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8. Toronto Raptors
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A healthy Garbajosa gives Toronto toughness and grit on defense.
Garrett Ellwood/AFP/Getty ImagesI
Fast Fact
The Raptors had the best bench production in the East last season with a franchise-high 36.3 points per game. That output, second in the NBA behind the Spurs' reserves, was an increase of seven points per game from '05-06.
Telling Numbers
Record: 47-35 (4th in East)
Points scored: 99.5 (11th in NBA)
Points allowed: 98.5 (16th)
Coach: Sam Mitchell (fourth season with Raptors)

If the Euro vet has a good leg to stand on, playoff hopes will be just as strong

Raptors forward Jorge Garbajosa is a man of few words, at least when it comes to his healing left leg. When asked how his wheel, which he broke in a gruesome fall while trying to defend a breakaway dunk against Boston last March, felt going into training camp, Garbajosa responded, "Pain-free." And at last month's European Championships, at which he helped Spain to a second-place finish? "Pain-free," he said. And as for why he decided against having surgery, an option Toronto encouraged him to take in August? "Because I'm pain-free," insisted Garbajosa. "I feel completely healthy."

The Raptors certainly hope so. Before his injury the 29-year-old former Euroleague standout was a Rookie of the Year candidate, averaging 8.5 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.9 assists at small forward. More important, Toronto -- the surprise winner of the Atlantic Division -- missed his toughness and interior muscle in the postseason, when the Raptors were bounced in the first round by the Nets. "We had worked for a long time to do well," says Garbajosa. "It was tough to watch because I knew we were good enough to go to the next round."

Although Garbajosa is showing no ill effects from the injury -- he averaged 7.8 points in 21 minutes per game at the European Championships -- Toronto will remain cautious. The team has an insurance policy through November that covers the remaining $8.5 million on Garbajosa's contract, and coach Sam Mitchell declared an open competition at starting small forward between Garbajosa, Joey Graham and Jason Kapono, a free agent who signed a four-year, $24 million contract with the Raptors in the off-season.

Starter or not, Garbajosa is happy he can get back on the floor. "I'm not worried about starting," he says, "and I never think about minutes. I just want to be useful." -- Chris Mannix

Issue date: October 29, 2007

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