Couple of bright spots in dismal trip

MIKE GANTER -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:45 AM ET

SALT LAKE CITY -- Four games into a five-game battle royale that has left the Raptors bloodied, finding a positive on this trip is about as easy as avoiding the NCAA tournament on your hotel TV.

All but impossible.

But coach Sam Mitchell, in the wake of a fourth consecutive loss, and a guy whose job it is to keep the troops up even in the midst of a season-high, four-game losing streak heading into last night's tilt with the Utah Jazz wasn't going to let mere results keep him or his team down.

"We understood coming out here was going to be a tough trip," Mitchell began prior to last night's fifth and final game of the road series. "Even if Chris (Bosh) would have been able to play it still would have been a tough trip. But other than the one game against Denver (Nuggets), we have done a lot of good things."

Now before you go spewing your Corn Flakes all over the breakfast table, understand it is not in the man's interest to beat down an already beaten team. That isn't going to do him or any of his players any good.

But there have been isolated incidents which down the road, assuming this Raptors team eventually finds its way out of this black hole (hello Bosh) should help this team.

High on that list has been the play of Rasho Nesterovic, who has been thrust back in a starter's role in Bosh's absence and has been one of perhaps only two consistent performers at both ends of the floor on this trip. The other, and this is just one man's opinion, would be Anthony Parker.

Mitchell has seen definite progress in Jason Kapono, the all but forgotten $24-million U.S. signing from this past summer who has caught his coach's eye these past two weeks.

Other than his successful defence of an NBA three-point shooting title at the all-star game in New Orleans, Kapono has not been a topic on the front burner for the Raptors lately.

And while the inclination is to ignore the plaudits dropped on Kapono by Mitchell given it came immediately following his first really good shooting night since Dec. 14 in a win over Indianapolis, Mitchell said the 26-point night had little to do with him singling Kapono out.

"I just think Jason the past two weeks has really been working hard on the defensive end," Mitchell said. "He is really making an effort to box people out. He has been getting shots. He's just not been knocking them down (until Sunday). We're encouraging him to continue to shoot the basketball ... Jason has been playing defence. He has been going to the glass. He has keeping his guy off the glass and he has stepped up his play."

Kapono said Sunday night felt just like old times for him.

"You know, get to play a lot, shoot a lot. It would have been better if we would have won," he said.

Mitchell said he has resisted the temptation to fiddle with his starting lineup because he doesn't think it would be fair to judge guys when the team is not fully healthy and playing without its franchise player.

"The way Rasho has played, we need him to keep playing that way when Chris comes back," Mitchell said. "The way Anthony Parker has played, hey, we just need A.P. to continue playing like that when Chris comes back.

"The way Jason Kapono has played coming off the bench, the energy Carlos (Delfino) has given us ... obviously when Chris is out we need everyone to play a little better.

"What you hope as a coach, even though you are going through some tough times is that when you do get healthy the guys who did step up and do things, they now have the confidence that now we don't have to stand around and wait for Chris. We can actually go out and do the things we have been doing the past 10 games without him."


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