Graham goes in

MIKE GANTER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:07 AM ET

Joey Graham, starter?

Yes, it's definitely the NBA pre-season, but in Sam Mitchell's eyes, everyone starts with a clean slate, so all the Good Joey, Bad Joey stuff goes out the window.

And with his second unit struggling as much as it is right now, Mitchell isn't ruling out the possibility that Graham could be in that exact same position Oct. 29 when the real season tips off.

Graham had not played in a pre-season game this season after suffering a strained hamstring during training camp in Ottawa, but there he was in the starting lineup last night as the Raptors closed out the home portion of their pre-season with a 90-86 loss to the visiting Minnesota Timberwolves.

But getting Graham minutes wasn't the lone reason to start him. While he tried to deny it, the smile on Mitchell's face when it was suggested pre-game that he might be sending a message to the regular starter (Jamario Moon) with this move spoke volumes.

WHO STARTS?

After the game, Mitchell muddied the starting small forward waters a little bit more.

"Does Joey start or Jamario come off the bench?" Mitchell asked in his post-game comments. "Does Jamario start and Joey come off the bench? I don't know yet."

Mitchell's problem right now is his second unit is giving him almost nothing. Anyone who witnessed the second quarter last night, when the Raptors were outscored 34-20 and turned the ball over seven times with the starters on the bench, is aware of that.

"We know Andrea (Bargnani) can score," Mitchell said. "We know Jason can score and get some shots, but we have to find that other guy. One thing Joey has shown an ability to do is put the ball on the floor and get a shot for himself or get to the basket and create some contact."

Mitchell said those qualities might make him a better fit for the second unit right now, but he's not committing to anything.

He's got three games to figure out what works best for both units. Based on his history, he will not make a decision until he has to.

Graham has been a whipping boy of sorts for Raptors fans in his three seasons with the club.

Mitchell, though, clings to a stint late in the 2006 season after Jorge Garbajosa went out with a broken leg in Boston and Graham stepped up to help the Raptors finish the season in style.

"I still have great memories of when Garbo went down and how Joey played in those last 16 games that really helped us win the Atlantic and get into the playoffs," Mitchell said.

"Joey has been up and down, but every year when I come into the season, I don't think about what a player did last year because it doesn't mean anything.

"Every guy has a clean slate and a fresh opportunity and Joey's (opportunity) starts (now). Hopefully he plays well and he can just build on it and his confidence gets better.

"But we need Joey. We need all our players to contribute. Joey can do things physically and athletically that we can't get from anyone else. It's our hope that Joey turns the corner this year."

An effective second unit might depend on it.

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REPLAY

SOLID SHOOTING

Andrea Bargnani continued his solid pre-season with a team high 22 points on 7-of-13 shooting. Joey Graham's 12 points were next best.

ALMOST HEALTHY

Despite a solid evening that included 12 points and four rebounds, Graham admits he's not completely over his hamstring problems. "The hamstring is good," he said. "It's not 100% but it's coming around."

WHO KNEW?

The local media's yearly get-together with league officials to go over rules and rule changes took place before yesterday's game. The most surprising thing to come out of it was when the attending officials were asked what the most difficult call they had to make was. Maybe the block or the charge? Without hesitation two of the officials chimed in unison "Out of bounds."

QUOTE, UNQUOTE

"Jose can run the offence and then look at an opportunity and create things. The reason I'm not running a lot of the stuff we are doing in practice is because I am trying to get those guys (backup point guards Will Solomon and Roko Ukic) just to that point. Give them all of it and, you know, we don't want them to explode."

-- Raptors head coach Sam Mitchell, on keeping his play sets to a minimum for first-year Raptors Ukic and Solomon.

TIRED?

Jason Kapono looked gassed midway through the fourth quarter. He led all Raptors with 32 minutes as Sam Mitchell opted to keep his starters minutes down. Graham, a newcomer last night to the starting rotation, was the only player among that first group to play more than 21 minutes.


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