Bargnani, Raptors quietly confidence of better '12

Bargnani, Raptors quietly confidence of better '12

TORONTO (AP) No bold predictions, no promises of reaching the playoffs. There is instead a quiet sense of optimism around the Toronto Raptors heading into the season.

A year after general manager Bryan Colangelo preached patience with a young, building team that was all about gaining experience, the Raptors made several key moves in the offseason in hopes of significantly improving the team.

Colangelo added three potential starters to the roster in point guard Kyle Lowry, Lithuanian center Jonas Valanciunas and athletic swingman Landry Fields, while losing Jerryd Bayless and James Johnson.

``There's that feeling there could be something special about this group, but time will tell,'' Colangelo said.

The Raptors, who open the season at home Wednesday against Indiana, finished 23-43 last year in a lockout-shortened season with low expectations. Few expect them to improve all that much this year - something second-year coach Dwane Casey said may work in his young squad's favor.

``With that lack of respect, that should get us motivated to come into this gym each and every day to bust our tails.'' Casey said. ``That right there tells us how much lack of respect the league has for us, and how much we have to continue to work to perform every day we walk on the court.''

Casey is a big reason for Toronto's optimism. The former Dallas Mavericks assistant took a team that was at the bottom of the league in defense to finish in the top half last season.

They remained in the bottom third in offensive stats, however - something Casey focused on with a benefit of a full training camp this season.

``The numbers are staggering what happened last year (defensively),'' Colangelo said. ``But with respect to the pace, the offense, offensive efficiency, offensive production, we talked a lot this offseason about how we're going to improve that.''

There hasn't been a clear face of the franchise since Chris Bosh patrolled the floor, and Vince Carter before him, and this season is no different.

The team will look to center Andrea Bargnani to provide a good chunk of its scoring. Bargnani was having a breakout season last year - and showed an uncharacteristic enthusiasm for defense - before a calf injury cost the team's leading scorer 35 games. The Raptors' season unraveled right along with him.

Bargnani and Valanciunas could make a formidable front court. The Raptors selected Valanciunas with their No. 5 pick in the 2011 draft, leaving him in Lithuania for a year of development. The 20-year-old, touted as the future of the franchise, definitely gives Raptors fans something to be excited about - rare athleticism for a big man coupled with a puppy-dog enthusiasm for the game.

Acquired from the Houston Rockets after a failed bid to land Canadian star Steve Nash, Lowry is expected to add heart and hustle to a Toronto team that hasn't enough of either in recent seasons. The 26-year-old, a vocal leader who will push his teammates, is expected to start ahead of veteran Jose Calderon, who will lead the second unit as one of the better backup point guards in the league.

Fields has been touted as Toronto's so-called ``glue guy.'' Out of Toronto's returning players, athletic swingman DeMar DeRozan, has polished his post-up game and along with Bargnani, will be a focal point of Toronto's offense. The 23-year-old remains among the weaker starters on the defensive end.

``DeMar's one of the most talented wings in the league and he's learning every day to be efficient,'' Casey said. ``He understands that, he's getting to the foul line, doing what we ask him to do, going in the low post.''

Toronto's three new starters have bumped players to the bench, which gives the Raptors' more depth than they've seen in a while. Calderon, Alan Anderson, Linas Kleiza, Amir Johnson and Ed Davis averaged 24 starts last year.

They're joined by hard-working guard John Lucas III, athletic rookie Terrence Ross and Dominic McGuire, a strong defensive player who was given the Raptors' final spot on their 15-man roster.

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Game 75 Capitals at Canadiens Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

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Game 75 Capitals at Canadiens Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

What: Washington Capitals vs. Montreal Canadiens

Where: Bell Centre, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

When: 7:00 p.m. ET

How to Watch: Capitals-Canadiens will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington.

Live Stream: You can watch the Capitals-Canadiens game on NBC Sports' live stream page.


The Capitals (43-24-7) take on the Canadiens (27-36-12) Saturday, March 24 at 7:00 p.m. ET in Montreal.


The Capitals-Canadiens game will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington. Coverage kicks off on NBC Sports Washington with Capitals FaceOff at 6:00 p.m. followed by Caps GameTime at 6:30 p.m. Stay with NBC Sports Washington after the game for Caps Extra and Caps Overtime at 10:00 p.m. for postgame coverage. (NBC Sports Washington channel Finder)

6:00 p.m. — Caps FaceOff
6:30 p.m. — Caps GameTime
7:00 p.m. — Capitals at Canadiens
9:30 p.m. — Caps Extra
10:00 p.m. — Caps Overtime


You can watch the Capitals-Canadiens game on NBC Sports' live stream page.


Use the comment section below to discuss the game action with other Capitals fans. 

For all the latest Caps coverage, follow Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir, Capitals correspondent JJ Regan and the NBC Sports Capitals account on Twitter. Be sure check out our Capitals page and NBC Sports Washington's Facebook page.

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Need to Know: The Redskins week that was—D-line scoop, Alex Smith's big deal

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Need to Know: The Redskins week that was—D-line scoop, Alex Smith's big deal

Here is what you need to know on this Saturday, March 24, 33 days before the NFL draft.  

The Redskins week that was

A look at some of the most popular posts and hottest topics of the week on Real Redskins and NBC Sports Washington.

Free agency update: What's next for the Redskins on the D-line? The Redskins have been casting out lines for defensive linemen since before free agency officially started but they haven’t been able to reel one in. Part of the issue might be that they know that Vita Vea and Da’Ron Payne are likely to be available in the draft. They have to balance spending big on a lineman vs. being able to get one pretty cheap for the next five years.

Redskins make a D-line contract change, gain roster flexibility—Speaking of the D-line, the team negotiated the removal of a salary guarantee for one player to give themselves more flexibility when it comes time to cut the roster down to 53 in September. See the post for details.

Redskins guarantee Alex Smith a whopping $71 million in new contract—In the words of Joe Biden, this is a big f-----g deal. It showed that the Redskins aren’t afraid to pay a quarterback big money if they think it’s the right guy. It should be noted that whether or not they chose the right guy is something that remains to be seen. Although the post shows that it’s plausible for the Redskins to terminate the deal after three years, I anticipate Smith playing out at least four if not all five years of the contract.

Redskins add another ex-Cowboy as they sign Scandrick—Orlando Scandrick has struggled with injuries the past few years and Redskins fans did not greet the news of his signing with great enthusiasm, to say the least. To point out the bright side, his contract is not pricey by NFL terms ($2.6 million cap hit this year, no guaranteed money beyond a $1 million signing bonus) and from what I have been able to gather it’s possible that change of scenery might give him a boost for a year or two.

Tweet of the week

Well before free agency started, I wrote that the Redskins’ top priorities in free agency should be to get extensions done for Smith, Brandon Scherff, and Jamison Crowder. They should have about $15 million to work with after a few more free agent signings and that would be plenty to get all of those extensions done. And if they do score a big free agent signing, it would be worth it to restructure the contract of someone like Ryan Kerrigan to get them done.

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page and follow him on Twitter @TandlerNBCS.


Days until:

—Offseason workouts begin (4/16) 23
—Training camp starts (approx. 7/26) 124
—2018 NFL season starts (9/9) 169

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