Trans-Atlantic rep battle

STEVE BUFFERY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:13 AM ET

ROME -- The Raptors may be the defending Atlantic Division champions, but the Boston Celtics have the so-called Big 3, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce.

And that, it seems, is enough to elevate them far ahead of Toronto in terms of popularity here at Europe Live 2007 --even with local boy Andrea Bargnani on the Toronto roster.

"We're always going to be under the radar, to a certain extent, because we're in Toronto," Raptors coach Sam Mitchell said yesterday. "I can't remember the last time we played on a TNT game or an ABC game, so what's new?"

The Raptors and Celtics tip off today at Rome's Pala Lottomatica in the first pre-season game for Toronto.

Many of the Raptors also believe that they are not getting their due in terms of being defending division winners, largely because of the hype surrounding Allen and Garnett joining Pierce in Boston. Some insiders have picked Boston to win the Atlantic Division. But Chris Bosh, for one, said that, three superstars or not, Boston will have a lot of work to do to catch the Raptors, a team that finished 47-35 last season, a 10-game improvement from the season before.

"They've started from scratch," Bosh said of the Celtics, who went 24-58 last season and finished last in the Atlantic.

"It depends on the three players. Those guys have been the franchise players on their respective teams (in the past) and they may not be used to some situations. But if they come with a sense of humbleness, it will be a good situation for them.

RAPS UNDER RADAR

"(But) if they don't start the season off spectacularly, people are going to wonder why," Bosh added.

Mitchell said he has no problem with Boston being anointed in some circles as the team to beat in the East. He said it will allow his team to fly under the radar, again.

"That's perfect," Mitchell said. "Let Boston get all the attention, which they deserve.

"When you've got (those three guys) on one team, they should get a lot of attention. They've earned that.

"(But) I like our team, I like the way our makeup is," he added.

"We might not have three all-stars that we can throw on the floor, but we've got nine, 10, 11 players over the course of the game that can wear people down."

Celtics head coach Doc Rivers, who was on hand yesterday at an overwhelmingly boring presentation at City Hall involving Pierce and Bargnani, believes that the Raptors are the team to beat in the Atlantic, if only because they have done it before.

"We haven't proved anything," he said. "(And) I don't like that term, the Big 3, because you have to win first before you can be the Big anything."

Rivers is happy, though, that training camp was held in Rome for his team, because it basically has forced the players to bond.

The major question following the Celtics, though, is what happens should one of the Big 3 go down with an injury. In acquiring Garnett, especially, Celtics general manager Danny Ainge left his bench woefully inadequate.

Making it official

The Raptors have exercised the third-year team option on Bargnani's rookie scale contract.


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