Praise for Sam -- sort of

STEVE BUFFERY

, Last Updated: 8:57 AM ET

Rafer Alston delivered a back-handed compliment to his former coach, Sam Mitchell, last night prior to the Houston Rockets-Raptors tilt at the Air Canada Centre.

The volatile Alston played under Mitchell as a Raptor in the 2004-05 season, during Mitchell's first year as a head coach in the NBA. Alston said that Mitchell has improved greatly as a head coach, as shown by the Raptors record, suggesting that there was a lot improvement to be made.

"I always think great things (when I think of Toronto)," Alston said.

"It wasn't like I had a problem with the organization or anything like that. The problem I had that season (2004-05) was I didn't feel we were working hard, and a lot of things didn't sit well with me.

"I thought we were cheating ourselves the way we were working in practice that season," Alston added. "And I had a lot of frustration because of that, and that showed in a bad way."

Such as the time when Alston announced after being benched in Boston that he was going to quit both the team and the NBA, and again when he and Mitchell almost got into it physically one night in Cleveland.

Still, Alston had a good year in Toronto under Mitchell, averaging 14.2 points and a team high 6.4 assists per game, 11th in the NBA.

"I started to come into my own as an NBA player and as a starter that year," Alston said.

AROUND THE RIM

With the 104-94 victory over the New York Knicks on Wednesday night, the Raptors improved to 15-1 when shooting over .500 from the field this season. Heading into last night's contest against the Rockets, the Raptors were shooting 52% from the field over their past five games ... Raptors rookie Andrea Bargnani ranks third among NBA rookies in points per game (11.5), three point field goal percentage (38%) and free throw percentage 83%). Fellow rookie Jorge Garbajosa is tied for second among freshman in rebounds (4.8), third in steals (1.19) and minutes (28.0) ... Well heeled Raptors fans can mix and mingle with the players on Wednesday, April 11 at the Raptors Annual RapUp Party, which will be held a Muzik, 15 Saskatchewan Rd. on the Exhibition Grounds. Tickets are $225 apiece and can be purchased at redparty@torontoraptors.com.


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