SAN ANTONIO -- Here's a twist to the Raptors saga that nobody saw coming yesterday.
Raptors veteran Jalen Rose said the key to his team's 3-0 record since the all-star break last week is the love and closeness of the players inside the dressing room.
No, Rose did not dispense those words of wisdom after ingesting gas for a root canal. The 11-year NBAer insisted yesterday following the team's practice at the SBC Center in San Antonio that the Raptors are a very close-knit team. He said the players love to come to work everyday -- despite the demands to be traded, the team's overall losing record (24-32) and the unhappiness of some over a lack of playing time. Rose said the perception that the Raptors are generally a angry group of young men is wrong (although the disgruntled duo of Eric Williams and Lamond Murray were already on the bus following his statements yesterday).
"We're not lovable losers or anything, but we are a team that picks each other up," said Rose, who was named the Eastern Conference player of the week on Monday. "We joke with each other, we're critical of each other. And that's a mark of guys trying to get on the same page. We get along so well that it's actually fun to come to work."
Rose said the fact general manager Rob Babcock did not trade at the deadline actually drew the players together.
"We felt that the only way to get out of this scenario that we were in of unhappiness is to play winning basketball and be together," he said. "A lot of times when things don't go your way, guys tend to pull apart. We're going to come out and play every game like we're going to be a playoff team."
All of that good stuff might be put on hold following tonight's game against the NBA-leading San Antonio Spurs (43-13), who have lost only two games at home all season. The Spurs have a game breaker in all-world power forward Tim Duncan, a magnificent backcourt in Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, a defensive standout in Bruce Bowen and a deep bench. But if there is anything the Raptors can build on for tonight's matchup, it's the fact that Toronto recorded its biggest fourth-quarter comeback in team history on Nov. 21 in beating the Spurs at home, 96-91. Coach Sam Mitchell also will build on the fact his squad is playing improved defence because they are passing the ball more.
"When guys touch the ball, they're going to be more into the game and play better defence," he said. "The concentration is going to be there."