Raps show they can play D

MIKE GANTER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:38 AM ET

Chris Bosh made himself into a good defender.

There is some evidence -- and quite a bit more after last night -- that Andrea Bargnani is turning himself into a serviceable defender.

Jermaine O'Neal has been a naturally gifted defender since the day he came into the league out of high school.

How, then, can a team with three of its five starters either solid defensively already or improving look so sieve-like at times?

The answer is, they shouldn't. So after two consecutive practices focusing on help defence, the Raptors have vowed not to resemble turnstiles anymore. And last night was certainly a move in the right direction.

The Raptors looked porous without O'Neal in the lineup for hunks of their most recent two losses. But they proved last night they are capable of being a decent defensive team without O'Neal, who was resting a wonky ankle, holding Charlotte to 43% shooting in a 93-86 win.

If there is one constant with Sam Mitchell it's that he doesn't go more than two days without mentioning the direct relationship between solid defence and championship teams.

Mitchell even seemed to be putting some of the blame for the recent defensive malaise on himself when he spoke with reporters yesterday.

"It happens," Mitchell began. "Sometimes as a coach you look at the stats and your defence is pretty good and you start trying to focus in on areas that you've kind of been struggling at. There's always something you are trying to get better at. Most coaches, when you think you have one area pretty much contained, you start focusing on other areas. But what you have to realize is, keep going back and making sure the things that are a strength remain a strength and continue to work on the things you are weak at."

It's never a wise move to fill in the blanks when Mitchell stops talking, but based on the stats, it's a good bet he was referring to spending too much time on rebounding -- an area in which the Raptors have bettered their opponents by a 214-196 total over the past five games.

Well before last night's game, Bosh had summed up his definition of help defence.

"If Jamario Moon is on Gerald Wallace and he's (going off), it's up to us to tell him: 'Look, you have to get up on him, I've got your help,' " Bosh said. "If I let him know that right off the bat, he has confidence and he'll step up more. But now if (Wallace) goes by him, I have to be there because I told him I had his help. I can't hang him out to dry."

Bosh has witnessed teammates being hung out to dry far too often this season.

Last night, with the Raptors lead cut down to five points late in the fourth quarter, Bosh showed just how little patience he has left when he got in Anthony Parker's face after the latter failed to help as D.J. Augustine blew past Calderon and then coasted uncontested for a layup.

Bosh's own defensive awakening came in Beijing.

"Sometimes it takes a situation for you to recognize it (poor defence) and (Beijing) was my situation.

"Hopefully, guys can realize it while they are playing here and it'll just click."

The Raptors made some progress in that direction last night and it had better continue because they do not have the high-powered offence to overcome the kind of defence they played in their past two losses.


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