Alston has Raps on the run

BILL HARRIS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:22 AM ET

Speed does not kill.

Caution: Do not apply that message to our already overcrowded and dangerous highways. Thank you for your co-operation and, please, no tailgating.

As far as basketball goes, however, Rafer Alston's approach suggests there's no such thing as too fast. He's kind of like Sandra Bullock in those Speed movies, except he's the one who's in control and he probably is a better actor.

"Actually, we could play faster," Alston, the Raptors' starting point guard, said yesterday when asked about the torrid pace exhibited by his club in its season-opening win against the Houston Rockets on Wednesday.

"I looked at the fast-break points and we only had nine. So we have to get faster, especially if we want to have any chance of winning (tonight, when the NBA-champion Detroit Pistons visit the Air Canada Centre). They'll want to slow it down and put us under the rim with their big guys. So if we're going to play at that (increased) pace, we have to sustain it."

True, the Raptors went through some lulls during their 95-88 victory over Houston. But some fans indicated it was the most exciting Raptors game they had seen in years.

Alston had a lot to do with that.

Eyebrows were raised when the Raptors signed him to a lucrative multi-year contract last summer. But Alston clearly has worked on his game -- his shooting in particular -- since his first stint in Toronto. And frankly, it's amazing the difference a speedy point man can make in terms of breaking down defences and creating palpable energy in the building.

"We can't do it just for (the fans), though," Raptors guard Vince Carter said. "We have to do it because it works for us. But I know it's fun to watch, and it's fun to play in, too."

Well, fun is a relative term. Raptors veteran swingman Jalen Rose was asked if Alston's notion of speeding things up even more is an enticing prospect or a scary prospect.

"It's an enticing prospect, by the simple fact that we're not going to pound teams and win," Rose said. "Having willing passers like myself, Vince and Rafer, it makes guys want to run and get to the right spot, because they know the extra pass is coming."

In other words, the Raptors need to be committed to running as a unit, rather than relying too heavily on Alston individually.

"What makes the fast break go is having more than one guy who can bring the ball up," Rose said. "Sometimes when you just have one guy handling it, the other team can choke the outlet pass and stop the break.

"Whether it's a made or a missed shot, or a dead ball, some teams simply will decide they're going to deny the point guard and make somebody else bring it up. It's early in the season and we haven't seen that sophistication yet. But with Detroit coming in, I expect some of that (tonight)."

Obviously, the Pistons represent a far tougher test for the new-approach Raptors than did the weary Rockets, who were on the tail end of back-to-back games. And admittedly, the Raptors are going to endure their fair share of fender-benders this season because of their lack of low-post bulk, the admirable performance of Loren Woods against Houston's Yao Ming notwithstanding.

But the first step toward being a running team is wanting to run, and then getting out and trying it, regardless of whether Alston's teammates are short of breath.

"Yeah, I noticed that as (the game Wednesday) got down in the trenches," Alston said. "I'm looking to push, Sam (Mitchell, Raptors coach) is yelling to push, I'm looking back, and some guys are pretty tired.

"It's hard to play that pace for 48 minutes. I'd be a hypocrite to say (it's easy). But still, we have to get faster."

Ultimately, according to Carter, it primarily is up to Alston to keep his foot on the accelerator.

"He's the point guard," Carter said. "If he says so, once he gets it and goes, we have to follow."

As long as everyone manages to arrive alive.


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