CHICAGO -- Seven consecutive losses would challenge even the greatest Raptors optimist.
But the sight of Jose Calderon going full tilt and engaged in a surprisingly spirited practice here yesterday at the Moody Bible College downtown campus was a definite bright spot in an otherwise dismal couple of weeks for the team.
Calderon has missed the majority of the past 12 games -- he left the Jan. 2 game against Houston in the second quarter because of a strained right hamstring and made an aborted comeback attempt Jan 11 against Boston -- and while he's not declaring tonight's game against the Bulls a 100% lock, there's every indication he'll be on the floor when the Raps and Bulls tip off.
"I was sore this morning a bit so lets see how I am tomorrow," Calderon cautioned.
Calderon's caution is completely understandable. His comeback attempt against the Celtics was too early and while he avoided the worst case scenario -- a fully blown hamstring -- the scare certainly reaffirmed that possibility. While he admitted the soreness yesterday didn't hold him back, nor did any of his coaches or teammates sense it was holding him back -- he's well aware of the risks of coming back too soon.
"That's why you can't know 100%. You're wondering 'is it going to happen again?' It's more mental."
Head coach Jay Triano saw no problems whatsoever for Calderon yesterday.
"Nothing held him back at all," Triano said. "He practised hard and we had a good practice. He got a chance to play with some of the guys. It will depend on how (the hamstring) reacts but he wanted to go hard but he needed to get a practice in before he could play in a game."
For Triano, just the thought of having his floor general back in the lineup, made yesterday a better day.
"We have had to play Anthony (Parker) at the point guard position and had to get Will (Solomon) and Roko (Ukic) to learn on the fly a little bit but (Calderon's pending return) just makes my job a lot easier. It's one less thing to worry about. Where is the ball going to be? Is it going to get to the right people? He's been such a great player for this organization and it's just great to have him back."
So what has Triano missed most in Calderon's absence? "It's his ability to run a team," Triano said. "To make sure the right people get the basketball all the time. Sometimes we run plays and we have two or three different options. Jose is the type of player that will know all three options and get it to the right person. Maybe it's the guy who has made two in a row. He knows to feed the guy who is hot. I mean, you can diagram plays in timeouts but he is the guy who diagrams the play (when it matters)."
Chris Bosh says having Calderon on the floor just settles everyone else down.
"We find ourselves looking at the bench a lot instead of just flowing into the game," he said of the games Calderon doesn't play. "Jose pretty much knows all the plays and he knows what to run and at what times. He's a spark plug for us out there.
"I tell Amigo every day that I miss him," Bosh said of Calderon.