More of the same with more to come

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:42 AM ET

It is eight games into the NBA season, way too soon to make sweeping judgments.

But we'll make an exception in the case of the Raptors.

This is a disaster.

The losing streak is at eight in a row and the next two weeks promise more of the same.

You want to tell yourself that on any given night, the stars can line up and even a team as bad as the Raptors can get a win because it's basketball.

But this isn't basketball. Basketball involves defending and to the Raptors, that is a foreign concept.

You can talk about how hard they worked to overcome an early 20-point Philadelphia 76ers lead. And you can laud the work of guard Mike James, who scored 38 points and assisted on nine more buckets. Once again the rookies -- Charlie Villanueva, Joey Graham and Jose Calderon -- came off the bench and scored a combined total of 30 points.

But it all added up to another loss. Another game bereft of anything remotely akin to defensive intensity.

The Sixers scored at will, especially early in the game, just as they did at home the night before. They led 39-19 after 10 minutes last night.

At this level, defence isn't about talent. It's about hard work. It's about determination. At times during the games, you can see wisps of smoke coming from coach Sam Mitchell's ears.

But after each successive loss, Mitchell has been able to muzzle his emotions and stay focussed on his message. That message is patience. He has to maintain that facade because that's all he's got: Hope that his players somehow will catch up with the game.

"As long as it takes," Mitchell said in response to a question about how long the team must remain patient. "Since we don't have any cap space to do anything, we have to develop our young guys."

After they fell what seemed to be hopelessly behind, the Raps battled hard to get back into the game, and did.

"For three three quarters I was happy," Mitchell said. "The first quarter, obviously, no. We've beaten this team six of the eight quarters the past two nights. We just dug ourselves too deep a hole in the first quarter.

"It's not something anybody's doing on purpose. These guys want to win. For the past two games, and, basically, for the entire year, we've gotten off to horrendous starts."

Down the stretch, Toronto got within two twice, including in the final minute when Philly led 115-113. On the next trip down the floor, the Raps got a rare defensive stop.

Then, Mike James, who had 38 points for Toronto, had a layup sit on the rim, then fall out. The Sixers took over and eventually won by six.

And what of Jalen Rose? The veteran is supposed to be a team leader but he was lifted after getting two offensive fouls in the first 2 1/2 minutes. He came back in to start the second half and got two more quick fouls. He finished without a point in seven minutes of play.

It's the first time in more than 500 games he has played that Rose did not score.

"I felt like I never got a chance to play myself into the game," he said. "Being on a winless team, everybody wants to contribute and make a play."

To this point, he has not been a disruptive force but if he gets stuck on the bench, watch out.

But this team has enough on its plate just getting a win. One player's hurt feelings is of little consequence.


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