Time for Bargnani to step up


, Last Updated: 10:56 PM ET

TORONTO - The Toronto Raptors need Andrea Bargnani to be remarkable.

And last night he started out just that way. Bargnani threw up 18 points in the first half and pulled down four rebounds. He was all anyone could ask.

But, as so often has been his trademark, it didnít last. The Raptorsí great hope seemed to tire in the second half, scored just three more points in the 98-93 home opener disappointment.

Some things never seem to change. Throughout its history this franchise seems to have recurring nightmares. Ahhh. Sorry. Recurring themes.

It has questions that never seem to have answers.

Whoís at point guard, whereís our Mr. Big and the enigma that continues to be Andrea Bargnani. In a season in which the Raptors donít have a go-to guy, Bargnani has to be precisely that. He has to be special.

All Jarrett Jack and Jose Calderon have to be at the point guard is competent. All Reggie Evans has to do is haul in 10 rebounds a game, and he had that many by halftime last night, then get out of the way on offence. No slight intended. Heís Dennis Rodman without the scoring touch but with a better sense of hairstyle. If Linas Kleiza figures out the travelling rules and defends, everyone will be satisfied. Itís a start toward better days.

But Bargnani doesnít have the luxury of being adequate.

Not any more. Asked if Bargnani tired in the second half, coach Jay Triano intimated he better get used to it. ďHeís going to play 35 minutes a game. He had the hot hand early. Iím not sure if he fatigued.Ē

The kid gloves are off. He has to be better than he has ever been; for himself, for this team.

There seems to be some initial understanding by Bargnani that heís now the face of the franchise. First hint of that came when he took the microphone prior to the game to welcome fans.

Then he scored his teamís first seven points. It started with a rebound. He went to the low post, got fouled and hit the first point of the season for the Raptors from the foul line. There was the trademark shot from outside, then a drive down the lane for two more points.

True, he looked uncomfortable at times under the basket; missed some shots close in ó but at least he tried to go where before he never thought to tread.

The jury is still out on his defence, but he stood his ground in the paint to take a charge from Amare Stoudemire, creating the turnover. The game wasnít yet three minutes old.

It mightíve been the best three minutes of his NBA career. A soft jumper put Toronto up 7-6.

In the second quarter he took Wilson Chandler to the low post, ducking inside for the layup.

This is the Bargnani that Toronto must see; itís the one general manager Bryan Colangelo promised Toronto it would see. Itís also the one thatís there one moment, gone the next ó which exposed itself when he laid third-quarter goose-egg on the scoresheet.

In the past there was always someone else to point a finger at. Now thereís nobody else.

Triano has been fond of telling everyone that thereís no go-to guy.

There is. Bargnani. And last night Triano noted: ďWe need a bit more out of individual guys.Ē

Read into it what you want.

Every team that walks into the Air Canada Centre this year knows the Raptors fortunes are tied to Bargnani. ďTaking a wild stab at it, Iíd say, yes ... heís a big part of what they do,Ē Knicks coach Mike DíAntoni said last night.

This year has to be his coming-out party. Last night he became the first Raptor in history to lead the team in scoring on three opening nights.

He had 20 in a win over Philadelphia in 2007; 28 last year while beating Cleveland.

The difference now is he has to produce every night. Every quarter. Itís what stars do.

This is a team that needs to find faith in itself and prove its worth to the rest of the NBA.

ďPeople donít respect us. We have to establish a brand of basketball that makes teams respect us,Ē Jack said prior to the home opener this week.

That only happens if Bargnani is what Colangelo believed he would be instead of what he has been. Itís not that his 17 points and six rebounds per game last year are insignificant. But on a team without stars, on a team looking for hope, No. 1 draft picks donít have the luxury of being ordinary.