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Bargnani's best game of season leads Raptors past Magic

Dec 14, 2006 - 2:45 AM ORLANDO, Florida (Ticker) -- The Toronto Raptors' investment in Andrea Bargnani is starting to pay off.

Bargnani scored 15 of his season-high 23 points in the second half as the Raptors ended a four-game losing streak with a 91-84 victory over the struggling Orlando Magic.

T.J. Ford had 14 points and five assists for Toronto, which improved to 3-11 on the road and played its third straight contest without star forward Chris Bosh (knee).

"He's still got a long way and a lot of work to do, but he's getting better with his decisions," Toronto coach Sam Mitchell said. "The more good decisions he makes, the more his teammates have confidence in him. I thought it was important to leave him in the game down the stretch. Win or lose, it would be good for his growth and development.

"We told him to shoot it if you're open. He made five three's in the second half and we needed every one of them. Scorers aren't made. It's a mentality. Scorers are going to take some good shots and bad shots, but the good ones learn from it and he's been learning."

The first overall pick in the 2006 draft, the 7-0 Bargnani shot 8-of-16 from the field, including 5-of-8 from the arc. The Italian, who came in averaging just 8.3 points, surpassed his previous high of 16 points against New Orleans on November 28.

"He's (Barg) a guy at the beginning of the season that we said we're going to let him come around and play, let him work," Raptors forward Morris Peterson said. "To his credit, he's taken advantage of it. He made some big shots, big plays, especially with Chris (Bosh) out."

Toronto held a 65-60 lead entering the fourth quarter before the 21-year-old Bargnani drained four 3-pointers - the Raptors' only baskets from the field the first 11 minutes of the final period - to hold off the Magic, who have lost five of seven since a six-game winning streak.

"I don't know if they were the biggest shots I've hit in the NBA," Bargnani said. "They were important shots. Getting open is a credit to my teammates. They find me during the game. ... It felt good to help my teammates when they needed me."

Consecutive shots by Bargnani from the arc 42 seconds apart gave Toronto a 74-64 edge with 8:40 left.

"We didn't call any plays for Andrea," Ford said. "He was open and he shot the ball. A lot of power forwards can't hold a power forward (such as Andrea) on the perimeter. He's able to stretch the defense and put big guys in tough situations. That makes him a lot tougher to guard."

Carlos Arroyo scored 22 points and Dwight Howard had 17 and 13 rebounds for Orlando, which dropped to 8-4 at home after shooting less than 38 percent (32-of-85) from the field.

"I was very disappointed in our defensive effort and our offensive execution, especially in the second half when we had three assists and nine turnovers," Orlando coach Brian Hill said.

The Magic, who were without guard Jameer Nelson due to a groin injury, stayed in the game due to a 20-7 edge on the offensive glass.

Orlando Magic forward Grant Hill, battling left knee tendinitis, was limited to 17 minutes. He will miss Thursday's game at Charlotte.

"He's not playing tomorrow," Brian Hill said. "Whether he's OK or not that I'm not sure, he was not able to go back into the game. His knee was bothering him."

A 3-pointer by Peterson gave the Raptors their biggest fist-half lead at 34-22 with 10:06 left in the second quarter.

The Magic closed on a 22-10 run to tie the game at 44-44. Arroyo scored four consecutive baskets for Orlando during the run and scored 12 points on 6-of-7 shooting off the bench in the first 24 minutes.

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