The long wait is over

LANCE HORNBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:31 AM ET

The Raptors flew to Cleveland yesterday and by tomorrow, Sam Mitchell might make a paper airplane out of the exhibition-game scoresheet.

Such is the value the coach attaches to individual performances in NBA friendlies.

"Your guy can get 30 points (for one night) or guys on the other team shoot 1-for-15, then opening night, they'll light you up for 40," Mitchell said after practice at the Air Canada Centre. "I don't waste my time worrying about who the other team is going to dress. Our veterans just want to get through the pre-season healthy."

But Mitchell definitely is keen on seeing if those positive team vibes that developed through a week of training camp in Ottawa, such as the Chris Bosh-Jermaine O'Neal partnership, will translate in a game that doesn't count in the standings.

"Teams that expect to do something (good) always play at a certain level," O'Neal said. "Teams that don't really expect anything just want to play other guys and see what they have. Well, we know what we have here.

"It's not necessarily about how we do individually, it's how we do as a team. There are going to be games where I struggle, CB struggles, Jose Calderon and on and on. But if we play together as a crew, that's all that matters, like stopping guys on defence.

"We've only had a week of practice. You won't see the finished product (in Cleveland), but you'll see a team that works hard."

Tonight marks the first of eight exhibitions for the Raptors, who return home to play the New York Knicks tomorrow.

The Cavaliers are expected to give LeBron James some court time tonight, but unlike the NHL pre-season sked, teams aren't required to dress a set amount of veterans, just nine healthy bodies.

"It doesn't matter who we play against," O'Neal said, "we're going to play physical and we're going to play tough.

"We don't expect all the teams to put out their best players against us, but we'll put ours out there and it's up to the other team to respond."

Now entering his sixth NBA season, Bosh is not going to go all-out to match his team-high 22.3 points per game before the real shooting starts in three weeks.

"Sometimes that happens to rookies," Bosh said. "They think they're really doing something and then the regular season starts and it's a whole other chapter."

Forward Jason Kapono called exhibition games "an intense walk-through" for the regular season.

"You go with different combinations, different styles of play, certain things you've been focusing on in practice," Kapono said. "It's a long season and you don't want to coast through it and develop bad habits. We want to focus on the most important things in the shortest amount of time."

BRIEFLY

The Raptors sent Austrailian forward/centre Nathan Jawai to a medical facility in the U.S. for further testing on his irregular heartbeat that raised a red flag at camp medicals.

Results should be known in the next few days.


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