Better is not good enough

FRANK ZICARELLI, TORONTO SUN; SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:19 AM ET

In the cutthroat business that is the NBA, there is no such thing as a moral victory or taking solace from coming close in games.

Jose Calderon is coming off a performance in Oakland in which he tied his career high for assists.

The Raptors were given three great looks at the basket to take the lead late in the game, but fell short and lost 117-111 to the Golden State Warriors.

Calderon sees the improved play and the way his teammates have bought into interim head coach Jay Triano's way of doing things at both ends of the court.

What the starting point guard hasn't seen is wins.

"Yes, we're getting closer, but we've got to start winning, too,'' Calderon said in the wake of a brilliant game in which he recorded 16 assists and netted 21 points on 8-for-14 shooting.

"It's good that we're working together. It's good that we're getting closer (to winning),'' he added.

"It's important for the team to start winning."

Heading into tonight's game against the visiting Denver Nuggets, the Raptors have lost seven of their past nine games to drop to 12-19 for the season.

The Raptors began their December schedule with a game in Denver. That game turned into a rout, forcing general manager Bryan Colangelo to dismiss Sam Mitchell and appoint Triano for the remainder of the season.

Given the difficulties of teams returning from a West Coast trip, the Raptors will have their hands full against the Nuggets, a team seething after losing to the Atlanta Hawks.

Colangelo isn't going to fire Triano, but there's all kinds of speculation a trade is in the works.

Against the Warriors, Toronto's need for a backup to Calderon was punctuated as was the need for a bonafide starting shooting guard.

Another area that was exposed was the Raptors' inability to stop dribble penetration and their lack of foot speed when closing out on shooters.

In other words, athleticism.

Jason Kapono, who was coming off an 0-for-5 shooting night in Portland, went 4-for-12. Anthony Parker went 2-for-8, while Joey Graham made four of his 10 attempts.

KEEP SHOOTING

Triano has encouraged his shooters to keep shooting.

What he has noticed and what gives him cause for concern is the way players are so inclined to drop their heads when shots aren't falling.

"We have good shooters,'' Triano said. "This game is about missed shots and mistakes. You just have to move forward.

"The guys believe in the process. We have to get tougher and we have to overcome the mental lapses."

Like Calderon, Kapono sees how the Raptors are better adopting to Triano's schemes and principles.

Like Calderon, Kapono would like to a see a win.

"You can't lose sight of the fact that we are getting closer,'' Kapono said. "We are getting better, but it would feel a lot better and make the situation better if we'd won more."

Following tonight's game, the Raptors get Houston and Orlando.


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