Stuck in losing vortex

TERRY KOSHAN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:18 AM ET

Jermaine O'Neal feels like the Raptors are stuck in a never-ending loop, not unlike what unfolded in the movie Groundhog Day.

The Bill Murray comedy of 15 years ago became a cultural reference point for someone who can't get out of a rut, but what the Raptors and O'Neal are experiencing doesn't have a basis in comedy.

"I don't think anybody could have pictured us going through this," O'Neal said yesterday. "We have been searching for the answer for quite some time. We have to figure out a way to win some of these games. We are always talking about the next game, but eventually we are going to run out of the next game.

"I don't know how much attention we are paying to the way we play. I don't know if we understand what causes a team to win and what causes a team to lose. It is pretty basic. We talk about it all the time. It's just not happening."

Whether O'Neal can help the cause soon is doubtful. The Houston Rockets and Orlando Magic are Toronto's next two opponents, tonight and Sunday afternoon, respectively, at the ACC -- and that's not good. O'Neal is nursing a knee injury, suffered Monday against the Golden State Warriors, and fellow starter Jason Kapono (quad) also is out.

O'Neal and Kapono will have a better idea after the shootaround this morning as to whether they are good to go. But O'Neal did not run at practice yesterday, instead working on his shot in a pair of low-cut sneakers.

"I feel better," O'Neal said. "But if I had to gauge whether I was going to play (against the Rockets), I would say no. The scan looked good. It's just the swelling.

"I was not worried about the actual injury (when it happened). I was just thinking: 'I cannot believe the luck we have had this year.' "

One part of the Raptors' game that has been bugging coach Jay Triano since he took over from the fired Sam Mitchell last month is his players' lack of confidence. Triano thinks the players look to the bench too much when things go awry.

"It's a trait that we have to get rid of," Triano said. "It's not something where you can flip a switch. It is something that has happened for years. It's human nature that they look for help. I don't want them looking because then everything stops. We have to play through it.

'DEAL WITH IT'

"There are no shutouts in the NBA. Somebody is going to score on you. Deal with it and turn around and go the other way."

O'Neal shares the idea that the onus is on the players to buckle down. He likes the job Triano has done since Mitchell was canned, even though wins have been few and far between.

"He has been doing a tremendous job, diagramming on the fly," O'Neal said. "We have to help him out. We have not done that."

A person of faith, O'Neal had a few special thoughts for the man upstairs on New Year's Eve.

"Hopefully God heard my prayers, not only for myself, but for my team," O'Neal said. "At least we are playing in a conference where other teams are struggling.

"It's crazy that you can be eight games under .500 and only be two or three out of the playoffs.

"Somebody is going to hit their stride and hopefully it's us."


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