'We'll be ready,' O'Neal says

LANCE HORNBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:36 AM ET

EDMONTON -- Jermaine O'Neal displayed his bling-encrusted watch, almost blinding the media in the Raptors locker room.

But the veteran centre is well aware of what the actual time is. The NBA pre-season is done and that means a greater onus on the Raptors to live up to their regular-season billing.

Coach Sam Mitchell ramped up his criticism after the team lost twice to close the pre-season at 4-4, but O'Neal says fans only were afforded glimpses of the real Raptors. Wednesday's opener in Philadelphia will be a much different team he vowed.

"Don't put too much into what happened at the end of pre-season," O'Neal said after a 105-94 loss to Denver on Tuesday. "A lot of things are evaluated by your starting five and the rotation we used didn't have Chris Bosh and I on the floor for more than 15 minutes.

"We ran about two plays so we wouldn't show (other teams) what we have and we ran some of those plays six straight times, which never happens in an NBA game. When the lights come up on the 29th, we'll be ready. I think we sent a good message during the pre-season."

O'Neal's camp sort of mirrored the Raptors' October fortunes. He began at a relaxed pace to get his injured knee in shape, never played a full game alongside front-court partner Bosh and point guard Jose Calderon and sat out most of Tuesday's loss with a sore back.

But intense therapy from the medical staff had him feeling 100% before the Raptors departed the Rexall Centre and he'll be ready when practice resumes tomorrow.

Prior to meeting the 76ers, Mitchell and his staff will be wrestling with a sudden drop in shooting accuracy that saw the club fail to get higher than 50% after an opening win in Cleveland.

Jamario Moon did little to improve his case as undisputed starter at small forward when he went 0-for-12 from the floor in the final two games. He looked wooden when Nuggets' star Carmelo Anthony rocketed past him for a dunk in one of several highlight reels Denver treated the Edmonton fans to at the Raptors' expense.

Mitchell noted his younger players were leaving their feet too often for pump fakes and throwing off their timing. And with the exception of a win over the short-handed L.A. Clippers, the Raptors didn't drive to the basket and draw fouls, a big complaint with last year's team in clutch games.

There were also those 20 turnovers against Denver, with even the sure-handed Calderon losing something off of his fastball delivery.

"Some guys are trying too hard," Mitchell summed up of the pre-season hiccups. "They need to relax and play."

SAMPSON CUT LOOSE

The Raptors eased next week's cut-down decisions yesterday when they waived Jamal Sampson.

The forward/centre Sampson was signed on the eve of training camp when a suspected cardiac condition sidelined Australian forward Nathan Jawai. While the team and the NBA have yet to resolve the best way to proceed with further testing of Jawai, Sampson's departure might mean his outlook is improving.

NBA rosters must be set by 6 p.m. Monday and the Raptors are back to 13 players, one over the limit.


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