A new era is launched

BILL HARRIS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:23 AM ET

There's nothing like a matchup between Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady.

Oh, wait a minute.

The Raptors traded that Carter fella. And come to think of it, those Carter-McGrady showdowns often turned out to be kind of boring. So, let's just forget the whole thing.

Regardless, last night technically was the Raptors' first game of the post-Carter era, since it was the first occasion newcomers Eric Williams and Aaron Williams were available to play.

But the result -- a fairly close road loss -- was achingly familiar, as the Raptors fell 114-102 to the Houston Rockets before a crowd of 14,241 at the Toyota Center. The Raptors dropped to 9-18, while the Rockets improved to 12-13.

"We let two guys beat us," said Raptors forward Chris Bosh, using words that could not have been more true.

Rockets' 7-foot-6 centre Yao Ming had 40 points and 10 rebounds. Yao-ch!

McGrady had 34 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists.

It was the first time the Raptors had allowed two opponents to score 30-plus points in the same game since Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant had 31 apiece for the Los Angeles Lakers on Dec. 22, 2002, in Toronto.

"(Yao) definitely played more aggressively (than usual)," said Bosh, who led the Raptors with 16 points. "We should have double-teamed him a little bit more because he had only (one assist). He should have been passing more."

Indeed, Yao's aggressiveness visibly increased after he had a shot blocked by 6-foot-9 forward Donyell Marshall.

OVERPOWERED

"(Yao) always seems to play very aggressively against me," Marshall said. "He can overpower me."

Raptors coach Sam Mitchell had a simple theory as to why Yao had been so effective.

"(Yao) caught the ball deep in the paint," Mitchell said. "When he catches the ball that deep, we don't even have time to get over and trap. A lot of our big guys got in foul trouble early. He had it going and we just couldn't get to him. He's a load.

"Those two, McGrady and Yao, we ran at Tracy and he hit some tough shots early, which he's capable of. When those two guys get going like that, they're going to be tough to beat."

Eric Williams -- who looked pretty good, his unfamiliarity with his new teammates notwithstanding -- had eight points, five rebounds and four assists in 23 minutes for the Raptors. Aaron Williams had zero points, two rebounds and four fouls in four minutes.

"It's frustrating out there sometimes (not knowing exactly where to go), but when you get traded in the middle of the season, that's going to happen," Eric Williams said. "I just try to improvise the best I can and look like I'm a part of the team."

When Rockets forward Jim Jackson dropped to the court as if he had been shot after getting poked in the eye early in the third quarter, it prompted one reporter to say: "I didn't know Vince had been traded to Houston."

But even though Carter has gone to New Jersey rather than Houston, he's still gone, and the Raptors find themselves in something of a transition period.

The key word there is transition, not transformation. The Raptors, who dropped to 2-14 on the road, have not instantaneously transformed themselves into a different unit.

"I think (the Raptors) are a lot weaker on the interior (than we are)," Yao said bluntly when asked to explain his success last night. "I think that's definitely a reason. When you identify that, you try to use it to your advantage."


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