Raptors focus on defence

Raptors Jermaine O'Neal watches from the bench during their pre-season game versus the Denver...

Raptors Jermaine O'Neal watches from the bench during their pre-season game versus the Denver Nuggets on Oct. 21 in Edmonton, Alta. (Jordan Verlage/Edmonton Sun/SUNMEDIA)

MIKE GANTER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:23 AM ET

Just shy of a month ago, Raptors training camp began with an emphasis on defence. Yesterday, with the first of five practices that remain before the Raps' season opener, it was again the focus.

"Offensively I feel like we can find our way," centre Jermaine O'Neal said yesterday summing up what he learned from the Raptors' pre-season schedule. "Obviously we didn't shoot the ball as well as we would have liked but defensively we just haven't played great defence.

"We allowed a lot of dribble penetration. We've allowed guys to catch the ball in the low post, pretty much wherever they wanted to get it so collectively as a team we have to play better defence."

Sam Mitchell and his staff spent Thursday going over the Raptors' eight pre-season games and breaking them down into what went right, what went wrong and what needs to be improved upon.

According to O'Neal, the improved upon column is dominated by things to do to stop the opposition.

"We're actually doing a lot of corrections going over every- thing," O'Neal said. "We really didn't look that good defensively pretty much the whole pre-season."

Perhaps because it is a part of his game that comes so naturally, O'Neal seemed most taken aback by the Raptors' inability, or is it unwillingness, to physically deny the opposition its chosen path.

"We've got to be a tough, physical team if we want to be a better defensive team this year," O'Neal said. "It would be nice if we shot the ball well every night, but we have to give ourselves a chance defensively to stay in the game when we are not shooting the ball particularly well on a given night.

"It was really the emphasis (yesterday) and I think it will be the emphasis over the next (four) days of practice. Playing better defence and being tougher. We have to be tougher."

Not everything the Raptors saw on the tapes was bad.

Mitchell saw enough good things offensively that he's not overly concerned on that end.

"We played hard and competed," Mitchell said after a pause to recall those positives. "At times we executed on offence and defence very well. We just have to get more consistent at it."

Two areas Mitchell says will get a lot of attention from him between now and Wednesday are his team's inability to take care of the ball and its propensity to pass up shots.

"One thing we have to do is start cutting down on turnovers," Mitchell said of the 16-plus turnovers per game the Raptors averaged this pre-season compared to 11.7 all of last season. "I'm really going to be a stickler about taking care of the basketball. I talked to my point guards, and Jose (Calderon) already knows it, but right now they should have a feel for what guys do. Don't throw the ball to certain guys in certain situations because it's not a strength of theirs.

"I feel we were turning down too many shots," Mitchell added. "I was on the guys today. When they came off screens they had to shoot the basketball."

O'Neal pointed out there's a lot to correct in a short period of time, but he's confident they can get it done. Then there's Chris Bosh's opinion.

"Why would you be worried?" Bosh asked a handful of reporters yesterday. "I'm not, so if I'm not, I don't think anybody should be."


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