Raps end on a high

PORTLAND -- Every time Jalen Rose touched the ball last night at an arena appropriately enough named the Rose Garden, a group of drunken fans behind the Raptors bench began yelling and screaming at him.

Of course, Rose gave it back, carrying on a colourful running commentary with Pilsner-soaked Portlanders all night long.

But it seemed the louder the abuse became, the better Rose played. And in the end, the Raptors veteran swingman came through with his best all-around game of the pre-season, scoring nine points with seven assists and four rebounds in three quarters of play. He also played tough defence.

"I enjoy that," Rose said. "They pay good money to see basketball. As much as we're pro players, we're entertainers as well. So, I like to give the people what they want."

The solid performance came just in time, as last night's convincing 100-78 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers marked the team's final pre-season game.

The Raptors, 3-4 in the pre-season against NBA teams, open the regular season on Nov. 2 against the Washington Wizards at the Air Canada Centre, and last night's starting lineup -- rookie Joey Graham at small forward, Chris Bosh at power forward, Loren Woods at centre, Rose at shooting guard and Mike James at the point -- likely will be the starting lineup on opening day.

Another Raptors vet who posted his best game of the pre-season was Bosh, who came through with 17 points and six rebounds.

Rookie forward Charlie Villanueva demonstrated yet again that he is the real deal, picking up 22 points off the bench, with seven boards, while centre Rafael Araujo and Morris Peterson picked up 13 and 11, respectively, off the bench.

"It's good to end the pre-season with a win, especially on the road," Villanueva said. "But I'm glad it's over with. It has been long, but it has been good."

With only six days to go before the start of the NBA regular season, Raptors head coach Sam Mitchell has a huge task ahead of him.

The Raptors are basically the same squad that went 33-49 last season, but without veteran three-point threat Donyell Marshall off the bench, and with an even younger lineup.

Mitchell was heartened by last night's return of veteran forward Eric Williams, who had missed the entire pre-season after undergoing a right knee scope this summer, and the big games by Bosh, Rose and Araujo.

Forward Matt Bonner, who has missed the past two games because of a strained right calf, also will be ready for opening night.

Last season, the Raptors averaged 40.10 rebounds per game, fourth-worst in the league, and Mitchell still doesn't have the one guy who can pick up the slack in that department. Therefore, he's pushing everyone on the court to make a conscious effort to improve.

The Raptors also need improvement this season from the two centres -- Araujo, who has shown glimpses of improvement during the pre-season, and Woods. If neither improves early, GM Rob Babcock likely will look for some veteran help.

The Raptors were given the today off -- their first off-day since training camp began Oct.4.


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