O'Neal's leg a concern

Jermaine O'Neal watches from the bench during the Raptors pre-season game in Edmonton. (Sun...

Jermaine O'Neal watches from the bench during the Raptors pre-season game in Edmonton. (Sun Media/Jordan Verlage)

LANCE HORNBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:56 AM ET

EDMONTON -- The pre-season is complete, but in many ways the real work is beginning for Raptors coach Sam Mitchell.

He still has to sell this team on a few things before it opens against Philadelphia in a week, as seen in two losses that closed their exhibition schedule at 4-4. Starting with some poor shooting in a 105-94 loss to the Denver Nuggets, which led to problems elsewhere.

If this were the old just-happy-to-be-here Raptors, the little holes in their game wouldn't be as glaring, but if Toronto wants to get back in the playoffs and climb among the NBA elite, it will need to play a more complete game.

The Raps now have four practice days to tighten up, with coach Sam Mitchell promising to simulate game conditions after giving the club today and tomorrow off. The first order of business will be a day or so of rest for big man Jermaine O'Neal, who experienced tightness in his right leg after scoring just two points in 13:25. He sat for the rest of the game.

The Raptors truly missed his presence. They shot 45.8%, having failed to get past 50% in a pre-season game after an opening win in Cleveland.

Bench production tailed off after the first two matches as O'Neal and Chris Bosh began to dominate. Last night, the whole team left too many gaps and turned the ball over 20 times against a potent Denver lineup.

"For whatever reason, we're not shooting well and our strength has been not turning the ball over, but we're (worst) in the league in pre-season," Mitchell said. "We'll manage that."

A sellout crowd of 17,534 at Rexall Place, including MLSEL chairman Larry Tanenbaum at centre court with Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel, loudly welcomed the Raptors back here for the first time in nine years. They chanted 'MVP' when Bosh stepped to the foul line and stayed in the team's corner even though they trailed almost all night.

The suddenly ham-handed Jamario Moon missed his first two shots and had a ball picked off before joining the exodus of starters who were pulled to get the whole bench active early in the game in this final tuneup.

Moon was 0-for-4 with no points in 18 minutes after coming into last night with a terrible 27% in pre-season shooting.

Moon, battling the equally inconsistent Joey Graham for the small forward spot, said earlier in the trip that he was in a slump, which Mitchell generously re-branded "a transition phase".

"The Jamario of last year isn't good enough for this year," Mitchell declared. "The light will come on ... he will come and seek me out."

But the coach also hinted his patience had limits.

"If you're not going to apply (what's being taught), we'll get people who will. But it's coming for him."

Andrea Bargnani made up some of the difference with a team-high 19 points, one more than Jose Calderon and two up on Bosh. He also had seven rebounds and three blocks. That was the kind of aggression Mitchell wanted to see from others in the eight games, win or lose.

In the five years the Raptors reached the magic number of 40-plus regular-season wins, they had an exhibition record of .500 or better, both good portents for playoffs.

"We haven't played a regular season game yet," Mitchell said.

PREDICTIONS WORTHLESS

"Predictions are never worth anything. To talk about something that is 82 games away doesn't make sense.

"Everything will be settled when we step on the court. Jermaine will make us a better team, it will just take some time. We're still looking for that No. 3 scorer (behind O'Neal and Bosh) to step up. It doesn't have to be one guy."

"We are making some mistakes, but we have one week to practice," Calderon said before last night. "That's normal for pre-season. I think everything will be ready for our first game on the 29th."

The Nuggets didn't skip a beat without the injured Allen Iverson, roaring out of the gate with 68 first-half points. J.R. Smith topped five Denver players in double figures with 22 points.

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REPLAY

THAT'S ENOUGH

With six days off before the Raptors play their first regular-season game, coach Sam Mitchell was asked if he would have wanted at least one more exhibition date to test his team.

"I already know what we need to do," he said. "The question is getting them to know it, getting that message across.

"Is it painful to watch sometimes? We'll put them in front of 19,000 people and see which of us is right. I'm like an attorney that asks a question when he already knows he has the right answer."

INJURY REPORT

The hamstring injury suffered by guard Will Solomon in Los Angeles on Sunday does not appear serious, which was about all Mitchell was willing to reveal about ailments heading into the regular season.

Forward Jamal Sampson has not played since his sprained right wrist healed last week. Nathan Jawai continues to await the results of a series of cardiac tests.

DALEMBERT SITS

The Raptors are scheduled to go against the Philadelphia 76ers in their regular-season opener next Wednesday, but the health of the Sixers' Canuck content is in question. Centre Samuel Dalembert did not play in his team's 91-83 pre-season loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers last night because of a sore right knee. Dalembert, who was sworn in as a Canadian citizen last year, also won't play in the 76ers' pre-season finale tonight at New Jersey.

SUMMARY

DENVER (105)

Anthony 5-9 5-7 15, Howard 2-4 0-0 4, Nene 7-11 1-2 15, Cleaves 0-3 2-2 2, Jones 4-11 4-8 12, Smith 8-14 2-4 22, S.Parker 3-3 1-2 8, Andersen 2-4 3-3 7, Patterson 5-9 0-0 10, Mays 3-5 0-0 6, Fazekas 1-2 2-2 4. Totals 40-75 20-30 105.

TORONTO (94)

Moon 0-4 0-0 0, Bosh 5-8 7-10 17, O'Neal 1-2 0-0 2, Calderon 5-11 6-7 18, A.Parker 3-5 1-2 7, Bargnani 8-15 2-2 19, Ukic 4-9 0-0 9, Kapono 2-5 1-2 7, Graham 1-4 0-0 2, Adams 1-5 1-1 3, Humphries 3-4 4-6 10. Totals 33-72 22-30 94.

Denver 24 34 22 25-- 105

Toronto 17 30 24 23-- 94

3-Point Goals--Denver 5-11 (Smith 4-7, S.Parker 1-1, Patterson 0-1, Anthony 0-1, Andersen 0-1), Toronto 6-16 (Kapono 2-3, Calderon 2-7, Ukic 1-2, Bargnani 1-3, A.Parker 0-1). Fouled Out--S.Parker. Rebounds--Denver 49 (Fazekas 7), Toronto 43 (Bargnani 7). Assists--Denver 27 (Anthony 6), Toronto 23 (Calderon 7). Total Fouls--Denver 25, Toronto 23. Att. at Edmonton -- 17,534 (16,839).

NEXT UP

Wed. Oct. 29, 7 p.m., at Philadelphia, The Score, Fan 590.


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