jay Triano said, relieved to put a three-game losing streak in the dumpster and move up a bit to 13-20. "An off night for them maybe, but we were gritty. Every possession, there was a real focus."

KILLER BS

Bargnani and Bosh led the way with 19 each, Bargnani once more showing the ACC crowd what general manager Bryan Colangelo sees in him.

"Andrea did all he could do against a big dude," teammate Jamario Moon said. "He forced him out, stayed behind him and got big on him when he turned around to shoot."

"Sometimes Andrea gets out there and thinks too much," Joey Graham said. "We just tell him to play free. When he's out there hitting shots, moving and in a rhythm, no one can stop him. He keeps doing that, we'll win some games."

Meanwhile, Jake Voskuhl was banging in the paint and had eight rebounds, Will Solomon was rushed into the breach when Calderon's hamstring acted up in the first quarter and every button Triano pushed on the bench seemed to have an impact.

The Raptors' improbable 13th win of the year -- just the fifth against a team that is .500 or better -- had an artistic touch with 11 fast-break points, but featured the kind of dogged defence that was lacking in games versus lesser clubs.

Yao went over Bargnani for a few early uncontested baskets, but late in the half he had just six points and one rebound. Despite a long rest in the first quarter, he laboured up and down the court in the final moments of the half, with Bargnani, Voskuhl and others making him work to get every pass and take every shot.

"It's tough to box him out every time, but this was a team effort," Bargnani said. "We are really unlucky with Jose and Jermaine O'Neal being out, but we'll all have to step up and play more minutes as we did tonight.

"When you play a lot like I did tonight (33 minutes), it's easier to get in the rhythm of the game."

Toronto had a first-half scare when Calderon ran off the court and right to the dressing room to have the hamstring attended to. He'll be re-evaluated today.

The team's rock when Bosh and O'Neal are struggling (Bosh was 8-for-18 last night and 3-for-6 from the line) Calderon was coming off back-to-back double-doubles despite the team's losing streak.

Yao did get support from Von Wafer, who came off the bench for a team-high 18 points and ex-Raptors Tracy McGrady and Rafer Alston had their moments. However, Houston has hit a wall with four losses in the past six games.

"I think for us they need to hand out pink slips and fines the way we have been approaching games," Alston said. "It is sad and unfortunate."


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