Are Raptors having fun?

After four consecutive losses, Joey Graham and the rest of the Raptors are looking for redemption....

After four consecutive losses, Joey Graham and the rest of the Raptors are looking for redemption. (Sun Media/Dave Abel)

LANCE HORNBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:57 AM ET

If anyone is capable of raining on that Raptors feel-good parade to the airport yesterday, it's going to be LeBron James.

A shower of field goals, free throws, mixed with a few three pointers, are in the forecast for the game in Cleveland, which will severely test Toronto's Christmas spirit, coming off their best practice yet under new coach Jay Triano at the Air Canada Centre.

After four consecutive losses, two of them on Triano's watch, the team is looking for redemption. But playing a James-led conference power that's 11-0 at home is not ideal conditions.

"We did a nice job against Brandon Roy (holding one of the best Portland Trail Blazers to 15 in a one-point loss on Sunday), and our scheme is going to stay the same," Triano said yesterday. "We need to focus on the Raptors, not on LeBron James.

"We might take our lumps, but we have a system we're going to be committed to and if in the end it fails, then we'll think about playing different teams, different ways. But we're going to play one style of basketball right now -- defensively."

Chris Bosh, who ranks third in NBA points per game to James at second (26.5 to 26.1), needs no introduction to his Team USA gold-medal teammate.

"If he's going to kill us, we have to make sure he's going to kill us from the outside," Bosh said.

"When you see guys like that every day, you kind of stand back in awe. To see some of the things he does on the court is unbelievable."

If Toronto isn't better at rebounding tonight, it won't matter how it handles James. It lost that battle 48-31 on Sunday, the latest in a series of board blowouts since their 3-0 start morphed into 8-11. A change of tactics is in the works.

"Me and J.O. (Jermaine O'Neal) are coming in to help a lot so it's our responsibility to take their bigs off of the glass," Bosh said. "The more we work on it the more we'll be a good team."

The change in Raptors philosophy since Sam Mitchell's firing on Wednesday suits O'Neal nicely. Triano thinks like O'Neal's old Indiana Pacers team did without the ball and the new coach is trying to involve his 6-foot-11 centre a lot more. O'Neal had a season-high 24 points and blocked six shots on Sunday.

"Jay's system is pretty much what we did in Indiana, boxing, closing the paint, pushing the ball baseline and sideline," O'Neal said. "Then it's easier for me to come over and block shots, take charge and support Chris. For me, it's easy, for my teammates it's not, because they've been playing a different style. A lot of fans won't recognize it as a big difference, but it's tough."

When the doors opened yesterday after Triano's first home practice, the team was in a giddy mood, trying back-door plays with thunderous dunks.

Triano dreamed up a new version of tag, making his players chase the designated 'it' guy while dribbling a ball.

"It was a drill I'd never seen in 13 years in the league," O'Neal said. "It was cool because he put some defence in there, that shows great foot speed. Small stuff like that makes (practice) a lot more fun and a lot more competitive.

"I'm not saying Sam didn't do great things, but sometimes when the organization decides to make a change, it brings fresh air. Look around today and you couldn't tell we lost four games in a row.

"We're excited about what we can do, but we just can't be talking about it all the time. We have to do it for 48 minutes."


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