Raps survive out West

Chris Bosh and the Raptors had an up and down West Coast trip. SUN MEDIA FILE/MICHAEL PEAKE

Chris Bosh and the Raptors had an up and down West Coast trip. SUN MEDIA FILE/MICHAEL PEAKE

MIKE GANTER -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:44 AM ET

NEW ORLEANS -- Figured out the Raptors yet? No? Didn't think so.

They go on a seven-game trip that winds through the American west and south and win games in San Antonio and New Orleans. But they also lost in Seattle, in Houston (where the Rockets were without Tracy McGrady) and in Portland.

But going home with a 3-4 record, with a slight interruption for a small Christmas break, has to be considered a positive given results of the first leg of the journey prior to Christmas.

After a win over the stumbling Los Angeles Clippers, the Raps lost three before heading home for Christmas and an expected lump of coal from Santa Sam.

That would be coach Mitchell, who along with his coaching staff in a couple of practices in San Antonio, got the Raptors back on board with their defensive principles and rode it to a stunning defeat of the defending champion Spurs.

A night later, though, the goodwill being dumped on the Raptors' defence and their aggressive play under their basket was forgotten.

Another defensive gem in Houston was undone by a crippled offence that hit rock bottom in a loss to the McGrady-less Rockets when the Raptors shot just 37% from the field.

Mitchell and his staff again regrouped and with a short practice in Houston and a shorter shootaround in New Orleans.

They added a few plays to get more motion back in the offence and were rewarded with a big win over a Hornets team that had won five in a row.

Mitchell, who was frazzled completely by the Raptors' offensive struggles after the loss in Houston, now has a better handle on things.

While Mitchell acknowledged his club's reluctance to go hard to the basket was a big part of that -- something of which they did a much better job on New Year's Eve in New Orleans -- he also pointed out correctly that the loss of T.J. Ford for the past 10 games can't be overstated.

"What people fail to realize is that while Jose is averaging the same that he was before, now you take T.J. Ford's 15 points out of the mix," Mitchell said.

"Now how do we make up that?"

And Mitchell said it is much more than just the 15 additional points Ford brings that the team was missing.

There's his 85% free-throw shooting and the fact Ford remains one of the few Raptors for whom Mitchell can clear out a wing and be confident Ford will either draw a foul or create an easy shot for himself.

"People don't understand that as well as Jose has played, and he has been unbelievable, the combination of Jose and T.J. was giving us 27 or 30 points and almost 12-15 assists," Mitchell said.

"How do you make all that up?"

The answer Monday night was Mitchell rejuvenated a stagnant offence by inserting plays that require lots of ball movement, the kind Raptors fans saw last season when the team was playing well.

It resulted in the kind of easy baskets Mitchell hasn't seen from his team in some time. The good news is the Raptors got a chance to recharge with a short flight and the rest of yesterday off.

They will then have back-to-back days of practice, something the NBA schedule rarely allows for, before playing host to the Detroit Pistons on Friday in the first of eight January home games against five on the road.


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