'D' key for uptempo Raps

STEVE BUFFERY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:08 AM ET

ROME -- You would never guess from the style of play in Wednesday's scrimmage at La Palaverde, the home arena for the Benetton Treviso basketball team, but the Raptors are emphasizing defence at training camp.

The players put up 201 points in a scrimmage that lasted only 40 minutes, eight fewer than a regulation tip.

But head coach Sam Mitchell insisted that his main priority thus far at camp, which switches to Rome today after five days in Treviso, has been defence.

Toronto finished 16th overall in the NBA last season in opponent scoring, which was a huge improvement from the 2005-'06 campaign, when they finished second.

But Mitchell said his team will have to continue to improve if it hopes to advance past the first round of the playoffs this season.

And one of the primary areas on D that the Raptors have to improve is rebounding.

Last season, the Raptors were 27th overall on the boards, and that was with Chris Bosh averaging 10.7 rebounds per game.

Mitchell said second-year forward Andrea Bargnani, who is in a pitched battle with veteran Rasho Nesterovic for the starting centre job, has to step up on the boards for the Raptors to have any chance of posting improved defensive numbers.

The 7-foot Italian averaged only 3.9 boards, despite his size and playing 25.1 minutes per game.

Bargnani certainly has the physical tools to become a solid rebounder, but Bosh said the 21-year-old has decided that he is willing to pay the price on the boards, as rebounding is more about commitment than it is about technique.

"Someone told me one day: 'A good rebounder is how bad do you want the ball?' That's about it," Bosh said.

"No technique. It's just go get the ball.

"So, other than that, you just give (Bargnani) tips and try to encourage him."

Interestingly, the key acquisition for the Raptors this season was forward Jason Kapono, who was the NBA's leading three-point shooter last year with the Miami Heat, whose coach, Pat Riley, always has stressed defence.

In any event, Bosh has noticed the emphasis on defence and said that has made for a more intense camp compared to last year.

"Like we always say, we know we can score," said Bosh. "But on defence, we have to act like more of a cohesive unit, we have to talk more, box out, give teams (only) one shot.

" I think we'll win a lot more games if we do that."

Scoring has not been a problem since Mitchell was hired prior to the 2004-'05 season.

In all three seasons he has been in Toronto, the Raptors have finished near the top in scoring. But now he said it's time to concentrate on the other end of the court.

The fourth-year head coach is pleased overall with the progression of this year's club, which plays its first pre-season game tomorrow night in Rome against Boston.

"The guys came back in good shape, they've been working hard and we just have to continue to build, keep going over our concepts everyday, keep drilling to where it becomes second nature," Mitchell said.

"We've still been making some mistakes on rotations, still making some mistakes defensively, as far as recognizing who's the shooter and who's not, making guys do things they are uncomfortable doing," the coach added, "but for the first open scrimmage I was pretty pleased."


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