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The Raptors (17-34) officially own a 10-15 record with Andrea Bargnani, but you could also argue that they hold a 9-7 mark with the real Bargnani – that is, the guy who can score from anywhere with feathery touch, deep-shooting confidence and, more importantly, legs behind his field goal attempts.
That Bargnani was back on Wednesday, scoring 26 points on 7-14 shooting (10-12 from the line) for just his second 20+-point effort since his return from injury.
Of course, it wasn’t just Il Mago’s 26 points that contrbuted to Toronto’s 105-96 victory over Denver, the team’s second since the 2004-05 season. If Bargnani put the club in position to win with his offence, the team’s collective defensive effort (they allowed just 11 points in the fourth quarter) sealed the deal.
Shutting Down Denver
Through three quarters, the Nuggets were able to assert themselves offensively in much the same way as Orlando had done on Monday. Thanks to Bargnani’s contributions and a momentum-shifting surge late in the third quarter, the Raps kept things tied 85-85. It was the closely contested nature of the game, coupled with the team’s momentum, that helped Toronto turn on the defensive pressure in the final 12 minutes. Remarkably, Denver shot just 3-20 without a single made jumper in the fourth, nor a field goal made in the final 8:27.
More on Bargs
As Bargnani goes, so go the Raps. Counting a 19-point effort on 8-15 shooting against Cleveland along with his two 20+-point outings, he has had three star-calibre games since returning on March 10 (all wins, hence the aforementioned 9-7 record with Bargs being Bargs).If he can build on this momentum and continue his rhythm over the final 15 games, he will alleviate much of the concern that has emerged with him struggling to return to pre-injury form. Of course, if his play really is connected to the team’s win-loss record, the tanking advocates out there won’t be too excited to see many more performances like Wednesday.
James Johnson’s respiratory issues cost the team their best defender (not that it mattered in the fourt) and most versatile player, but it might have afforded them a better shooting corps with Linas Kleiza taking his place in the lineup. Kleiza’s shooting, combined with Bargnani’s rebound game and Gary Forbes’ three-point consistency, helped spread the floor and allow the Raptors to shoot 54.5% (12-22) from long distance.
No Stopping Lawson
Okay, so it turns out you can stop Ty Lawson, as Wednesday’s fourth quarter proved. It’s still telling, however, that the Nuggets point guard had 26 points before the final frame even begun. He had shot 9-15 up to that point (he finished 9-19) and his aggressive, up-tempo play helped Denver out to a 23-8 advantage in fast break points. If you re-do the 2009 NBA Draft almost three years later, you could argue that Lawson represented the biggest miss for the Raptors when they selected DeMar DeRozan (who, incidentally, had a solid 17 points in his first game back from an ankle injury) ninth over-all (although you could also make arguments for Jrue Holliday and, to a lesser extent, Brandon Jennings, Darren Collison and DeJuan Blair).
Can’t Claim the Paint
You’d think that the deadline deal of Nene to the Wizards (who are here on Sunday) would have robbed Denver of much of its interior presence, but the increased minutes for rookie Kenneth Faried and the play of newly acquired Javale McGee (although his salute of the crowd after a dunked showed that the Mile High air hasn’t exactly blessed him with newfound maturity) kept the Nuggets dominant inside. They didn’t win the rebounding battle (49-43 for Toronto), but they did hold a significant 48-32 edge in points in the paint and caused the Raps to get maybe a little too jumper-happy, particularly when the Nuggets went on a 33-18 run between the second and third quarters.
- The contributions of the Raptors’ 10-day contract guys – Alan Anderson and Ben Uzoh – weren’t exactly significant enough to warrant their own notes in the “Good” section, but both men provided positive minutes. Anderson scored seven points and finished second on the team with a +7 in over 13 minutes, while Uzoh (who already seems to be a Herbie Kuhn fave for his announcer-friendly last name) looked comfortable running the point to the extent that he was vocally game managing as he brought the ball up court. Particularly with reports of Jerryd Bayless likely being done for the year and with just 15 dates remaining on the schedule, it wouldn’t be surprising to see both men secured for the rest of the season.
Momentum looks to be on the side of the Raps, as the Heat arrive on Friday for their only visit of the season off two blowout losses and coming off a Finals rematch against Dallas tonight (7:00pm, TSN2).
Keep an Eye on:
1)… who gets the LeBron assignment. If Johnson still can’t go, Kleiza probably gets the bulk of the defence-by-committee job, although Dwane Casey may be curious to see if Anderson is up to the challenge.
2) … who is made available for Miami. Erik Spoelstra has talked in the past about resting his superstars in response to the condensed schedule, similar to what Dallas and San Antonio do. A game in Toronto coming off a major clash vs. the Mavs would offer a prime opportunity to do so, or at least so the Raps hope.
The Pick: Heat 103, Raptors 100 (27-16 this season)