Raptors to 'send message'

LANCE HORNBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:33 AM ET

The teams made two of the biggest deals in the NBA's hectic off-season.

This afternoon, the Raptors and Philadelphia 76ers can check out each other's shopping cart.

Toronto, with Jermaine O'Neal in the lineup and expected to play a pre-season-high 27-plus minutes, hosts Philly and all-star Elton Brand at the Air Canada Centre.

Brand is among four active players to have career averages of at least 20 points and 10 rebounds per game. Tim Duncan, Shaquille O'Neal and Kevin Garnett are the others.

The game is also a sneak preview of the regular-season opener between the clubs, which takes place Oct. 29 at the Wachovia Center.

"They will be looking to send a message, same as us," O'Neal said yesterday after practice. "There's going to be a little bit more on the line than a (usual) pre-season game. Elton is one of the best offensive rebounders in the game and among the best in general."

On July 9, the Raptors acquired O'Neal from Indiana, the same day Brand left the L.A. Clippers for a five-year deal worth a reported $79.795 million US. Both big men had injury issues last season -- O'Neal a knee, Brand a ruptured Achilles tendon -- and both of their old clubs missed the Western Conference playoffs.

Now, each player is attempting to help himself and his new employer in the East. Brand had 18 first-quarter points in his home debut Friday night and 24 overall in a 110-104 loss to the Knicks.

"It's going to be interesting for the fans in Toronto and Philadelphia," Raptors' forward Jamario Moon said. "I think this will be just like a regular-season game in many ways, but I don't think we're going to show them everything we have in this game and neither will they."

O'Neal, who has played under 20 minutes in each of the Raptors' two exhibition wins, will be used more liberally today by coach Sam Mitchell.

"I just shot the ball better today than in the last two weeks," said O'Neal, who looks forward to more front-court time today getting comfortable with Chris Bosh. "I can't speak for Elton's (injury), but for me, it's about getting my rhythm back."

Mitchell was more conservative in assessing the value of playing the Sixers more than two weeks before the season opener with four more exhibitions to go.

"We're just working on our own stuff," Mitchell said. "We're going to save a couple of surprises for opening night."

Mitchell does not expect to use the injured Joey Graham, Jamal Sampson or Nathan Jawai this afternoon.

The Raptors have two more home games this week, against CSKA Moscow on Tuesday and the Minnesota Timberwolves on Thursday. Then it's on the road for three games in Los Angeles and Edmonton. That's too many games that don't count for Bosh's liking.

"Let's just get it over with," he joked.


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