Raps go on defensive

MIKE GANTER -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:49 AM ET

HOUSTON -- Is it a blip on an 82-game schedule or are all of those pay-attention-to-defence lectures Sam Mitchell and his coaching staff have been preaching finally hitting home?

Time will tell, but rest assured the Raptors are playing the best defence they have all season as they head into what should be two of the toughest games they have remaining on the schedule -- San Antonio tonight and Houston on Wednesday

For just the second time this year, the Raptors have held opponents under 40% shooting in consecutive games. In a win over the Indiana Pacers on Friday, the visitors shot just 38.6%. On Saturday in Charlotte, the Raps held the Bobcats to 32.9% shooting.

The only other time that has happened this season came in mid-December when the Raps won back-to-back games against Orlando and New Jersey holding their opponents to 37.6 and 39%.

"We're just focusing in on the second half of the season," Chris Bosh said. "We know what time it is. That's been the talk all along. We've been winning games, but teams were still shooting upper 40s against us. We knew we had to tighten up on defence. We knew our defence had to get better."

What Bosh and his teammates know -- and what their coaches have been reinforcing -- is that offence can win you games. It was primarily the Raptors attack that have catapulted them into first-place in the Atlantic Division, now five games clear of their nearest pursuers.

But that winning all came before the all-star break. Teams treat the games after the break much more seriously. It's buckle-down time as they make that last push for a better seed going into the playoffs. In short, it's more playoff-style basketball and woe is the team that tries to win these games solely at the other guys' end of the floor.

"We're starting to hold each other accountable (on defence)," Raptors veteran Morris Peterson said. "It's kind of like a chain. You're out there on the court and you don't want to be the weak link. Everyone is contributing. We realize that as the season winds down, we have to get in playoff form right now. We have to do the things now that are going to carry us into the playoffs."

Going hand in hand with better defence is better rebounding and the Raptors are getting a nice boost in that department that from their No. 1 pick, seven-footer Andrea Bargnani.

Bargnani had a career high 11 boards on Saturday in Charlotte, six against Indiana on Friday and another seven Wednesday against Cleveland. In his previous 51 games he reached the six-rebound mark only seven times.

"Andrea has been playing very well on the boards these last few games," Bosh said. "I was making fun of him earlier, asking everyone what they had told this guy because he's just been a menace lately."

The timing of this defensive renaissance couldn't be better. The Raps going to need every defensive stop and every rebound they can get these next couple of games as they face the No. 1 and No. 2 defensive teams in the league in the Spurs and Rockets.

The visits will also provide a nice measuring stick to see just how far this club has improved when it comes to protecting its own basket.


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