Raps won't be manhandled

LANCE HORNBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:36 AM ET

DENVER -- When it comes to its sports properties playing with a snarl, the hockey team and its new no-nonsense president are supposed to carry the standard for Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd.

But the basketball Raptors bared their fangs a few times during Sunday's 112-99 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, which began a three-game trip in some hostile western country for the 8-8 team. The bigger and more talented Lakers (14-1) didn't pull away until the very end, finding out the hard way that the Raptors wouldn't be pushovers.

A couple of Lakers had hard landings driving to the bucket and complained loudly to the officials about Toronto's conduct. Raptors point guard Jose Calderon took exception to Derek Fisher trying to wrench the ball away after a whistle and the two jostled and exchanged words, while Anthony Parker was poked in the eye on his own drive to the hoop and wasn't deterred from trying to shade Kobe Bryant the rest of the game.

The Lakers' size, skill and execution won the day, but with Toronto's most physical defender Jermaine O'Neal out of the lineup, it was still an encouraging sign approaching tonight's game against the Nuggets (12-6).

Whenever the word toughness was mentioned in the locker room Sunday night, every Raptor including coach Sam Mitchell broke into a grin.

"We kind of responded and started hitting back a little bit," Mitchell said. "Andrea (Bargnani), Anthony, Jose ... as the game got a little chippy, I thought we showed a level of toughness.

"I like the way Jose responded. Our guys didn't take a step back. It's just something we talk about, that we understand we have to get better at. I was proud to see our guys respond tonight.

"Other than the rebounding (54-36 for L.A.), it's hard for me to go in there and fault our guys.

"I thought our guys were boxing out, but (Lakers) Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum are just strong and were just reaching over us. We just couldn't come up with that key basket or that key stop when we needed it."

At 6-foot-3, Calderon is the smallest of the starters but says the Raptors have to make as much use of physicality, from the 7-foot Bargnani, who led the team with 11 rebounds on Sunday, to guards such as himself, Roko Ukic and Will Solomon.

"Maybe it takes a little bit more time than we thought to adapt our game to everything, to the new players," Calderon said.

"But that's the team we started the season with and we have to fight everybody for 48 minutes and forget about who we play and where we play.

"Even though this is a tough road trip, we have two more games, we can win them, we just have to concentrate for 48 minutes."

It has been almost five years to the day since Toronto won a game at the Pepsi Center, part of an overall record of road futility in the West. The trip wraps up Friday in Salt Lake City against the Utah Jazz, currently 11-7.

"I look at the schedule and I can't believe how many tough games we have in one month," rookie Ukic said.

"It's just crazy, but I'm sure the veterans understand it better than me. Every second day you play, but you have to forget about it and go on to the next game. If we keep the same intensity and just play a little bit better (than Sunday), we have a good chance in the next game."

Even with Toronto star Chris Bosh shut down in the fourth quarter and held to 12 points overall, the Raptors were still in the game, with Lakers' super fan Jack Nicholson squirming in his courtside seat before his team pulled away.

"Even when they went up by 10 at the half (with Bryant unleashed for three straight buckets to undo a good 24 minutes' work by Toronto), we just kept fighting," Calderon said.

"Everyone was trying to make a play for another teammate. We have to keep working in this way and it will be much better.

"It was a tough loss, because winning would have given us a lot of confidence. But we have to go out of here with our head up and thinking about the good things."


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