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For one night, at least, Andrea Bargnani wasn’t going to mean a whole lot for the Raptors (6-14), who lost 96-81 to a Nuggets squad that was longer, more talented, deeper, more aggressive and, simply, better.
Denver built up a 16-point first quarter lead that was a 22-point advantage by the half and never really looked back, cruising on the strength of a strong Rudy Fernandez effort off the bench, another 20-10 performance against them – this time by Nene – and Toronto’s fourth sub-40% shooting night in the past six games.
Bayless Gets Efficient
In his first decent showing in four games since returning from an ankle injury, Jerryd Bayless offered a spark off the bench desperately needed based on the poor play of Jose Calderon. Bayless had 18 points on 7-10 shooting, including four made threes in five attempts, in just 16:26 of court time. He and Leandro Barbosa (team-high 19 points off the bench) were significantly more effective than their starting backcourt counterparts, Calderon and DeMar DeRozan (more on them further down).
Some Late Fight
I’m actually not referring to former Nugget Linas Kleiza’s tussle with Al Harrington (and, by circumstance, Fernandez) in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter. Instead, I’m talking a little earlier, when the Raptors opened the fourth quarter by narrowing the deficit to six thanks to a 10-2 run coupled with some timely defence. It was as close as the team would get (they’d actually only score seven points the rest of the way), but it did once again showcase the impressive resilience that has been instilled by the club’s veteran presence and Dwane Casey.
Another Horrendous Start
Is it more embarrassing that the Raptors opened up the game by missing 14 of their first 15 shots, or that they got their third and fourth points of the game on a James Johnson running jumper… with 3:08 to go in the first quarter? Keep in mind, there’s no wrong answer between the two.
The Starting Five (Minus Johnson)
Remember how I said that I wouldn’t keep beating the dead horse that is DeRozan’s disappointing 2011-12 campaign unless he happens to have a particularly putrid game? Well, I’d say that eight points on 3-15 shooting and three turnovers during 33 minutes of game time in which he was a -19 qualifies as such. However, he certainly doesn’t deserve all the blame, as he had plenty of company within (most of) the starting five. James Johnson’s 16 points on 7-10 shooting salvaged what was otherwise a collective 19-point effort on 7-34 shooting by DeRozan, Calderon, Kleiza and Aaron Gray. That’s right, 19 points on 34 shots.
- Interesting post-game comments from Casey, who came as close as he has all season to calling out his team: “Our guys have to believe. We can’t sit back and wait for Andrea to come back. As it was said famously before, he’s not walking through that door. It’s us against the world for a while, we don’t know how long it’s going to be, and we’ve got to play like it.”
Lowest quality of play among Sunday’s sporting events: NHL All-Star Game, NFL Pro Bowl or the Raptors’ visit to New Jersey? (6:00pm, TSN2).
Keep an Eye on:
1) … Hump. I’m sorry, but how bad are these teams that Kris Humphries can be considered a key player to watch? Sure enough, his 16 rebounds (nine on the offensive glass) in the January 6 meeting between the teams in Toronto served as a major contributing factor to the Nets’ 97-85 win.
2) … Barbosa. Even though he only managed two points in the season’s first meeting between the teams, he’ll get extended playing time on Sunday and will be looking to get to the rim against a team hardly known for their perimeter defence.
The Pick: Raptors 92, Nets 88 (10-3 this season)