Payback is sweet for Johnson
By MIKE GANTER, QMI Agency
|Raptors forward James Johnson drives to the net against Bucks guard John Salmons in Milwaukee, Wisc. on March 30, 2011. (MICHAEL PEAKE/QMI Agency)
James Johnson’s arrival in a Toronto uniform provided immediate dividends.
The Chicago Bulls former first-round pick didn’t appreciate his year and a half of mostly inactive duty with the Bulls, so when the schedule gods gave him a chance for some immediate payback with the Bulls in Toronto just after his old team dealt him north, Johnson asked his new teammates to help him send the Bulls a message.
The Raptors responded like they have rarely done this season, knocking off the Bulls in a 118-113 thriller.
Johnson started at small forward and played 261/2 minutes that afternoon with nine points and five rebounds.
He appropriately thanked his teammates after the game for helping him in his quest, but apparently his thirst for vengeance has not yet been satisfied.
Saturday he goes back to Chicago for the first time as a member of the Raptors and he’s again looking for payback.
With eight games left to go and the playoffs a long-ago distant rumour, finding a means to motivate oneself this time of year is always a challenge, but once again Johnson doesn’t appear like he’ll have any trouble getting up for this one.
“I’m going after them,” Johnson said Friday. “I know my team has my back and this would be a good win for the organization and a good win for us. Just to let us know we can still compete against the best.”
In that respect this second game against the Bulls is a little different for Johnson.
“First time it was definitely for me,” Johnson said. “This time it’s for all of us. This organization really needs to show it can compete against the top of the top. These guys are not just one of the top teams this year, they will be for a long time.”
Kind words for an organization that gave up on Johnson before it really gave him a chance, but as Jay Triano reminded Johnson yesterday, he won’t be the only one looking for payback on Saturday.
“He was very fired up for that (first Bulls) game and I’m sure they will be very fired up to get him back there. I told him today, ‘They’re going to come after you. You better be ready.’ He said ‘I’m ready, coach.’ It should be fun.”
The Raptors will be down at least one key starter and perhaps a second for the game in Chicago.
Jose Calderon, who tweaked his hamstring on Wednesday, will stay behind in Toronto and rest up turning the point guard duties for the weekend over to Jerryd Bayless with Leandro Barbosa his backup.
If Triano needs a third point guard, Johnson is the emergency replacement.
Andrea Bargnani, meanwhile, will travel with the team but will be a game-time decision. He was unable to practise on Friday so there’s a very good possibility the two longest serving Raptors won’t be available.
Johnson may find this one a little more difficult than the first time around, but it doesn’t change his approach.
“I’m playing every game like I have a chip on my shoulder,” he said. “I haven’t played real basketball (he took a voluntary trip to the D-League when his minutes completely dried up in Chicago) or this kind of minutes in a year and a half so to me it feels like I owe it to myself, I owe it to my family and I owe it to this organization which brought me here on a leap of faith.”
If nothing else, it should make for a decent story line for an otherwise meaningless game.