A tale of two point guards

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:07 AM ET

There was a moment during a break in the first half when Raptor coach Sam Mitchell summoned T.J. Ford to the sidelines for a word. Mike James, Ford's shadow this night, came over as well and stuck his ear into the conversation.

Mitchell just continued to talk to Ford as if James wasn't there but from the fake-pain expression on James' face, and the smirk on Ford's, you knew Mitchell was talking a little smack for James' benefit.

A fan sitting close by, a guy who obviously watched James in action for the Raptors last year, called out as James walked away, "Hey Mike, what's that? Ya never listened when you were here, anyway."

True as that statement might be, that's as close as you'll get to harsh criticism of James in this space. The guy has never pretended to be a true point guard. He's a shoot-first, ask-questions-later kind of guy and there were plenty of nights during last year's sorry Raptor season when he was all they had.

Rob Babcock made a lot of mistakes as general manager but Mike James for Rafer Alston wasn't one of them.

And if it was good for the Raptors, it was better for James. A career backup guard, James turned his opportunity last year into a four-year, $25-million US contract with the Timberwolves.

No longer the go-to guy, just one of several options, James was back here last night, getting a first-hand look at a very different Raptor team that has grown to rely on its point guards.

"I just think Jose (Calderon) and T.J. have been playing well," said Mitchell after the Raptors had finished off their 100-97 victory. "Early in the year, Jose kind of kept us afloat and then when T.J. figured things out, being with a new team, new group of guys, new system, he's been more aggressive on the offensive end.

"I give him credit. He comes in and works on his shot every day. I can't say enough about how he's played the last two weeks. He's either making the pass or making the shot. We want to have the ball in his hands."

Ford led all scorers in the game with 28 points, adding seven assists and four rebounds in 32 minutes. Calderon came off the bench for 16 minutes and didn't miss a beat, with 13 points.

"I know how much the team depends on me and me being aggressive opens it up for everybody," Ford said. "When I'm able to take those shots it makes things easier for my teammates. I'm just trying to bring it every night.

"With Chris out, the team is looking for me to put up points and put pressure on a defence."

Ford and James are off-season workout buddies in Houston so Ford knew last night's game wasn't going to be some kind of grudge match. Even so, James was clearly ready to show the Raptors they had made a mistake, scoring 20 points in 31 minutes.

"It wasn't a personal battle," Ford said. "Me and Mike work out together during the summer. We both live in Houston. I knew it wasn't going to be that type of game where he was trying to prove a point because the team didn't re-sign him. I think it was just a mutual respect between the two of us."

But in the end, the Raptors willed this one into the win column.

"We had some guys out, we had some guys sick, but we just competed," Mitchell said. "These guys continue to play hard, play together, pull for one another. If we can just hang in there, we feel like we've got some guys who can make a play at the end to win the game."

And Ford just continues to grow.

"A year ago I was a different person." he said. "I think I grew from the situation I had in Milwaukee when I wanted to play all the minutes. But now I know the importance of teamwork."

He also knows when to have amnesia.

When asked what Mitchell said to James in that first-half tete-a-tete, Ford feigned ignorance.

"I can't remember," he said with a smile.

A veteran move if ever there was one.


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