Basketball REPORTER, You could excuse Patrick O'Bryant for looking a little uncomfortable.
Not only did the little-used Toronto Raptors centre find himself in the game - a rare enough occurrence in his three-year NBA career - he was on the floor in the first quarter.
With other starters. Against other starters.
It's a new experience for O'Bryant, who has averaged five minutes a game in his NBA career. But he played seven in the first half of the Raptors' 118-110 loss to the Atlanta Hawks and 17 for the game, his season high.
"It's been a long time since I played that many minutes," he said after finishing with four points, four rebounds and four fouls. "I just had to shake the cobwebs off. I have a good chance here. We have five games left and I'll be coming in for [Chris Bosh and Andrea Bargnani]. I just need to play hard and show what I've been working on for three years."
He affected the outcome not at all on a night when the Raptors were led by Bosh's 21 points and 10 rebounds. The game turned when the Hawks knocked down four three-point shots without a miss in the fourth quarter as they went 11-for-22 from deep, with Josh Smith and Joe Johnson scoring 25 points each.
With just five games to play and the playoffs gone, the Raptors are free to experiment without recrimination.
Enter O'Bryant. The lithe seven-footer was drafted ninth overall by the Golden State Warriors in 2006 but never caught on there in two seasons, appearing in a total of 40 games.
The Boston Celtics took a chance on him as a free agent prior to this season, but he wasn't able to crack their lineup. At the trade deadline, Raptors president Bryan Colangelo was able to acquire him in three-way deal with the Sacramento Kings, giving up only Will Solomon.
And if O'Bryant is so far a washout in his NBA career, he has two qualities most often looked for in teams willing to give second and third chances: He's seven-feet tall and he doesn't turn 23 until June.
With only $500,000 (U.S.) of his contract guaranteed next season, Toronto could waive him without significant consequence. But big men with even a whiff of potential are scarce. Chances are he'll be back.
Another player looking for a break is guard Quincy Douby, a combination guard with a slightly awkward look to his game who was drafted by Sacramento 19th overall in 2006, but who never quite stuck.
He seems confident and competitive in his glimpses of floor time, nine minutes of which he got in the second half last night. If all goes well, he could gain a training camp invitation from the Raptors or another NBA team.
"I never got an opportunity in Sacramento, with three coaches in three years," Douby said. "So I have an opportunity here to work hard and get better ... and use this is a learning experience to get ready for next year."
O'Bryant remains tougher to figure out - no surprise for a top-10 pick on his third team in three seasons. He looked overmatched on the glass at times, but head coach Jay Triano stayed with him and O'Bryant stayed with it too, making a nice play on a loose ball on the offensive end to set Bosh up for a layup and later hitting a jumper.
Meanwhile, Douby hit four of his five shots for nine points in nine minutes, to go with two assists. With 6 minutes 40 seconds left, O'Bryant's night was done with the Raptors trailing 98-95. Douby was subbed for Anthony Parker a minute later, with the Raptors down seven.
Even with starters in the Raptors couldn't close the gap, dropping to 30-47 on the year.
No harm in a meaningless game. But for the likes of O'Bryant and Douby, hardly meaningless minutes.
NOTES Toronto Raptors centre Andrea Bargnani was a game-time decision due to flu-like symptoms. He needed two blocks to match his career total of 90 coming into this season. ... Shawn Marion is averaging 13.5 points and 8.4 rebounds in 21 games with Toronto. ... In Toronto's first three games against the Atlanta Hawks this season (1-2), Chris Bosh was averaging 26 points and 10.7 assists. ... Hawks guard Mike Bibby was shooting 12-for-21 from the three-point line against Toronto this year. ... The Hawks have played the San Antonio Spurs, Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers, Philadelphia 76ers, Boston again and the Orlando Magic in their past six games, losing five of them. ... The Hawks are the last team with a winning record the Raptors will play this NBA season.
NEXT Today, against Indiana Pacers, 7 p.m. EDT