Raptors' first half marred by injuries

STEVE LOUNG, Sports Network

, Last Updated: 3:44 PM ET

TORONTO -- The first half of the Toronto Raptors' season has come to an end and the injury bug has been the story.

Toronto's roster has been so afflicted that the only player to have started every game this season is second-year man DeMar DeRozan.

Nine players have been inactive for at least one game due to ailment. Six are currently listed on the disabled list.

In spite of this turmoil, Toronto has managed to play well. With Chris Bosh's departure this past offseason, the Raptors have found a fairly solid looking young nucleus in Andrea Bargnani, DeRozan, Amir Johnson and Ed Davis.

DeRozan, the former Southern Cal Trojan, has been particularly impressive, not only for his durability but because of how much he's managed to elevate his game from his rookie campaign.

DeRozan's jump shot and ball handling have seen the most significant improvements, allowing him to create off the dribble and have confidence pulling up from mid range. His mentality also has changed to the point that he is no longer passive. Instead, he's looking to attack the basket and get to the foul line on a consistent basis.

Getting to the charity stripe has been an important factor in the 21-year- old's effectiveness. When he's had seven or more free-throw attempts, he's averaged 22.6 points per game, a full eight points better than his season average.

Had the roster been able to stay healthy the way the Compton, Calif., native has, it wouldn't be a stretch to say the Raptors would likely be sitting in the seventh or eighth seed in the Eastern Conference.

ROAD SCHOLARS

In the middle of one of its toughest road trips, Toronto managed to lose a couple of winnable games.

What the Raptors face ahead of them now is a gauntlet featuring three of the top teams in the league in the San Antonio Spurs, Orlando Magic and Miami Heat.

If the Dinos want to compete with those clubs, they're going to have to do exactly what they did in their previous two games, with the exception for a few minutes of each contest.

Falling apart in the dying minutes of a game is an unfortunate trait that young teams have and the Raptors are no different.

The schedule ahead should prove to be a good learning experience for the Raptors. The trio of veteran-laden teams can give them an understanding of executing down the stretch and what type of play is necessary to reach a higher level.


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