A.I. brings drama to 'test'

Jermaine O'Neal has his own history against the Pistons going back to the 2004 Malice at The Palace...

Jermaine O'Neal has his own history against the Pistons going back to the 2004 Malice at The Palace brawl in Detroit. (Sun Media/Craig Robertson)

LANCE HORNBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:49 AM ET

Raptors players see tonight's game against the Detroit Pistons, who also have started the season 3-0, as a big measuring stick -- even if coach Sam Mitchell wants to take that rod and bust it over the heads of media members.

Mitchell thought we were over-hyping this clash of undefeated teams, spiced up by the arrival of Allen Iverson to the Pistons.

"How many games do we have left?" Mitchell demanded yesterday at the Air Canada Centre. "Seventy-nine right? And we've got measuring-stick games already? It's the biggest game of the year? What are we measuring?"

The cautious coach no doubt will be ecstatic if his club wins and gets off to its best start since taking four of five in 1999-2000.

He also is wary that people would make too much of a Raptors loss.

But newcomer Jermaine O'Neal, who has been adamant that the club tries to embrace the swagger of a winner, says this is exactly the test the Raptors need.

HISTORY

He has his own history against the Pistons going back to the November, 2004, Malice at The Palace brawl in Auburn Hills, Mich., which resulted in the former Indiana Pacer being suspended for 15 games.

"I won't lie to you and say it's just another game," O'Neal said. "I'm very excited. Obviously, both teams understand that only one can walk out of the gym tomorrow (undefeated). It's a true test of how we line up against one of the better teams in the NBA. I'm pretty pumped about the opportunity.

"You want to beat a team like that. They're the Pistons and I obviously have a lot of familiarity with that team, with the type of the battles that we've had."

The Iverson deal could have more far-reaching effects for the Raptors, as some columnists have suggested.

With plenty of salary cap space opened by sending Chauncey Billups, Antonio McDyess and Cheikh Samb to the Denver Nuggets for Iverson, the Pistons have theoretically given themselves room for a run at Chris Bosh after the 2009-10 season.

Bosh was not about to get into contract hypotheticals two years away.

"I'll worry about that when it gets here," he said with a grin. "If I (worry), I won't do well and they wouldn't want me. It's cool (to hear his name mentioned as the crown jewel of a championship), but I'll take player of the week (last week). I pretty much know what's coming. I just want to stay grounded in what we're doing here."

Toronto has had three days off since dramatic back-to-back wins against Golden State and Milwaukee.

"Right now, every game is important so it doesn't matter if (Detroit) is 3-0 or 0-3," said point guard Jose Calderon.


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