Raps a real mixed bag

FRANK ZICARELLI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:24 AM ET

The early part of the season was supposed to provide a glimpse of what the Raptors were capable and incapable of producing.

It was a time of figuring out minutes, defining roles and identifying strengths and weaknesses.

No team in the Eastern Conference has played more road games than the Raptors and perhaps no other team has showed flashes of excellence mixed in with moments of ineptness.

As they returned from their 1-3 trip to play host to the Miami Heat tonight, the Raptors sit at 5-7 and realistically one Hedo Turkoglu made shot from being 6-6.

That one shot in Phoenix actually turned out to be one of those two-game swings. Had his buzzer beater dropped, the Raptors would have gone 2-2 on the road and no one would be complaining.

"I'm not happy where we are, but I'm not completely disappointed either,'' head coach Jay Triano said. "We're making progress"

You can see the improvement and the potential with these Raptors, even as they struggle to make stops.

Chris Bosh is playing at a high level, but he needs help when opposing a physical frontline such as the one the Denver Nuggets threw at him, limiting him to a season-low 13 points and two trips to the charity stripe.

That's where Reggie Evans enters into the equation, but his foot injury continues to sideline him, leaving a huge hole in the Raptors' interior.

Antoine Wright needs to get healthy as well, another piece that was supposed to provide much-needed toughness.

Turkoglu is getting more comfortable, but there's a lot more game that has yet to surface.

There's better cohesion on the team and the bench is beginning to take shape.

During the four-game trip, Marco Belinelli averaged 15.2 points, while Amir Johnson was active defensively and averaged 6.5 rebounds.

Sonny Weems stepped up, giving Triano another option.

One of the biggest keys, outside of defending better, is to get Jose Calderon and Jarrett Jack to play better.

The point play has been sporadic at best.

Fatigue was cited as a factor in Calderon going 4-of-14 from the field in Utah Wednesday night, but that's just a convenient excuse.

He has got to get tougher and somehow keep his man in front of him on the defensive end.

Jack has been the early season's biggest disappointment.

Of course, it's natural for a new player to try to find his niche on a team and balance that fine line between getting his game going while distributing the ball.

Perhaps his five-assist evening in Salt Lake City is a start, but clearly Jack has to start to produce.

"We've proven to ourselves that we can play with any team in the league over periods of time,'' Triano said. "We have to find a way to do it over 48 minutes with the same intensity."

That requires time and the players developing better trust among each other.

It'll also help to get healthy.

frank.zicarelli@sunmedia.ca


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