Playoffs the goal for Raps

MIKE GANTER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:36 AM ET

His name may be Jalen Rose, but there was nothing flowery about his message to those giving his Raptors no shot before they even have played a game.

While the NBA season tips off tonight in four cities, and the Raptors' home opener comes a day later as they play host to the Washington Wizards (7 p.m., Air Canada Centre), most of the so-called experts already have the Raptors pegged for spectator status for the 2006 playoff season.

Rose suggests Raptors fans who already have given up on this season take a good hard look at the Wizards tomorrow night.

"I have the kind of optimism that is real," Rose said following a morning practice yesterday. "I'm not a Toronto Raptor hater who says that everybody (else) is guaranteed to make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference. The last time I checked it was only about five or six teams that possibly were going to make the playoffs and that means two to three spots left open.

"I've seen teams in the last couple of years sneak into the playoffs whether you're talking about the Milwaukee Bucks or the Chicago Bulls or Washington Wizards," Rose said. "Those are teams that have done it and hopefully we can be a team like that this season."

Rose sums up a successful Raptors season in one word.

"Playoffs," he said. " That's a successful season. I can't say it's successful just because you're getting another lottery pick. I think a successful season for a team is one that ends in optimism."

Right now Rose and his teammates have that in spades.

They are coming off a seven-game pre-season that despite an embarrassing loss to Maccabi Tel Aviv seemed to suggest to the majority that rookies Charlie Villaneuva, Joey Graham and Jose Calderon either already are capable or on the verge of becoming capable NBA players.

Raptors head coach Sam Mitchell, however, wasn't willing to concede anything based on the pre-season play of any of his young charges.

"We don't know how ready they are to play, because they haven't played a regular season game yet," Mitchell said yesterday. "Everyone knows games are going to be a different speed in the regular season. You're happy with what they have done in the pre-season but I haven't seen them play in a regular-season game."

Mitchell sounds like a man fully expecting his rookies to be somewhat overwhelmed by regular-season play.

"You can tell them but they have to experience it," Mitchell said. "There are not words or adjectives I can give them to describe what it's going to be like."

Having said all that Mitchell adds that one season as an NBA head coach has taught him the value of being patient with his youngsters.

"I think if you look at the progress in our young guys from the first few pre-season games to the last, I think most people would agree they are getting better, but again the final exam starts (tomorrow). You grade them at the end of 82 games."


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