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Pursuing excellence

By BILL HARRIS -- Toronto Sun

DENVER -- As the giddy Raptors loudly celebrated their win against the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday, guard Alvin Williams sat alone in the locker room, his various joints packed in ice and a bemused look on his face.

"I don't like it, man," said Williams, shaking his head.

Don't get the wrong impression. Williams certainly was pleased that his Raptors had recovered from a horrible first quarter to befuddle the explosive Nuggets 81-74 and thus complete a three-game Western swing with an admirable 2-1 record.

But Williams believes his 16-14 club sometimes falls into the trap of thinking it's better than it is. And it drives him crazy.

"I want to be a team that comes out every time and just punishes teams," said Williams, whose Raptors committed 11 turnovers -- most of them unforced -- in the first quarter on Tuesday. "I know that's not realistic, but we need to have that mentality and just let teams know it's going to be a battle from start to finish.

"It seems with this team there's always some type of lapse."

But surely the win in Denver said something about the Raptors' ability to be resilient and overcome adversity.

"Yeah, it says a lot," Williams said. "But I think this team has a certain type of arrogance and confidence about it that allows us to do stuff like that."

The ultimate goal, then, would be to combine that arrogance and confidence with a healthy dose of tenaciousness.

"That's a mentality," Williams said. "That's an attitude. And it's where the coach (Kevin O'Neill) is trying to get us to be. It's a level we need to be at and it's something he preaches to us. But we really have to do it, because our record doesn't indicate the confidence and arrogance that we have, I don't think."

Nonetheless, the Raptors still have plenty of reasons to feel good as they prepare for a five-game home stand that begins tomorrow night against the New Orleans Hornets.

The Raptors bounced back from a heartbreaking overtime loss in Utah on Boxing Day to beat the Los Angeles Clippers last Sunday. And even though Raptors starting point guard Jalen Rose urged that the game tape from Tuesday be "burned," and O'Neill described the first quarter as "a hockey game," the club still found a way to win.

"I'm not crazy enough to think we won't take some steps back at different times," O'Neill said. "We'll just regress at some points. For the most part, though, I hope we can keep improving as we go along here."

But Williams' words of warning were particularly poignant because he had played such a solid game in Denver, racking up 17 points, six assists and six rebounds. O'Neill thinks Williams has benefitted greatly from the addition of Rose, which has allowed Williams to move over to shooting guard.

COMBO GUARD

"Alvin is a combo guard at best and more of a (shooting guard) than a (point guard)," O'Neill said. "We've relieved him of the responsibility of running the offence and scoring. He's a score-first point guard anyway, that's his mentality. That's nothing I think is bad, it's just his mentality.

"(With Rose at the point) it also frees up (Williams) to do a better job on the defensive end with less responsibility. He can just concentrate on really guarding guys. He still ends up handling the ball 15 or 18 times a game because we run some stuff for Jalen and when we do that, Alvin is handling the basketball. But I think he looks comfortable, he's making big plays, and he looks content in the way he's playing."

Generally, though, the hard-nosed and never-satisfied Williams still is not content with the way the Raptors are playing. The pursuit of excellence continues.









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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