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Knee injury ends Raptors forward Kleiza's season

Like a doctor leading a group of medical students during rounds at a hospital, Jay Triano patiently updated a group of reporters on the team's alarming list of injured players.

When the Toronto Raptors head coach was asked about the status of Linas Kleiza, Triano simply said no, the forward would not be playing Friday night against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Five minutes after that conversation took place at the Air Canada Centre basketball practice facility on Thursday afternoon, the Raptors distributed a news release confirming that Kleiza's return was still a ways away - like next season.

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In what amounts to another stiff uppercut to the chin of the staggering NBA team, the Raptors said the Lithuania forward underwent microfracture surgery in Vail, Colo., on Wednesday to repair cartilage damage to his right knee.

The 26-year-old, who signed a four-year, $18.8-million (U.S.) deal with the Raptors last July, could be on the sidelines for up to a year, according to the NBA club.

"Personally I just feel bad," Andrea Bargnani, the Raptors centre and leading scorer, said of the news. "He's a really good friend of mine so out nine to 10 months is terrible."

Tempering the bad news somewhat was word that guard Leandro Barbosa, who has missed the past 11 games with a hamstring injury, is expected to return to the lineup for the game Friday.

The status of guard Jerryd Bayless remains in question.

Bayless was absent from practice Thursday, having his right knee checked out. He sprained the knee in the third quarter during a loss Wednesday in Atlanta against the Hawks.

You can't blame Triano for not wanting to spread the news about Kleiza, one of few positives in what otherwise has been a truly horrible season for the Raptors.

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The rugged forward, who last played on Jan. 21 against the Orlando Magic, has averaged 11.2 points and 4.5 rebounds in 39 appearances this season.

Triano has weightier matters on his mind - like how to snap the mind-bending 13-game winless string the team is riding, tied for the second longest in team history.

The Canadian-born coach won't talk about that, either, preferring to try to accentuate whatever positives he can glean from a team that sports a 13-37 record.

Minnesota represents as good a chance as any to end the misery as the Timberwolves enter the game with a poorer record than the Raptors at 11-37.

But that hope goes up in smoke with the reminder that it was the Timberwolves who emerged with a 103-87 victory when the two teams last met up last week in Minneapolis.

Because of all the injuries and illnesses that have dogged the team all season, Triano has been forced most nights to utilize a roster not much older than a college outfit.

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Triano noted that for the loss in Atlanta Wednesday, the sum total of NBA experience for his players amounted to 23 years.

"That's a pretty low number," Triano said. "We played against an Atlanta team that had 80 years of NBA experience."

Triano believes that baptism-by-fire approach can only help his young team in the long run.

The coach said he also wasn't overly concerned about the recent offensive struggles of Bargnani, the Raptors leading scorer, with 20.9 points a game.

The seven-foot centre has lost his shooting touch of late, sinking just three of his 15 field goal attempts in the Atlanta game while finishing with 12 points.

In his past three games, Bargnani is shooting 17-for-62. "It will come back," Triano said confidently.

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