Defence or bust

MIKE GANTER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:14 AM ET

LOS ANGELES -- Jermaine O'Neal has seen this work before.

He's complimentary, bordering on gushing, about the defensive system Jay Triano is trying to install.

Keep opponents out of the paint, force them to the outside to settle for long-range shots.

It's a proven defensive strategy, one that has worked in the NBA in the past.

But having the plan is one thing, carrying it out is another. Not even O'Neal, at his most optimistic, can say with any certainty that this group of Raptors will be able to carry out the plan.

"I think we're a good defensive team, but you have to be consistent with what you do every night," O'Neal said yesterday.

"That's the only way you can get better. Sometimes we revert back to the way this team has been used to playing not only this year but over the past couple of years. More of a finesse get it up and down type of team. Jay has been trying to change the format and make this more of a defensive team that is a little more physical and that's the part we struggle with the most. We get pushed around sometimes."

O'Neal says his teammates are trying to develop a tougher persona, but so far it has not taken hold.

"Guys are trying but we have to try harder," he said. "Seven games under .500 is a steep hill to climb and we can look at it in a couple of ways. Are we getting better and that's it or are we getting better and winning?

The answer, of course, for the time being is they're getting better and that's it.

The wins are coming slowly. The losses are coming in bunches.

On the surface, the case can be made that the Raptors' lack of offence is at least, if not more, concerning than the defence, but O'Neal said going down that path is just asking for more trouble.

"Every good team in our league is a good defensive team," he said. "The last 10-15 years an offensive team never has won anything in the NBA. Good defence gives you opportunities no matter what you're doing offensively.

"If we don't play defence it doesn't work because if we're spending all that energy on defence and you're really not stopping them, then when you do come down with the ball, you're fatigued. Us being a jump-shooting team, often those shots are short and that becomes a problem."

Triano doesn't dismiss the notion that the new defence might be taking its toll on the offensive end, but it doesn't change the fact that he still sees a tough-as-nails defence as the priority.

"Maybe that is just something the guys will get used to, but I don't think you can give up defence and then hope you're going to shoot the ball better because we're not working as hard on defence," he said. "That's not going to work.

"We're going to play good defence and we'll eventually get our legs. I don't know if it's the schedule, the travel, the defence or the system we are playing but I have no doubt that we have good enough shooters and eventually we'll find it."


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