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Toronto Raptors Andrea Bargnani is congratulated by teammate Jose Calderon after scoring against the Los Angeles Clippers in Toronto, Feb. 13, 2011. (Mark Blinch/Reuters/Mark Blinch/Reuters)
Toronto Raptors Andrea Bargnani is congratulated by teammate Jose Calderon after scoring against the Los Angeles Clippers in Toronto, Feb. 13, 2011. (Mark Blinch/Reuters/Mark Blinch/Reuters)

Robert MacLeod

Raptors welcome back Calderon, Bargnani Add to ...

It is a combination not often seen this season, but one that can only boost any flagging optimism among Toronto Raptors fans.

Jose Calderon and Andrea Bargnani.

The pairing doesn’t carry the same fear factor as Stockton-Malone or some of the other dynamic duos of days gone by, at least, not yet.

But to Raptors supporters, Calderon and Bargnani in the starting lineup increases the chances for a victory. For an NBA team that has won just 15 times in 45 outings this year, that is cause for optimism.

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The Raptors hope their injuries are healed and that on Tuesday night in New York against the Knicks, they’ll be ready to start together again for what would be just the 15th time this season.

Calderon, who has missed five games with a sprained right ankle, worked hard in practice on Monday for the first time since the injury, and afterward said he felt fine. You never know how the ankle might feel after a night’s rest, the Raptors’ point guard cautioned.

But the Spaniard and his coach, Dwane Casey, gave the impression that, barring any setbacks, Calderon would be in the starting lineup when the Raptors get down to business against the Knicks and Jeremy Lin at Madison Square Garden.

Bargnani has played only 19 of Toronto’s first 45 games after suffering a calf strain. When he finally returned to the lineup on March 10 against the Detroit Pistons, Calderon sprained his ankle and hasn’t been able to play since.

“It’s going to be fun,” Calderon said about the prospect of resuming his partnership with the seven-foot Bargnani in the starting lineup. “I always like to play with him. It gives us a totally different look. It makes it easier for everybody.”

It also improves Toronto’s chances of winning. In games this season where both players didn’t start, Toronto has a record of 9-22, a .290 percentage. In the 14 games in which they’ve both started, the Raptors are 6-8, a .428 success rate.

Calderon’s anticipated return will mean that Jerryd Bayless, who started five games at point guard in Calderon’s absence, will return to his bench role. Bayless performed admirably during Calderon’s absence, averaging 21.8 points and 7.6 assists while connecting on 54.3 per cent of his shots. That includes a blistering 57.1 per cent (12 of 21) from beyond the three-point arc.

Despite those totals, Bayless said he knows his place is coming off the bench once Calderon returns.

“Jose’s here, he’s the starter,” Bayless said.

Tuesday’s game begins another tough stretch of four games in five nights for the Raptors, who return home following the New York game to battle the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday at the Air Canada Centre. The game is billed as Canadian Forces appreciation night, and to help commemorate the event, the Raptors will unveil their first camouflage-style uniforms. More than 300 members of the Canadian military are expected to be on hand for the game.

“Different,” said Calderon, who modelled the new uniform – complete with camouflage-themed sneakers – following Monday’s practice.

“You don’t get to play with this camouflage theme, but it looks nice. I think it’s a good idea, something different. I like it and hopefully it’ll be good luck for us, too.”

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