Damaged goods?

STEVE BUFFERY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:42 AM ET

Raptors rookie Joey Graham, who is a licensed pilot, insists that he does not have his head in the clouds when talking about his knee problems.

"It's nothing too serious," Graham said, following practice yesterday. "You just have to rest it and get it stronger again."

The question remains, however: Is Graham damaged goods?

The 2005 first-round draft pick (16th overall) missed the second half of Toronto's opening pre-season game against the Utah Jazz on Wednesday night because of tendinitis in his left knee and yesterday admitted that the problem has plagued him for at least a couple of years.

Tendinitis, a common malady in the NBA, is an injury that never completely goes away and the fact that Graham already is afflicted at the age of 23 can't be a good sign.

Still, Graham and head coach Sam Mitchell are adamant that it's not a serious problem.

"That's to be expected with all the running we're doing and the hard pace we're going," Mitchell said, when asked about Graham's injury. "Normally during the season you don't have 3 1/2-hour practices like we've been having (at training camp)."

Mitchell said there have been times during camp when he has been forced to sit Graham out because of the soreness in his knee. Graham also sat out practice yesterday, but said he would have finished Wednesday's game against the Jazz, a 102-101 overtime loss, if it was a regular-season game.

"I played the past couple of years with it and never missed (a college) game," he said.

Mitchell had harsh words for his troops following the loss to Utah, mainly because the Raptors were out rebounded 54-37. A lack of rebounding was Toronto's Achilles heel last season and Mitchell basically has issued the threat that he will ask general manager Rob Babcock to explore the possibility of bringing in a big body from somewhere else if the guys on the current roster don't rise to the challenge.

Mitchell, however, was feeling slightly more benevolent yesterday, pointing out the positives from Wednesday's game, including the fact that his club forced 33 turnovers, picked up 15 steals, and went to the free-throw line 49 times. He also pledged to give the guys a chance to prove their rebounding skills before pressing the panic button.

HAVEN'T GIVEN UP

"I do believe in my heart that these guys have the ability to do it. I haven't given up on any of them," Mitchell said. "We've got guys who are tough. I would take any of these guys in an alley with me. But we're not going into an alley, we're going on the basketball court. We've got to get a bit smarter."

The Raptors will face the Boston Celtics in Manchester, N.H., tonight in pre-season action.


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