Raps hit break on a high

Raptors guard Jerryd Bayless passes off the ball while being defended by Pistons forwards Tayshaun...

Raptors guard Jerryd Bayless passes off the ball while being defended by Pistons forwards Tayshaun Prince (left) and Jason Maxiell at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ont., Feb. 22, 2012. (MARK BLINCH/Reuters)

MIKE GANTER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:12 PM ET

TORONTO - The four-day break did not go to waste.

Three practice days and a day off had the Raptors looking more crisp on offence and a whole lot tougher and more disciplined protecting their own yard than they did Friday in that embarrassing loss to the Charlotte Bobcats.

From the outset, the Raptors were the more driven team, a fact that might have had something to do with the lengthy time off from the schedule and Pistons having played the night before in Cleveland.

But there have been plenty of times already this season where the Raptors were on the wrong end of that equation. Nothing was going to take away from the 103-93 win.

Four of the five Raptors starters were in double figures Wednesday, led by DeMar DeRozan’s 23. The only starter who wasn’t was Jose Calderon, who had 15 assists, or just two fewer than the entire Pistons team.

Things got rather sloppy towards the end of the fourth quarter for the Raptors, who had a 23-point lead at one time and saw it get down to single digits, but heading out on the all-star break with a win was the goal and the Raptors accomplished it.

FOREIGN TERRITORY

Aaron Gray is accustomed to being the big guy who sets the screens and pulls down the rebounds and leaves the scoring and the crowd chants for his teammates.

But not Wednesday night.

Wednesday night Gray had probably the second most productive night of his career with 12 points and 12 rebounds that had the fans serenading him with chants of MVP, MVP when he went to the line late in the game.

Even in the locker room after the game, Gray was hearing those chants as James Johnson started them as soon as the media converged on the area around Gray’s locker.

How weird was all the attention for Gray? Even before the first question was asked post-game, he asked aloud: “What do I do with my hands?”

Both the rebound and points totals were season highs for Gray but well shy of the best NBA game of his career which came against Toronto as a member of the Chicago Bulls. In that game in 2008, Gray had 19 points and 22 rebounds.

HITTING THE BREAK EARLY

Rodney Stuckey was given plenty of credit by both his own head coach Lawrence Frank and Raptors bench boss Dwane Casey for the Pistons’ recent surge back to, well, almost respectability with seven wins in their past 10 games. Stuckey was the guy both coaches felt had helped the Pistons force the issue with strong drives to the hoop that resulted in either scores or trips to the line.

But Wednesday, Stuckey may as well have been on a beach sipping mai tais, for all he did in the game.

Granted the Pistons were on a back-to-back but zero points on 0-for-2 shooting in 18 minutes from your main source of offence smells a lot like a guy who started the break a little earlier than anyone else.

AN UNEXPECTED VISITOR

Either the shackles are coming off Raps GM Bryan Colangelo or Wilson Chandler and his agent are using the Raptors to improve their bargaining position.

Chandler, a restricted free agent on his way back to the NBA after playing the bulk of a season in the Chinese league was thought to be a slam dunk to return to Denver, which he may yet do. However, that’s no longer a sure thing as Chandler’s agent Chris Luchey told S.I.com last night.

Chandler and Luchey were in a private box at the ACC for Wednesday’s game with Detroit. According to Luchey, Toronto is one of six teams he is talking with at the moment.

If in fact the chains are off Colangelo who has resisted any temptation to alter his roster so far this year and dip into his financial flexibility, the worst-case scenario is the Raptors land a veteran scorer with plenty of versatility.

If it’s a case of the Raptors getting used a little, that too is OK, because as one wise vet of many NBA campaigns pointed out before last night’s game, if nothing else it puts the Raptors back in the conversation of potential destinations for free agents. And based on the past few seasons and the fact the Raptors will have somewhere around $17 million to spend this off-season, that’s not a bad thing either.

Chandler, a 6-foot-8, 240-pound guard/forward has averaged 13.9 points over his four seasons in the NBA.

HOLD THAT FLIGHT

Leandro Barbosa wasn’t wasting any time getting his all-star break started. He had a flight booked for a 10:50 departure after Wednesday’s game. Not sure what he would have done had it gone into overtime. Barbosa, though, put in a full night’s work first even if he did start sprinting off the court with two seconds left on the clock. The same could not be said for Stuckey.


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