New brand of basketball

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:16 AM ET

It's a question that has been on the lips of Raptor fans all summer:

What can they expect in 2006-07?

We know what Bryan Colangelo and Sam Mitchell want. They want a team that plays high-tempo, aggressive offence, a team that runs and runs and then runs some more.

In short, they want Phoenix East.

Whether that's what they have could take months to determine. It certainly wasn't what they had last night in their pre-season home debut.

AWKWARD

What they had last night was a bunch of strangers still in that awkward stage of their relationships, both as people and as players. That's natural enough, given there are 11 new players on the 17-man roster and they've only been together less than two weeks.

"There are a lot of new faces -- other than that, we're just going to try to play a better brand of basketball," said Mitchell before the game. "We're going to be more aggressive in the offensive end and we're going to continue to get in shape and work on our conditioning.

"Bryan and I have a great idea how we want to play. We have a great idea how we're going to get there. Now the tough part is getting the players into it. We've got players who've never played the kind of basketball that we're trying to play.

"It's hard."

Hard from several aspects.

It is physically demanding to fly up and down the floor for 48 minutes, 82 times a year. It also is a mentally demanding transition for players who are accustomed to working a half-court offence. It also is hard on nights like last night when the game gets chopped into little tiny pieces by referees' whistles.

"We played a game (in practice) two days ago," said Mitchell. "We put seven seconds on the shot clock, no fouls, just scrimmage. You had to get a shot. We put four minutes on the clock. When we first told them they're like 'This is crazy.' They thought at first they were going to have to take bad shots, then they realized if they push it up and make a hard cut and get a pass, you can get a decent shot in seven seconds.

"Then they realized they weren't in shape, because they were dying. Just four minutes. That's the thing: you have to get in the condition that will allow us to maintain that pace."

The Raptors did not run the floor the way they hope to later in the year but even at last night's pace, they couldn't hold a big lead in the fourth quarter, a penchant that plagued them all last year. Boston's Rajon Rondo scored at the buzzer to force overtime but the Raps recovered in the extra period to win by six.

A 28-point third quarter surge opened up a 79-72 advantage and they eventually stretched that to an 11-point bulge before they caved in the dying minutes.

Pre-season wins don't mean very much but, when you're coming from the depths of despair the Raptors were in last year, any kind of win is a positive sign.

The Raptors have nearly three weeks to get their act ready for the NBA's hard road. They have to get into better shape and they obviously have to become more accustomed to each other.

Both aspects will improve with time.

Or they'll die trying.

ULTIMATE GOAL

And somewhere down the road the term Phoenix East might mean something.

"If we can get to that point, I will welcome that," Mitchell said. "I watch (the Suns) score 128 points and 39 points in the fourth quarter. If we can get to that point, I have no problem.

"Bryan and I both know that may be our ultimate goal, but it's gonna take time to get there. We have guys who can run but it requires a change in mentality. It comes down to doing it in practice every day."

What it all boils down to is that the Raptors will have to walk before they run.


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