TORONTO — When Jay Triano was asked before Sunday’s game to list the injured players in his lineup, the Toronto Raptors coach grabbed a reporter’s red pen and methodically scratched off the names one by one for effect.
Then Jerryd Bayless and his young teammates went out and made the most of an opportunity.
The 22-year-old Bayless scored 19 points to lead the under-manned Raptors to a 99-92 victory over the New Jersey Nets in a matchup of teams gutted by injuries.
“I said to the players, let’s embrace this,” Triano said. “Let’s not look at this like we’ve got guys hurt, guys are going to get a chance to play, you’re going to make mistakes, but you’re probably going to stay in games when you do, but let’s play the right way and share the basketball.”
With just two games left on another season without a playoff appearance, and with numerous key players out with injuries, one of the few positives down the stretch is the growth of his young players, Triano said.
DeMar DeRozan and rookie Ed Davis, who are both 21-years-old, and James Johnson (24) added 18 points apiece for the Raptors (22-58), who snapped a three-game losing streak. Julian Wright finished with 10 points while Reggie Evans had a game-high 15 rebounds.
“You never want your teammates to get hurt, but it’s just the opportunity, and we’re trying to take advantage of it,” Davis said. “I think whenever I get on the floor, whether I’m playing good or bad, I can learn something, I can take something away from that game.”
Brook Lopez scored 35 and grabbed 11 boards to top the Nets (24-56), who’ve lost six straight on the road. Sasha Vujacic added 19.
The Raptors, playing with nine players, led a 10-man Nets team almost from the opening whistle, and had assembled a 19-point lead by early in the second quarter before taking an 82-62 advantage into the fourth quarter.
The Nets chipped away at Toronto’s lead, pulling within four points with 47 seconds left after a three-pointer by Vujacic, and a hook shot and three free throws by Lopez.
“We tried to break guys down with dribble,” Triano said. “When we passed the ball early, that’s when we were very effective.”
Three free throws by Bayless in the dying seconds sealed the victory for the Raptors.
Bayless has come into his own playing major minutes at point guard in place of starter Jose Calderon, who’s sidelined with a hamstring injury. He’d averaged 24 points in the five games prior to Sunday.
“I’ve known what I’m able to do, it’s just opportunity, I’m just happy that I’m getting this opportunity and hopefully it continues,” said Bayless, who played 41 minutes Sunday. “I just want to be here for a long time.”
The Raptors shot 51 per cent on the night to the Nets’ 39 and scored on an array of rim-rattling dunks to the delight of the 17,755 fans at the Air Canada Centre. The Raptors outrebounded their visitors 45-31.
“We had such a bad first half in every way,” said Nets coach Avery Johnson. “We didn’t play good on either side of the ball. We weren’t very good in the third quarter either, but we put together a pretty nice fourth quarter.”
Along with Calderon, the Raptors were missing Andrea Bargnani (ankle), Amir Johnson (ankle), Sonny Weems (knee), Leandro Barbosa (finger), and Linas Kleiza, who hasn’t played since before undergoing knee surgery in early February.
Triano said Amir Johnson will sit the final two games of the season, as his ankle isn’t healing well.
The Nets played without all-star guard Deron Williams, who will have surgery on his wrist Monday, guard Anthony Morrow (knee tendinitis) and former Raptors forward Kris Humphries (ankle/heel).
DeRozan poured in 14 points in the first quarter as the Raptors raced out to an early double-digit lead. Toronto shot 57 per cent in the first and led 31-22 heading into the second.
The Raptors continued to have their way with the lacklustre Nets, and went up by 19 about five minutes into the second on a dunk by James Johnson — one of several dunks by Toronto in the quarter. The Raptors shot 80 per cent in the frame and took a 61-42 lead into the dressing room at halftime.
A layup by Davis early in the third gave the Raptors a 21-point lead and despite a 32 per cent shooting effort held on to lead 82-62 with one quarter left to play.
NOTES: The Raptors are in Milwaukee on Monday to play the Bucks. They host Chris Bosh and Miami Heat in their season-finale on Wednesday. . . The Raptors and Nets played two games last month in London, the second of which was the longest game in Raptors history — a 137-136 New Jersey victory in triple overtime.