Raps take first step

FRANK ZICARELLI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:30 AM ET

They are far from being a finished product, but the Raptors are further along today than they were yesterday when it comes to the way they want to defend an opponent.

More than just introduce a new defensive philosophy when he replaced Sam Mitchell, interim head coach Jay Triano is trying to change habits, change a mindset and, in turn, change the fortunes of the Raptors.

In Friday's 101-79 road rout of the New Jersey Nets, the Raptors held the homeside to 31% shooting from the field.

When Triano reviewed the video evidence of Toronto's second win in succession, he admitted his team was good, but not nearly where it should be.

What Triano liked most was the way players helped each other on defence. When a ball-handler was forced to one side of the floor, a secondary defender emerged.

In layman's terms, the Raptors are bent on protecting the lane, forcing teams to shoot jumpers.

There will be open looks, but as long as shots get contested and the Raptors continue to show improvement in understanding concepts, Triano is prepared to live with the consequences.

"You're always going to tweak and work on it,'' Triano said yesterday of his team's defensive approach. "The idea is the less our guys have to really think, and the more it becomes a habit as to what we're doing, the more aggressive and intense you can play.

"That's where we're trying to get."

Viewers may have caught the Raptors bench reacting in laughter during Friday's win when Chris Bosh was called for a defensive three-second violation.

The NBA's top defensive team, the reigning champion Boston Celtics, led the league in three-second violations last year and are well on their way to repeating, perhaps even as champions.

Friday's violation, which results in one technical foul shot, was Toronto's first of the season, hence the guffaws.

In case you're wondering, the deep-pocketed players are fined for such violations.

In an era when players are so jump-shot happy, a lot of teams will give up a perimeter shot, as long as a hand is in the shooter's face and someone controls the glass to minimize second-chance points.

Even at full strength, the Raptors aren't very good at denying dribble penetration.

By clogging the paint, in theory, you force more jump shots.

When teams miss, as the Nets did often, the Raptors should be in a good position to win.

The Raptors defence surely will be put to the test this afternoon when the New Orleans Hornets pay a visit to the Air Canada Centre.

Hornets all-star point guard Chris Paul will push the tempo, get in the lane and has teammates who are more than capable of knocking down shots.

All kinds of problems await the Raptors as Toronto tips off a three-game homestand before it hits the road for an extended Christmas trip.

But beyond any matchup, the Raptors simply have no time to learn Triano's system, other than to see the concepts on video.

"Part of what we're doing on defence is being active,'' Triano said. "We have to keep our players fresh to enable them to stay active. You're limited as to how many drills you can run on the practice court.

"I give our guys credit because they've picked up a lot of things watching tape."


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