Such is life for the Toronto Raptors these days that even the mundane is viewed in a positive light as the losses keep mounting.
Linas Kleiza practised on Thursday, which was a plus, until he took a knee to his thigh, sending him back to the sideline. The forward has been bothered by a sore right knee the last couple of games, but is expected to play Friday night when the injury-plagued Raptors try to snap a six-game losing skid against the Dallas Mavericks at the Air Canada Centre.
Forward Alan Anderson, who underwent foot surgery on Nov. 10, also participated in his first full practice since his injury. Raptors coach Dwane Casey will probably have him available for the Mavericks, along with centre Amir Johnson.
Johnson has concluded a one-game suspension for hurling his mouthpiece off the back of a referee, one of the few strikes the team has made all season.
The Raptors are 4-19 on the year, but it is not their worst start in recent years. In the 2005-06 NBA season they lost nine of their first 10 games and 15 of their first 16. Then general manager Rob Babcock was fired in January of that season, precipitating the hiring a month later of Bryan Colangelo, whose current tenure as team president and general manager is thought to be tenuous.
“We got to be positive because the NBA is not going to feel sorry for you,” Casey told reporters Thursday. “If you don’t feel like you can win in this league, and believe you can win, that’s the most important thing. We got to believe. We got to have a belief system in place that we can win.”
To Casey’s way of thinking, there is no place in the Raptors’ locker room for such words as “depressed,” a description that power forward Andrea Bargnani threw out when describing his state of mind after landing on the injury list again. The seven-foot Italian, who has been the focus of trade talk recently, is out indefinitely after tearing a ligament in his right elbow.
“There’s no reason to be depressed,” Casey said. “We still have a lot of games to go, a lot of positive things to look at that aren’t coming out in W’s. I’m glad he [Bargnani] is not satisfied. There’s nobody in that locker room that should be satisfied. But depression is a strong word to use in today’s society.”
Bargnani, who played in just 31 games last season after struggling with a calf injury, said he is upset at being sidelined again.
“Bad moment, bad timing, bad everything,” Bargnani muttered.
With Johnson’s return, Casey will have a more active presence beneath the basket, although the team will miss Bargnani’s three-point shooting. Forward Ed Davis, who equalled his career scoring high with 24 points in Wednesday’s 94-88 loss to the Brooklyn Nets, will be counted upon for offence during Bargnani’s absence. Casey said Kleiza and Mickael Pietrus can anticipate playing at power forward.
Also sidelined is point guard Kyle Lowry, who has a partial tear to his right triceps.
With all the aches and pains, Casey said some of the coaching focus has shifted to player development.
“We’re getting back to fundamentals, getting back to the little things,” Casey said. “It’s not like we stopped having attention to detail. We got relaxed a little bit and losing will do that.
“But we’re back at basics, back to almost training camp with a new group of guys in different positions.”