Taking their lumps

MIKE KOREEN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:29 AM ET

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- An optimist would say that the Raptors 0-3 start is a good omen.

A realist would counter that this team is just plain awful right now.

The Raptors have fallen to 0-3, the opposite of their 3-0 start last season en route to a 33-win, non-playoff year. They experienced their largest margin of defeat since Nov. 20, 2000 with a 117-84 loss against the Detroit Pistons before a sellout crowd of 22,076 at the Palace of Auburn Hills.

On that day in 2000, the Raptors lost 100-64 against the Charlotte Hornets.

"This is the NBA. Worry about them emotionally?" Raptors coach Sam Mitchell said when asked about the fragile mental state of his young charges.

"This is part of it. No one is going to feel sorry for you. They have to fight through it. There's nothing you can tell them. They've got just got to go out and strap it up and play. But they've got to remember these beatings. And it's got to be in you to want to give it back."

Fresh off an ugly 102-92 loss against the visiting New Jersey Nets Friday, the smallish, inexperienced Raptors tied a franchise low with three offensive rebounds. Their two centres, Rafael Araujo and Loren Woods, had a grand total of one rebound. Araujo started ahead of Woods last night, but was out with two fouls after five minutes.

To be fair, the Raptors have started the year against tough teams in the Washington Wizards, the Nets and the defending Eastern Conference champion Pistons. LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers come to Toronto tomorrow.

"It's a brutal way to be introduced to the NBA your first four games for some of our young guys," Mitchell said.

Forgetting the schedule, though, the Raptors still have no legitimate centre options. Another quasi-centre, Aaron Williams, displaced two of his fingers in a gross-looking play after falling to the floor, but thankfully there is no break and he should be okay.

Meanwhile, the Raptors still can't seem to start games well. They were down 38-22 after 12 minutes and the defence was bad the whole game. The Pistons' Tayshaun Prince led the way with 27 points.

"We're just not doing it," forward Chris Bosh said. "We just have to find something inside ourselves to get us going, plain and simple. It has nothing to do with being young ... We just have to do it and stop talking about it."

How do they do it? Who knows?

The starting lineup isn't producing. Starting point guard Mike James has struggled and rookie Jose Calderon, the backup, has been the best player on the team.

At small forward, rookie Joey Graham hasn't been great. Veteran Morris Peterson is an option there. Whatever the case, the Raptors need to find a way to start better.

"Anytime you got a young team, you don't want to overanalyze the situation and jump to rash decisions and comments and illustrations after three games," said Jalen Rose, who led the Raptors with 25 points. "But the thing that's disappointing is in the NBA you've got to learn to compete and accept the challenge of the guy in front of you."


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