Toronto Raptors center Andrea Bargnani reacts to a call during the second half of their NBA basketball game against the Utah Jazz in Salt Lake City, Utah

Raptors have gone 8-2 without Bargnani. Coincidence?

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On December 10, the enigmatic Andrea Bargnani went down with a ligament tear in his left elbow. Two nights later the Raptors lost to the Brooklyn Nets to fall to 4-19 on the season.

But since then the Raptors are 8-1, including a thumping of the Trail Blazers on Wednesday night.

Coincidence?

Yes and no.

We need to say up front that a lot of what has fueled the Raptors win streak is the schedule. The wins over the Blazers and Rockets in this stretch can be considered quality, but most of the wins are of the Hornets, Magic, and Cavaliers variety. Toronto is in the soft part of its schedule.

But so were the Clippers in December — you have to beat the teams in front of you on the schedule and earlier in the season the Raptors were not doing that. Now they are.

Because they are just flat out playing better without Bargnani in the rotation.

Their offense is scoring 8.3 points per 100 possessions better than their season average in the last 10 games, in part because they are just shooting the ball better (their eFG%, which accounts for the bonus of a made three, has jumped from 48.3 percent on the season to 52.7 percent the last 10 games).

Then on the other end of the floor, the Raptors defense is nearly 4 points per 100 possessions better than their season average.

Look at it this way, in games 11-20 of the season the Raptors were a -8.2 points per 100 possessions when you compare their offense and defense. In the last 10 games that is +10.3, which is second best in the NBA in that stretch.

No Bargnani has meant more Ed Davis, and he is showing off an improved jumper — he was spotting up against the Blazers and making LaMarcus Aldridge look a step slow. Davis was 9-of-12 for 19 points against the Blazers and has been strong the last 10 games — when Bargnani comes back Dwane Casey can’t take Davis out of the starting lineup. He has earned the right to stay.

DeMar DeRozan, Jose Calderon and Kyle Lowry are playing well. Landry Fields is back and is contributing on the boards as he tries to figure out where he fits in the rotation. It’s all coming together.

We know the Raptors are going to be busy at the trade deadline. Bargnani will be shopped hard (and while there is a market for him it’s not one that brings back a lot of real talent or value). Either Calderon or Lowry will be moved (maybe in connection with Bargnani to add value).

But what we’ve learned the last 10 games is there are some pieces that can really work on that Raptors roster. They don’t have a star, but they have some pieces that can be part of a very good team. Now, whether Bryan Colangelo can put those pieces together is another question, but we know there are things that can work in Toronto.

And Bargnani is no longer one of them.

Gallinari, Faried lead Nuggets to 121-113 win over Magic

Denver Nuggets v Portland Trail Blazers
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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) Danilo Gallinari scored 21 points, Kenneth Faried had 19 points and 10 rebounds off the bench, and the Denver Nuggets defeated the Orlando Magic 121-113 on Saturday night.

Jusuf Nurkic added 17 points on 8-of-11 shooting and grabbed eight rebounds for the Nuggets, who lost their previous two games. Will Barton scored 16.

Faried was 9 of 10 from the field and Denver shot 57 percent in sending the Magic to their third straight loss.

The Nuggets outscored short-handed Orlando 64-34 in the paint. Magic center Nikola Vucevic did not suit up because of an injury.

Evan Fournier led Orlando with 24 points. Serge Ibaka had 22 points and four blocked shots.

After trailing by four in the fourth quarter, the Nuggets bounced back with big baskets from Nikola Jokic and Faried. Denver, which led by as many as 11 in the third, went ahead 109-106 on a 3-pointer by Gallinari with 4 minutes left and never trailed again.

Sparked by Ibaka’s block on Nurkic and 3-pointer at the other end midway through the third quarter, the Magic fought back from an 11-point deficit to take a 95-92 lead going into the fourth.

Taking advantage of numerous defensive breakdowns by Orlando, the Nuggets took a double-digit lead during the second quarter before settling for a 65-58 lead at halftime. Gallinari had 12 points while Faried and rookie Juancho Hernangomez both scored 12 off the bench for Denver.

The Nuggets, who led by 11 in the second period, shot 55 percent from the field and nearly 56 percent from 3-point range in the first two quarters. Coming off a loss to Charlotte on Friday night and playing their fourth game in five nights, the Magic seemed a step slow as Denver was allowed to drive the lane at ease in the first half.

Led by big men Jokic and Nurkic, the Nuggets scored 36 points in the paint compared to just 20 for Orlando and won the rebounding battle 25-16 in the first 24 minutes.

TIP-INS

Nuggets: Hernangomez shot 4 of 5 on 3-pointers in the second quarter. … Denver’s bench outscored the Magic’s reserves 34-16 in the first half.

Magic: Vucevic (sore shoulder) and fellow center Bismack Biyombo (sore back) were game-time decisions after coming out of Friday night’s loss at Charlotte banged up. Biyombo started and had 12 points in 34 minutes. … The Magic recalled rookie center Stephen Zimmerman from the Erie BayHawks of the NBA Development League.

UP NEXT

Nuggets: Their six-game road swing ends Monday in Dallas. The Mavericks have won five of the last six regular-season matchups.

Magic: Orlando visits Atlanta on Tuesday night. The Magic have lost 17 of their last 22 games against the Hawks.

Pistons send Stanley Johnson, 2 others to D-League

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AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) The Detroit Pistons assigned forwards Stanley Johnson and Henry Ellenson and guard Michael Gbinije to the team’s D-League affiliate in Grand Rapids.

The moves came before Grand Rapids hosted Delaware on Saturday night. The Pistons were off Saturday. Detroit hosts the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday night.

Johnson, a first-round draft pick in 2015, has averaged only 3.3 points in 21 games this season after showing potential as a rookie. Ellenson, who was drafted in the first round this year, has appeared in only six games this season.

Check out Tim Duncan’s giant new back tattoo

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San Antonio Spurs great Tim Duncan is apparently enjoying his retirement. He’s cutting loose, one could say.

And what’s the first thing you do when you try to cut loose? That’s right, get a tattoo that spans from traps to sciatica.

In a post shared by Elite Custom Tattoo in Arizona, it appears that Duncan got a full-length back tattoo on one side of his back.

The tattoo is elaborate, with a yin-yang symbol and a lot of mechanical underpinnings meant to look like Duncan is more machine than man.

I wonder where he got that idea?

#tattooing the #legend #wip #mechanicaltattoo #yingyang #turbo #gears

A photo posted by Christopher Escobedo (@elitecustomtattoo) on

Joel Embiid shows off custom “Trust the Process” shoes on Snapchat

Philadelphia 76ers' Joel Embiid reacts to the call during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Saturday, Nov. 5, 2016, in Philadelphia. The Cavaliers won 102-101. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)
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Philadelphia 76ers big man Joel Embiid has a certain sense of humor, one that has embraced former Sixers GM Sam Hinkie’s motto of “Trust the Process” as a kind of personal mantra and brand.

Embiid has apparently taken it a step further, showing off custom sneakers on Snapchat of his “Trust the Process” shoes.

You read that right.

The inside tongue of a pair of kicks Embiid was rocking on Saturday read in all lowercase letters the phrase we now associate with the Cameroonian center.

Embiid famously dubbed himself “The Process” and even filed for a trademark on the language in order to sell merchandise no doubt to be with us shortly.

Keep it coming, Joel. Absolutely each and every one of these are great.