Calderon's wheeling and dealing makes Raptors go

MIKE GANTER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:03 AM ET

ORLANDO -- With their playoff hopes hanging by the thinnest of threads, the Raptors are playing some of their best basketball of the season.

The question is why? Why now when it's all but impossible to sneak into the playoffs does this team find its collective legs and start playing the kind of basketball many, if not most, thought it was capable of this season?

The pessimist says it is because the pressure is off and that point of view can't be discounted. The optimists -- including all those wearing a Raptors logo -- have their own opinions.

Head coach Jay Triano feels it is first and foremost a function of health and secondarily the fact a once unselfish team has re-learned the importance of sharing the ball.

"Jose (Calderon) is turning the corner and making guys have to play him and making shots," Triano said after the Raptors' 99-95 win over the playoff-bound Orlando Magic in which Calderon scored 21 -- none more important than the 11 third-quarter points he scored with both Chris Bosh and Andrea Bargnani sitting down in foul trouble for extended minutes.

"When that happens, two guys guard him and he gives it up, and we share it and swing it and the other guys are helping out."

Since Jan. 2, when Calderon went out with a strained right hamstring, the Raptors lineup, has been, well, hamstrung.

It has only been the past couple of weeks that Calderon has felt the strength in his leg to cut and pivot hard and basically play the way he has to in order to make this team an offensive threat. For the Raptors to be effective, Calderon has to be both a distributer and a scorer.

Without him as a scoring threat, teams could lock down on Bosh and the other Raptors and not have to worry about Calderon.

Introducing a new face to the starting five so late in the season like the Raps did with Shawn Marion created another obstacle.

"It takes time for this stuff," Marion said. "Maybe everyone took a look in the mirror and said: 'Maybe it's me. Maybe it's not him. Maybe we all can do a little more to help this team.' That's what is going on right now. We all are helping each other out on the floor right now."

Defensively, the Raptors took a bit of a step back following the Jermaine O'Neal trade.

"Yeah, we hit a stretch there where we were very indecisive as to our coverages and how we were going to do it and trying to implement and change our style from having Jermaine as the anchor back there to an active three-man (Marion) who could buy into a system," Triano said.

The Raptors aren't at the top of their defensive game by any stretch yet, but the team has made huge strides recently.

"If we played like this from the beginning maybe everything is different but (for whatever reason) we couldn't change that," Calderon said.

MIKE.GANTER@SUNMEDIA.CA


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