Mitchell defends shuffling his lineup

Steve Buffery -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:19 AM ET

The Raptors deny that coach Sam Mitchell's decision to start rookie centre Rafael Araujo on Tuesday night is an indication the team has already thrown in the towel for this season. However, a record of 10-20 and last place in the relatively weak Atlantic Division is not where a team with playoff aspirations wants to be.

After missing five games on the injured list, Araujo started in place of Loren Woods.

Mitchell insisted after Toronto's 117-99 loss to the L.A. Lakers that he is experimenting with the starting lineup in hopes of finding a winning formula -- not because it's time for young players such as Araujo to work on their development. Pro teams out of the playoff picture will often play younger hands in an effort to hasten their development.

"We're 10-20, man. How can we stay status quo?" the coach said. "How can we stay the same? You have to try things."

The big question in the Raptors locker room yesterday as they prepared for the third and final stop on the current West Coast trip against Golden State was how to put an end to the losing. After snapping a seven-game losing streak with a victory over Minnesota on Dec. 15, the Raptors dropped the next four of six.

Some veteran players, such as Jalen Rose and Donyell Marshall, are unhappy coming off the bench and everyone is trying to figure out what this team needs to do to make a charge.

Point guard Rafer Alston, who had a strong game against the Lakers with 13 points and 11 assists, believes that the biggest problem right now is a psychological one.

"Keep our focus, number one," he offered as one solution. "And play hard for 48 minutes. The one thing I want my teammates and myself to do is to come to work everyday with a businesslike approach and keep working hard.

"We're making strides," he added. "But I'm not a big fan of the moral victories.

"This thing (making the playoffs) is feasible. We're not that far out, even though our record is disgusting. The East is there for some teams to creep up into the playoffs," Alston said. "We can do it. We're in every game and we're giving ourselves a chance to win."

Rebounding and defence are the two biggest problems with this squad. The addition of Eric Williams to the starting lineup has been positive. The veteran swingman scored 12 points and recorded five rebounds against the Lakers and played well defensively.

"We just need to be a little tougher," Williams said.


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