Casey pushing right buttons

Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey reacts to a call in the second quarter against the Boston...

Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey reacts to a call in the second quarter against the Boston Celtics in their NBA Basketball game in Boston, Massachusetts Jan. 18, 2012. (REUTERS/Adam Hunger)

STEVE BUFFERY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:50 PM ET

This will probably be a long season for the Raptors — though their last two games were terrific — but you have to love some of the things new coach Dwane Casey is doing.

Particularly his focus on defence. Even in the losses, Raptors fans are impressed with the way this team — long known for a reluctance or inability to be play defence — is getting back down the court.

But perhaps the greatest part about Casey’s early reign so far has been the fact he’s found the key to turning on Andrea Bargnani. Long an NBA enigma, the 7-foot Italian is playing the best ball of his career (when his sore calf allows it). He’s recorded career bests in points (23.5), rebounds (6.4), assists (2.1) and is tied for his career best in block shots (0.7).

Even more impressive is Bargnani’s commitment on the defensive end of the floor. He’s playing hard, and with emotion. Did you see his reaction in Salt Lake City on Wednesday night when his calf strain forced him out of the game? He was burning with frustration. You didn’t see a lot of that in the past from Bargnani, whom Maurizio Gherardini, the Raptors’ senior v-p of basketball operations, once described as having the personality of a Russian soldier.

The rebuilding Raps are 6-7 with Mr. Primo Pasta and Sauce in the lineup this season, and 0-6 without him. Casey deserves big-time credit for the job he’s doing, particularly with Bargnani.

THOMAS STUNT CAN ONLY HURT BRUINS

As for Tim Thomas. The problem I have with his no-show at the White House for the traditional championship team photo-op, is the fact he let his teammates down.

Talking to my good friend Jack (The Scamp) Boland, a Sun photographer who’s a huge hockey and Boston Bruins fans, Jack suggests that the defending Stanley Cup champions have been inundated with negative publicity thanks to Thomas’ little stunt, and that can seriously damage team morale. Jack says the Bruins will probably struggle (relatively speaking) on the ice going forward and when this season is dissected later, Thomas’ stunt will probably be considered a negative turning point for the team.

I believe The Scamp is right. On the other hand, Thomas shouldn’t be vilified as some sort of crazed racist, as some professional media have suggested. Dave Hodge went as far as “joking” on Twitter about the fact that the first names of the Thomas’ three kids all begin with K. That’s just wrong. It’s like TSN listeners suggesting that Hodge is a Canucks’ homer, which some have. But the KKK insinuation is much worse, even if the connection was supposed to be tongue-in-cheek.

BTW, Thomas isn’t the only American livid with the government. The anger has been building long before Barack Obama came into power. The U.S. debt is horrifying (as is Canada’s). Many believe we are witnessing one of the great falls of a world superpower.

ALL-STAR GAME A SLEEP-INDUCER

Personally, a lot of us don’t care who is and who isn’t at the NHL all-star game. We love sports because of the competition. And there is none at all-star games. Not really. It’s a glorified game of shinny. Who cares if a bunch of NHLers skate around wearing funny hats. The NHL should come up with some other way to celebrate their stars.

ANTHEM BUTCHERS

Why did everyone get so excited when Steven Tyler butchered the U.S. national anthem? The man’s a rock and roll a screecher, not Pavarotti. Now, here’s something you don’t see on many websites — the Canadian anthem being butchered on a regular basis in American arenas. My boy Doug Smith from One Yonge and I, when we covered the Raptors at the same time, were constantly shocked by the sad excuses for O Canada during Raptors’ road games.

NFLPA LAWYERS FULL OF IT

Canadian IOC member Dick Pound, who was president of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), is taking a lot of heat for his suggestion that the NFL Players’ Association is dragging its feet on implementing HGH testing. NFLPA lawyers say they need more information on the testing — which is basically the standard way lawyers of sports organizations go about delaying proper drug testing. Pound has said some controversial things over the years, but he’s usually proven to be correct.

WEENIE OF THE WEEK

Anyone who is shocked that Jose Bautista might have been drug tested 19 times the last three seasons, randomly or not. If Bautista or any other MLB player was an Olympic athlete (and most Olympic athletes are pros), he would have been tested at least that many times, if not more.

steve.buffery@sunmedia.ca

twitter@beezersun


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