Woods too good

STEVE BUFFERY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:04 AM ET

The Raptors have failed miserably in one aspect of their overall game plan this season, and that's at the centre position.

Loren Woods, who was signed as a free agent in August, is happy and surprised with all the playing time he has received, starting all 15 games for Toronto and averaging 21.2 minutes on the court.

Which says good things about Woods, a career journeyman, who is finally coming into his own.

However, what that also says about Toronto is that, so far at least, the game plan mapped out by general manager Rob Babcock has bombed.

Before the start of the season, Babcock envisioned Woods, or Jerome Moiso, sharing minutes with rookie Rafael Araujo at the five spot. The hope was to give the big Brazilian increasing minutes as the season progressed and as he progressed as an NBA player.

But Araujo has been a bust thus far, playing in only six games and averaging 8.2 minutes. Moiso has also found himself, for the second season in a row, buried deep on the Toronto bench, leaving Woods to carry the load. But to his credit, Woods has stepped up admirably.

"I'm shocked to this point with all the minutes I've been playing," Woods said yesterday, following a team practice at the American Airlines Arena in Miami. "All the success I've had thus far has been great for me and it has helped my confidence a lot.

"Coming into this season I wasn't really expected to do much of anything, nobody certainly expected me to play this many minutes or even come out here and start."

The Raptors probably never realized that the 7-foot-2, 260-pound centre, who is averaging 7.1 boards per game, was a bit of a masochist when they signed him as a free agent in August. How else to do you explain his excitement over tonight's matchup against the Heat's resident monster Shaquille O'Neal.

Shaq, who is averaging 11.8 rebounds per game, is actually an inch shorter than Woods, but carries 65 more pounds on his enormous frame. That could mean a long night for the Toronto centre, who nevertheless relishes the matchup.

"It's just a tremendous opportunity for me and I can't wait," said Woods, who will discuss ways to stop Shaq today with coach Sam Mitchell -- a taller order, to say the least.

"Shaq's pretty agile, pretty mobile, and he's strong," Woods said. "It's not necessarily going to be able to just out-quick him, he's not like a type of centre will just stand there and not move. I'm really going to be just constantly moving, running a lot, getting up and down the floor ... but you know, Shaq's in pretty decent shape. To play down here, you have to be. He's going to be running too.

"He's the most dominant player in the league, and add (guard) Dwyane Wade into the mix, it's going to be tough," Mitchell said of tonight's matchup between the 6-9 Raptors (6-9) and Heat (10-5). "But they have lost five games and they are beatable. Boston had the chance to beat them the other night, so we're watching that tape."


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