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  Sun, December 21, 2003


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Early present for the Raptors

By BILL HARRIS -- Toronto Sun

Raptors coach Kevin O'Neill has given his players a Christmas gift, and he wasn't even visited by three ghosts.

The club will take a whopping three days off this week -- tomorrow, Tuesday and Wednesday. That's a rare treat for any player during the game-heavy NBA schedule.

But the Raptors have only one chance to show their appreciation. That will occur today at 4 p.m., when they play host to the Orlando Magic at the Air Canada Centre.

Usually the concept of Christmas coming early is a good thing. But if the Raptors seem distracted today, goodwill toward men is sure to be lost on O'Neill when his team gathers for a practice on Christmas night in Utah.

The last thing O'Neill wants is for his players to have visions of leisure time dancing in their heads while taking on the Magic, which has won five of its past seven games.

But given that after today the Raptors don't play again until Boxing Day against the Jazz, O'Neill thought scheduling pre-Christmas practices would have been a futile exercise.

"It would be an absolute waste of time," O'Neill said.

"They (the players) are just not going to do it. The way the collective-bargaining agreement is, you have to give them either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day off. So to keep them overnight (tonight), practise (tomorrow and possibly Tuesday) and then let them go to me didn't make any sense.

"So I would hope we're professional enough to take care of our business."

That business arrives in the form of the Magic, which is led by former Raptor Tracy McGrady, but lately has been getting decent contributions from others as well. That wasn't happening earlier and led to the firing of former coach Doc Rivers and the promotion of current coach Johnny Davis.

"They have a guy named Juwan Howard who I've known for at least a couple of days," said Raptors guard Jalen Rose, referring to his old college buddy. "(Howard) can shoot, rebound and pass. It's hard when you guard a triple threat because if you play him to do one thing he can end up doing something else. He's their second option, obviously, and we don't want him to have a big game.

UNDERRATED

"Drew Gooden is definitely a player, also. Gordan Giricek is underrated. And obviously there's McGrady. We can't take this game lightly. As long as we play defence and make McGrady earn every inch of the floor, we feel like we have a good opportunity to win."

Raptors guard Vince Carter had an excused absence from practice yesterday for personal reasons. But he'll be back today and that's good news for O'Neill, who will need all hands on deck despite the Magic's 6-21 record.

"I think they are all playing better," O'Neill said of the Magic. "Rod Strickland has been a huge addition for them. He's making threes, he's knocking down pull-up twos, he's running their team, he's getting Giricek shots, delivering balls to the right guys at the right times. This is going to be a really tough game."

The Magic is not apt to be in holiday mode just yet, either, since it has a game tomorrow in Philadelphia. But regardless of which club has the most Christmas spirit, games at this time of year are more unpredictable than normal.

"I think everybody just feels the holidays," O'Neill said.

"Whether you're a Scrooge or a Santa, you feel the holidays one way or the other. But coaches don't feel Christmas like players feel it. I just condition myself that the only holiday I know is the Fourth of July."

Actually, if the Raptors lose today, the traditions of Dec. 25 and July 4 will be combined in an explosive manner when O'Neill sees his players again.

Have you ever heard of fireworks on Christmas?









Do you like the new-look Raptors heading into the 2013-14 NBA season?
  Yes, new GM made great moves
  No, they will still be a terrible team
  Unsure what to make of it


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