April 23, 2012
Johnson sharp but Raps lose to Bucks
By Mike Ganter, QMI AGENCY
MILWAUKEE - James Johnson may have hit a speed bump with a two-game benching in early April that wound up costing him his starting spot, but he’s making up for lost time.
Johnson was back in the starting lineup for the first time since April 3 when he started a game against Charlotte.
Something happened in that game or between that game and the start of the next one in Philadelphia because Johnson was suddenly glued to the bench.
All parties involved kept what transpired in-house but it was still another five games after his return to the court (coming off the bench) that Johnson found his rhythm again.
He made his first start Monday night, albeit at power forward rather than small forward where Alan Anderson has started since and responded with his fourth double-digit scoring night in the past five games.
Johnson is once again contributing at the level he was at earlier this year, his 20 points a high among Raptors in 92-86 loss to the Bucks who took over the game in the final few minutes with the aid of some questionable foul calls that went against the Raps.
But the game lost the little lustre it had with about 10 minutes remaining when the Philadelphia 76ers closed out the New Jersey Nets thereby eliminating the Bucks from playoff contention.
But in truth there wasn’t that much redeemable about this game long before that.
Even with a slim chance to make the playoffs the Bucks looked like a team that knew the game was meaningless from the get-go and played like it.
Johnson, who has as much to prove as any Raptor after his benching, is making the most of the opportunities he has left this season.
In addition to his 20 points Monday, Johnson also had two blocks, four assists and 13 rebounds which also led the Raps.
His athleticism and potential will keep him in the mix for next season. His play down the stretch can only help his chances.
PRAISE FROM THE OPPOSITION
Scott Skiles may not look like a guy who has a lot of good things to say about a lot of people with his game-face scowl, but the Bucks coach was rather complimentary pre-game about the Raptors. “They would be having a totally different season had (Andrea) Bargnani been healthy the whole time,” Skiles said.
ONLY IN MILWAUKEE
The Bradley Center in Milwaukee is unique in that it seats the media almost within arms length of the Raptors bench. Late-season games like this one with little on the line for either team may not mean anything in the standings but it was surprising to see the bench so into the game. It speaks to the youth on the team but also to a coaching staff that won’t let this team quit on the season before it’s officially over.
DeMar DeRozan had a short night’s work in Milwaukee. The Raps starting shooting guard’s night ended with just under four minutes left in the second quarter when he objected to a travelling call and pitched the ball the length of the court and into the seats. Referee Mark Davis immediately ejected DeRozan who may have got away with just a technical had the ball not made it into the seats.
BIG SUMMER FOR VALANCIUNAS
Jonas Valanciunas and Linas Kleiza were among 24 players invited to try out for the Lithuanian National team that will attempt to qualify in Argentina for the Summer Olympic Games in London.
Valanciunas, 19, will battle 32-year-old, 6-foot-10 centre Robertas Javtokas and 6-foot-10, 243-pound centre Antanas Kavaliauskas for a spot on the team.
While Valanciunas, 7-feet, 240 pounds doesn’t have the track record of either player he made a huge impression at Eurobask last summer and before that was huge in Lithuania’s win at the FIBA Under-19 championship where he was MVP.
Lithuania will have to finish in the top three at the July 2-8 tournament to qualify for London.