Set goals, Sam says

STEVE BUFFERY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:01 AM ET

BOSTON -- Sam Mitchell wants his players to keep their eyes on the prize.

The Raptors coach believes his young team has been lackadaisical in terms of seeing the big picture this season.

He wants his players to concentrate on not just winning games, but winning the division and qualifying for the playoffs.

Coaches generally take the old "one game at a time" approach to the regular season. While Mitchell has been known to adhere to that philosophy, he has begun challenging his players to aim beyond each individual game and set a team goal of winning the weak Atlantic Division and securing a playoff spot for the first time since the 2001-02 season.

It may still be early in the season, the coach said this week, but now is the time to begin a playoff run.

"Veteran teams know to come in and look at that (opponent stat) sheet before the game, look at the standings and understand the importance of every game," he said. "They've been through it. But young guys, in their mind, it's just another game. It's game 36, or whatever. That's why veteran teams have such an edge, they understand. It's no fluke that teams that have been together the longest have been winning."

Though he has a losing record as a head coach, Mitchell always has managed to get his teams to play hard for him. However, there have been times lately, when he hasn't been enamoured with the club's work ethic and game preparation, and he has challenged his players to change that. After calling a last-minute shootaround in Milwaukee on Wednesday morning, Mitchell lectured his players for a few minutes on that very topic, and the message seems to be getting through.

"I think he's just saying: 'Seize the moment,' " starting shooting guard Anthony Parker said. "This is the opportunity now (and) not just think about (making the playoffs) later, or pick it up at a certain point or in the middle of the season. Get it going now, going to the all-star break and take it up to another level after the all-star break. And that has to be our mindset."

Mitchell doesn't want his club to become obsessed with the standings, but he definitely wants them more aware of where they are and how close they are to qualifying for the playoffs.

"If you're going to be in the playoffs and hopefully advance, it's not going to come just by showing up at 7 o'clock, 7:30 and playing," Mitchell said. "It's going to come by coming in the gym early, getting your work done, taking care of yourself on and off the court, getting yourself mentally and physically ready to play night in and night out. It's going to take some sacrifices. (And) you have to say no to some things."

The Raptors, 16-20 on the season, take on the 12-22 Boston Celtics tonight in Boston.


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