What do you think of Babcock now?

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:14 AM ET

Rafer Alston was ready with all the answers, all the explanations. He came back to town last evening, his words having preceded him.

He trash-talked the Raptors coaching staff, suggesting the team, when he was here, was unprepared.

But then it was Mike James, the man Alston was traded for, who did all the talking where it counts: on the court

See, when you bury your old coach, and then walk back into his building, if you are going to talk the talk, you had better walk the walk. Or at least die trying.

And if Alston wanted a lesson in preparation, he need only look across at James, the man he was, ahem, guarding. And we use the term loosely.

James went off like, well, like a rocket. He poured in 30 points, combined with seven rebounds and eight assists.

And Preparation A? He played 29 minutes before scoring his one and only field goal with less than seven minutes left in the game and the outcome already decided in Toronto's favour. He finished with two points.

James already was playing well when he became embroiled in a confrontation with Houston's Juwan Howard in the second quarter. When Howard tried to grind the basketball into James' face, the Raptors guard reacted angrily. Howard was tossed.

"I think that kind of woke him up a little bit," Toronto coach Sam Mitchell said. "He was playing well but whatever it released in him, I could take that for about the next 50 games."

James played like a lion, while Alston responded like a lamb. Mitchell refused to be drawn into any sort of mudslinging with Alston.

"He's moved on, we've moved on," Mitchell said.

The near-fight with Howard startled James and spurred him on.

"Tempers flared, things were said," James said. (Howard) felt like it was necessary for him to do that. It shocked me a lot that it went that far.

"I think that something clicked inside me. It doesn't make me shy away. I kind of like a little bit of confrontation."

Overlooked in the heat of the moment was the fact that Toronto now has a five-game winning streak. Think you could have gotten some decent odds on that possibility a month ago?

"They're starting to gain confidence," Mitchell said of his players. "They believe in themselves and they believe in each other. I think these guys like that feeling of competing and winning.

"From where we've come from and to where we're trying to go, we're just trying to make small steps, each and every night. We continue to play like a team, move the basketball, help each other on defence, rebound and just continue to grow as a team. We'll get there."

Late in November, when the Raptors were 1-15, general manager Rob Babcock defended his coach and his team by suggesting that they would be a much better team during the next 15 or 16 game sgement. He was right, just as he was so very right on the trade that brought James here in October in exchange for the enigmatic Alston. There has to be a little self-satisfaction in James' mind today but he maintains there is none.

"The main thing is to keep our winning streak going," James said. "We dug such a deep hole early in the season, losing all those games in November. We're trying to dig out of that hole.

"It wasn't anything against the Houston Rockets. They made a business decision and I guess it worked out for both parties."

That depends on your point of view. For James, it's all about establishing himself as a regular in the NBA after years as a backup.

"Personally, I've got something to prove to this league the whole year. I've got a little pep in my step every time I step on the court. It's not just one individual game."

Ah, but what a game. So, what do you think of Rob Babcock now?

Charlie Villanueva, Joey Graham, Jose Calderon and James for Alston. Not bad.

If only they could do something about that nasty Vince Carter hangover. That's on tomorrow's menu.


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