Mitchell issues warning

Jose Calderon takes part in a clinic at the Grant MacEwan gym in Edmonton on Monday. (Sun Media/Ken...

Jose Calderon takes part in a clinic at the Grant MacEwan gym in Edmonton on Monday. (Sun Media/Ken Armstrong)

LANCE HORNBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:26 AM ET

EDMONTON -- Don't raise the curtain just yet on your 2008-09 Raptors.

After weeks of grousing about how long and ultimately meaningless the NBA exhibition schedule is, you get the feeling this team could use at least one more competitive test in addition to tonight's game against the Denver Nuggets. That will be followed by a travel day and then six intra-squad practices prior to the season opener in Philadelphia.

Among coach Sam Mitchell's challenges is to get the team to be less reliant on big men Jermaine O'Neal and Chris Bosh.

"We need the twos and threes (small forwards and shooting guards) to step up," Mitchell said prior to last weekend's games in Los Angeles, which were dominated by the duo.

"We can't sit back and say: 'Chris and Jermaine are going to do all the work'. We can't get better that way.

"Guys will have to step up and be better. We need something extra out of them."

Mitchell is looking at players such as Jamario Moon and Joey Graham to show more consistency, with Moon shooting 0-for-8 against the Lakers before finishing the game on the bench.

But the coach also wanted to see how his projected starters would do against the West Division champion Lakers' best, so Bosh, O'Neal, point guard Jose Calderon, Graham, Moon and Anthony Parker all were featured in Sunday's third quarter against Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and co., erasing a 15-point deficit and taking a brief lead.

But Mitchell then gave some quality court time to his kids such as point guard Roko Ukic and forwards Andrea Bargnani and Graham. There also was a pleasantly surprising game from low-profile guard Hassan Adams, whose bucket at the buzzer gave him 14 points in 22 minutes and a tie with Parker for the team lead in production.

The Raptors are 4-3 in pre-season games as they prepare for Denver.

"You have to ask the coach about what tactics we'll have (tonight), but I'd assume we'll have to approach the last one like a regular-season game," Parker said. "I think we've got some work to do. We had some moments (against the Lakers), made some good plays. But the coach is right about (over-dependance) on Chris and Jermaine."

At this stage of the season, with O'Neal still not fully in shape after off-season knee problems, the strain of back-to-back games such as the weekend tourney in L.A. will require more help off the bench.

Bosh is a workhorse, but there's no red Superman cape hanging in his stall each night.

"We have to be more fluent, especially with our second group," Bosh said.

The Raptors lost backup point guard Will Solomon early in the Lakers' game with a hamstring injury of undetermined severity.


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