January 12, 2012
Raptors hold their breath on Bargnani
By RYAN WOLSTAT, QMI Agency
TORONTO - Raptors head coach Dwane Casey is rightly concerned about his club’s sputtering offence.
Wait until he gets a load of it without Andrea Bargnani.
Bargnani, averaging 22.3 points per game despite missing the latter half of Wednesday’s loss to Sacramento because of a calf injury, underwent an MRI on Thursday.
The Raptors will update his status at shootaround on Friday after doctors and the training staff discuss the situation.
There are several degrees of calf strains, but each usually forces an athlete out of action for at least a couple of days, with more serious ones taking weeks to months.
Bargnani was not noticeably limping following the Kings game.
Toronto takes on Indiana at the ACC on Friday, the Bulls in Chicago on Saturday night and the Hawks in Atlanta on Monday afternoon.
Even with Bargnani the team sits a lowly 26th of 30 teams in offensive rating (points scored per 100 possessions). Bargnani is averaging 8.2 points per game more than No. 2 scorer DeMar DeRozan and 10.1 more than third-leading scorer Jose Calderon.
Bargnani and Calderon are the only Raptors effectively creating their own scoring opportunities so far this season and even with them playing well, the team has still had all kinds of issues offensively.
Casey is hoping to see improvement.
“We’re doing a decent job defensively, but we’ve got to put some runs together,” Casey said after the loss to the Kings.
“Down the stretch we executed better. We need more of that in the first half.
“I can’t fault their effort ... But now, somehow, someway, we’ve got to get some execution.”
The return of scoring forward Linas Kleiza should help and there is also a chance guard Jerryd Bayless rejoins the team on the weekend. Bayless was one of the few Raptors shooting the ball well before missing the past eight games due to injury. He was shooting 50% from the field and 4-of-6 from three
Casey expects to rely more heavily on sophomore Ed Davis, Kleiza and veteran centre Jamaal Magloire if Bargnani is sidelined.
“If Andrea is out, everybody’s role is going to be a little bit different. We’ll see as that works out. Maybe Eddie will play some five,” Casey said. The coach had said at training camp that he would prefer to let Davis play out the campaign at his natural power forward spot.
But with injuries coming non-stop during this insane shortened NBA grind (centres Al Horford and Kwame Brown were lost for the bulk of the season on Thursday), circumstances will change for every team.
Bargnani refused to blame playing massive minutes (45 on Tuesday) during a three- games-in-three-nights stretch for the calf injury.
“Things like this can happen at any time,” Bargnani said.
He missed four games last season because of the same injury.
Calderon said the team would obviously suffer without Bargnani, but like Casey, drew a positive from Kleiza’s return to active duty.
“Well, (Bargnani) is our best player for sure. It’s tough to see him go out,” Calderon said. “(But) I think we are going to be really happy that we got LK back.”
Echoed Casey: “It’s unfortunate, but that means somebody is going to have to step up ... The best thing for us is that Linas is back. He looked good that’s going to be good for us.”
Casey is counting on DeRozan to be one of the “step-up” candidates.
After opening the season with a bang, shooting just shy of 50% over his first four outings, he has hit only about a third of his attempts since — and that includes his 9-for-18, five three-point make explosion against Cleveland earlier this month.
Casey preached patience, noting that he remembers Rashard Lewis going through a similar developmental phase back when Casey was an assistant with Seattle.
“I’d be more concerned if he wasn’t working on his shot every day,” Casey said.
“One thing he’s going to have to get used to (is) quick double teams. And that comes with experience. He’s got to learn how to play against a man-and-a-half, not just his guy.”
It won’t be easy. Nobody is going to let up on DeRozan or the Raptors, especially if Bargnani is out of action.
“This is a non-forgiving league,” Casey said.
“There’s a lot of sharks waiting for us. They smell blood in the water.”
BY THE NUMBERS
If Andrea Bargnani is sidelined for any length of time, DeMar DeRozan must find his offensive game. Here’s what DeRozan has done since exploding for five three-pointers and 25 points back on Jan. 4:
DATE TEAM FG-FT-PTS
Jan. 6, N.J., 1-61-23
Jan. 7, Pha., 4-130-08
Jan. 9, Minn., 3-113-39
Jan. 10 ,Wash., 4-163-411
Jan. 11, Sac., 5-93-3*13
*0 points in first half
KLEIZA MAKES SMOOTH RETURN
The Raptors weren’t overly active shoppers when the lockout came to a close, but getting forward Linas Kleiza back in the lineup almost feels like a late free-agent addition.
Kleiza, one of the few proven scorers on Toronto’s roster, returned to NBA action for the first time in 41 games dating back to last season and made an immediate impact on Wednesday night.
Kleiza showed no signs that he was coming off of microfracture surgery and scored 10 points in 15 minutes.
Head coach Dwane Casey and point guard Jose Calderon were pleased to see him back and know he will provide a boost.
“Again, we can’t expect a lot out of him too soon too quick, but his energy, his toughness, his ability to score is something that’s going to help us,” Casey said.
“Every time you see a player, a teammate in this case, come back from all those months (of rehabilitation) it’s always happy to see him play again ... and he was great,” added Calderon.
Kleiza said he is sure he didn’t rush a return and expects to be back to his old self soon.
“There is no concern at all. We took it pretty slow” Kleiza said.
“In the last month or so since I’ve been back we’ve been going pretty hard.
“So the game is like an easy practice for me in comparing to what we’ve been doing off the court.”
PACERS AT RAPTORS
7 P.M. ET, TSN2/FAN 590
ROY HIBBERT VS. AMIR JOHNSON
Johnson has done great work this year defensively, but couldn’t handle big DeMarcus Cousins in a loss to Sacramento on Wednesday. Now, he’ll have to deal with 7-foot-2 behemoth Roy Hibbert, who is on a tear. Hibbert averages 14.1 points, 9.9 rebounds and 1.5 blocks and led the Pacers in scoring two of the past three games and was behind only Danny Granger in a win over Atlanta on Wednesday. Hibbert’s size will be an issue and veteran Jamaal Magloire likely will be called on to try to slow him down.
Indy is off to a nice start, at 7-3, the club sits second behind Chicago in the Central Division, though a 3-3 record on the road is a concern. The team used a 27-9 run in the third quarter to knock off the Hawks. Granger, Hibbert and George Hill are banged up, but all are playing through injuries. Few teams are bigger than the Pacers who have size advantages over most opponents at every position but point guard. David West hit a dagger to drop the Raptors the last time the two squads met. Paul George is playing the role of facilitator of late, picking up a ton of assists for one of the premier passing teams in the league.
DID YOU KNOW?
Indiana just beat Atlanta twice in a row for the first time since 2008 ... Hibbert was drafted by the Raptors, but traded to Indiana in the ill-fated Jermaine O’Neal deal ... Six Pacers are on the all-star ballot, witH Tyler Hansbrough being the oddest choice ... Indiana was just 13-28 on the road last season ... Toronto leads the league in fewest points allowed in the paint (32.7). Keeping Indiana in that range will be a massive challenge.