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  Sun, December 28, 2003


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Strong suit at cleaners?
With potent offence seemingly in the closet, nothing fits Raptors

By BILL HARRIS -- Toronto Sun

LOS ANGELES -- It's a cardinal rule for anyone who ever has taken an exam: If you worry too much about what you don't know, you'll screw up what you do know.

The Raptors have not been listening to that warning.

They're not a good defensive team, which has been obvious since the three-for-three trade with the Chicago Bulls. But for a while following the deal, at least the Raptors seemed to be a pretty good offensive team.

True, they don't have a centre -- not one they're comfortable using, anyway -- but when they drive the ball, rotate it swiftly and hit a reasonable percentage of shots, they are formidable offensively. Well, they were formidable offensively.

Suddenly the club is back at .500 and has lost six of its past seven games, including a 97-94 overtime loss to the Utah Jazz in Salt Lake City on Friday. The Raptors' three-game Western trip will continue today with an afternoon tilt against the Los Angeles Clippers at the Staples Center.

All the talk in Raptorland is about ill-timed defensive breakdowns, which is understandable when the coach is as defensive-minded as Kevin O'Neill.

But if O'Neill is correct in his assessment that it's going to take his new-look club another month or so to get its defence sorted out, then wouldn't it stand to reason that in the interim the Raptors need to be extra smart on offence?

The play Raptors fans will choose to remember from the game Friday was the one just before the buzzer in the fourth quarter, when Vince Carter wound up with an uncontested layup to send the game into OT. But other than that, the Raptors created very few easy buckets and too often specialized in a no-movement attack that featured long-range jump shots as the primary weapon.

And a side-effect of a lack of movement is that the Raptors can't grab an offensive rebound to save their lives. Part of that is because they're undersized, but not all of it.

"I'd like to see more dribble-drive, more drive-and-kick," O'Neill said when asked about his team's jumper-happy stylings. "But there's no way we're going to be able to post (6-foot-10 rookie) Chris Bosh one-on-one against (opposing centres). We just can't do it. It's even hard for Donyell Marshall down there one-on-one against a (centre).

"The bottom line is we go to Vince, he's our guy, and that's how we have to try to win games."

But as good as Carter is with the ball, he could afford to be more efficient on offence, as could Jalen Rose and Alvin Williams and Milt Palacio and just about every other Raptor, too.

Keep in mind, this argument in no way is meant to excuse the Raptors for their defensive improprieties.

"We gave up some open corner jumpers and we got driven by guys who are drivers," said O'Neill, referring to the late stages of the Utah game.

Raptors forward Michael Curry, who spent a good chunk of the game Friday trying to guard much taller Jazz forward Andrei Kirilenko, was animated in his refusal to discuss anything but his team's shoddy defence.

"We bleep-ing made five defensive mistakes, just mental mistakes, that gave up 15 points," a disgusted Curry said. "Whatever else y'all was looking at, that's the game right there."

But the Raptors are going to have defensive lapses. We all know that. The sad truth for O'Neill is his team as presently constituted is not equipped to play the type of defence that would make him proud.

So barring a significant trade or signing, it's going to take a lot of hard work for the Raptors to improve their defence. But they could improve their offence right away simply by being smarter.

Every team has weaknesses. The problem with the Raptors is they've stopped doing anything really well.









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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