A big, new rivalry

MIKE GANTER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:25 AM ET

Exactly 16 days from now, the Raptors and Philadelphia 76ers will do it up for real.

Until then, there is bound to be more of the choppy -- many might say sloppy -- play that marked yesterday's 85-79 pre-season win by the visiting Sixers at the Air Canada Centre.

That is not to say these games don't have a purpose and yesterday provided the Raptors their first up-close and personal look at this 76ers team with one-time all-star Elton Brand in the fold.

The Sixers were a good team (particularly in the second half of the season) last year. Brand's addition obviously makes them better and gives the Raptors one more challenge in an already challenging Eastern Conference.

Matched up yesterday against the Raptors' own big addition to the paint, former Indiana Pacer Jermaine O'Neal, Brand was a physical presence, tying for the team high in rebounds with nine, while contributing 10 points.

Brand, like O'Neal, is a guy who changes a team's complexion by himself and O'Neal, who saw enough of Philly pre-Brand, says his impact cannot be overstated.

"He gives them a post threat," O'Neal said. "Obviously, they didn't have that last year, but they're a big driving team. This year, it is more of a throw it in and cut type of offence. It helps them because he can rebound and score in the low post. They are a lot better than they were last year."

And while O'Neal readily admits he is not quite up to speed yet with his own game or with the Raptors system, he too makes his team bigger.

The question is: Which addition is going to have the bigger impact?

Sixers head coach Maurice Cheeks wants no part of that one.

"I don't know who is going to make more of an impact. Both are going to make an impact because Jermaine O'Neal is an excellent player," Cheeks said. "And you put Jermaine O'Neal with Chris Bosh and the other people around them, they're already good so it makes them a little bit better."

VICIOUS MOMENT

Brand introduced himself to the Raps in a particularly vicious moment during the first quarter when he hit a driving Jamario Moon up around the head as the second-year forward went in for a dunk. Moon was sent crashing to the floor, but got up and made the two freebies from the line. Brand, however, had sent the message he wanted.

O'Neal's game never really got going until the second half and, then, only in spurts. He finished with nine points and six rebounds.

His best moment came in the third quarter when he got the ball in the high post and made a definitive move to the basket past the Sixers' Sam Dalembert and finished it off with a dunk.

"Cardio-wise I felt pretty good," O'Neal said. "I'm never a guy who lacks confidence. I just haven't found my rhythm. I'm still struggling shooting the ball and making moves. As soon as I get it in my mind just to go get in the low post and not pass every other time, I will probably get into my rhythm a lot faster. I'm not concerned about it because I know I will get it back. before the regular season."


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