Time running out

BILL HARRIS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 2:07 PM ET

Each NBA team has five players on the court and there are 48 minutes in a game. Five times 48 equals 240 minutes to be dispersed by the coach.

Who gets those minutes usually is a hotly debated topic, regardless of the quality of the team. But the situation presently facing the Raptors is particularly awkward since they have 10 or 11 players who are pretty much the same.

We don't mean they have exactly similar styles or exactly similar strengths. But while most NBA teams have a couple of superstars at the top end and two or three bench-warmers at the bottom end, the Raptors have at least 10 players who do some things very well but who also have glaring holes in their games.

So who plays and who sits?

Raptors coach Sam Mitchell has shaken up his starting lineup in the past week and a half, first replacing Jalen Rose with Eric Williams, and then replacing Loren Woods with rookie Rafael Araujo.

But the club still went 0-3 on its post-Christmas western trip and is 10-21 heading into a five-game home stand that begins on Monday against the Orlando Magic.

Mitchell has hinted he might have to shorten his bench in the near future but, as he explained yesterday, it's a hard thing to do when no one really has played poorly enough individually to be cut from the rotation entirely.

"Whose minutes do you cut?" Mitchell asked rhetorically. "We've had only two guys in the last few games who haven't played and those guys haven't done anything not to play. It's not that they haven't played well. We just have a lot of guys who do the same things. We're not as diverse a basketball team as you'd like. It's tough, because I'd like to get Aaron Williams some minutes. But Hoffa (Araujo) is playing well, so you try to give him a few more minutes.

"But then you also want to get Donyell Marshall some minutes. Now Loren Woods is not playing, and he hasn't really done anything to deserve not to play at all.

"Matt Bonner is fourth in the league in field-goal percentage. How does he not play? He plays hard and does everything we ask. And I'd like to see Pape Sow play, because he practises his butt off. So how does he not get a chance to play?"

It's not only the Raptors' big men who find themselves in a minutes logjam.

"Lamond Murray is fourth in the league in three-point shooting," Mitchell pointed out. "He has had some big games for us. How does he not play? Jalen Rose has been coming off the bench. He's shooting in the high-50% range from the field and scoring for us. So how does he not play?

"Morris Peterson may not have shot the ball as well, but he's defending and doing other things. So where do you go?

"Those are the decisions you want. The only thing is, when you're 10-21, you have some tough decisions to make. But it's a good problem to have." Well, not really.

EXPERIMENTATION

Looking at the cold, hard numbers, it seems strange that a 10-21 team could have a difficult time finding people to bench.

The thing is, Mitchell has yet to discover a rotation of starters and bench players that works on multiple levels. That in turn has led to the recent experimentation which has left many of the veterans -- Rose, Marshall and Murray among them -- frustrated by their lack of court time.

Regardless, the Raptors can't continue to play 10 or 11 guys if they want to develop any consistency.

The best thing that could happen now is for certain players to step up big-time during this home stand, thus making Mitchell's decisions far, far easier.


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