Short of leaving the dead of winter in Toronto for spring time-like temperatures here in Los Angeles, nothing can lift the spirit of a team more than the return of its leading scorer.

So when Andrea Bargnani took the floor for a late afternoon practice at the Student Activities Center gym on the picturesque UCLA campus, the effect was palpable.

If you had to pick one difference maker on this team as it is currently made up, Bargnani would be right at the top of the list.

Whether Bargnani makes his return Sunday in L.A. against the Clippers or Tuesday in Phoenix will be determined by how the big Italian feels when he wakes up Sunday morning.

With a 12:30 tipoff local time, it's a short window between his first practice (Saturday late afternoon) and potentially his first game since he strained his left calf in a tilt with Sacramento six games back.

It's not a coincidence that the Raps have not won since Bargnani was injured. He was leading the team in scoring with 22.3 points a night while giving his team 6.5 rebounds a game and playing solid defence for perhaps the first time in his career.

In his absence the Raptors averaged exactly 79 points a night, an output that even with a better defensive team makes winning all but impossible.

Bargnani wasn't ready to circle Sunday as his return date yet. He sees no point in making any definitive statements, but if it's not Sunday in Los Angeles it will almost assuredly be Tuesday in Phoenix after one more practice.

Bargnani isn't the kind of athlete who blows his own horn, but he sees the impact his absence has had on the team.

"When I'm in the post I think I help a lot, even if I don't score," Bargnani said. "Amir (Johnson) for example, when rolls to the basket he's got more people with him. If I'm on the floor my guy usually stays with me so he's not helping (on Amir)."