Raps hurtin' for certain

Toronto Raptors forward Andrea Bargnani heads for the bench during a time-out in the second half of...

Toronto Raptors forward Andrea Bargnani heads for the bench during a time-out in the second half of their NBA basketball game against the Detroit Pistons. (REUTERS/Rebecca Cook)

Mike Ganter, Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 12:49 AM ET

AUBURN HILLS, MI - The return of Andrea Bargnani marked the departure of Jose Calderon.

Rest easy, tank nation.

Bargnani’s return after a 20-game absence was believed to be a threat to those hoping to maximize the ping pong balls in the draft lottery.

But when Calderon stepped on Brandon Knight’s foot at full speed and had to be helped/carried to the locker room by teammates, the night took a turn for the worse ... except for the ping pong ball counters.

X-rays were negative but in a season where results aren’t a priority, expect to see the Raptors proceed with the same caution they did bringing Bargnani back.

It likely won’t be 20 games, but Calderon certainly won’t be rushed back.

In truth, the night was already on the skids long before Calderon hit the deck. The Raptors were down 24 when the Spaniard joined fellow national team point guard Ricky Rubio on the sidelines.

Granted, Rubio’s torn ACL trumps Calderon’s sprained ankle. At least Calderon will recover long before the first jumper is launched in London this summer at the Olympics. Rubio cannot say the same.

As for the Raptors, this one was ugly from the get-go and finished just about as ugly in a 105-86 loss.

And anyone counting Dwane Casey among the tank nation enthusiasts only had to hear him after the loss to put that to rest.

“I’m shocked that we came out with that kind of effort,” the Raptors coach said. “There was no defensive focus, there was no screening, there was no fundamental we executed tonight on both sides, and I’m shocked,” Casey said.

Coming off two consecutive days of practice, a real rarity in his condensed season, the Raptors instead played like they were on their seventh game in nine nights.

James Johnson took an even dimmer view.

“We were out there playing like we never played the game of basketball before,” Johnson said. “I think they just wanted it more. I mean, they didn’t miss so kudos to them but we hung our heads a little bit early. We should have been fighting.”

The Pistons’ dual point guards were murder on the Raptors with Knight living at the three-point line and Rodney Stuckey getting everything he wanted in the paint.

Knight got all 19 of his points in the first half as the Pistons jumped out to a 26-point lead. It was a mark the Raptors never threatened.

Stuckey wound up with 20 while DeMar DeRozan led all Raptors with 15.

DREA MAKES HIS RETURN

Bargnani was, as expected — and rightfully so — very rusty after a 45-day absence from live basketball action.

The positive, perhaps the only positive from a Raptors perspective for the entire night, was that the strained calf that kept him out of action was put to the test and passed with flying colours.

Bargnani played just 19 minutes and scored eight points on 2-of-8 shooting. He had three rebounds, three assists and was a perfect 4-for-4 from the line.

Sadly, that eight-point line was among the better offensive nights by anyone on the Raptors.

If there were any expectations of Bargnani in his first game back, they certainly weren’t coming from Casey.

“I told him to let it come to him, don’t try to feel like he’s got to do a million different things, let the game come to him,” Casey said. “We don’t expect ‘X’ number of points from him, don’t put that pressure on himself. Kind of get into the flow of the game.”

The way the game transpired, you could make the argument Bargnani is the only one who heard a thing Casey said for the past two days.

Casey said he couldn’t even make an assessment on where Bargnani in a game like the one last night.

A NATION WEEPS

When a member of the Spanish national team goes down it’s like the rest of the team losing a brother for an indeterminate amount of time.

That was how Calderon was feeling Saturday before his own injury but after word spread in the afternoon that fellow Spaniard Rubio had indeed torn his ACL. Rubio will miss the rest of the NBA season and almost definitely the Olympics as well where Spain has high hopes of taking another run at the U.S. team which beat them in Beijing at the last Olympics.

Calderon said the wound is still too fresh to even begin talking about how the Spanish side will replace Rubio.

Calderon and Rubio split the point guard duties at the FIBA European championships last summer with team captain and Euro Championship MVP Juan Carlos Navarro playing the shooting guard spot.

“We’ll see what happens,” Calderon said. “We don’t know what is going to happen. We don’t know how long he is going to be out. It’s tough news for us. It’s family. It’s not the time to talk about who will be there in his place. We’ll see what happens in June or July.”

QUICK HITS

With his start Saturday against the Pistons, DeRozan moved into a second place tie among all-time Raptors for consecutive starts. His 122nd start in a row matched Damon Stoudemire. The mark is held by Alvin Williams, who started 131 in a row.


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