Going for the jugular

FRANK ZICARELLI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:37 AM ET

The Raptors have made inroads in areas that can't be measured by any statistical category.

When a stop needs to be made in a late-game situation, no longer are they yielding uncontested looks.

The team's rotations on defence are tighter and more decisive.

Ball movement is crisper and cuts are being executed stronger.

But Sunday night, a troublesome sign resurfaced, a habit that plagued the Raptors for most of the season until their recent run.

The Indiana Pacers are young and trigger happy.

They rely on their perimeter shots and go small because their bigs are battered.

Instead of pouncing on their vulnerable visitors from the opening tap, the Raptors played down to the level of their opponent.

Good teams become very good when they seize an opportunity and respond by imposing their will, regardless of the opponent's won-loss record.

The very good teams evolve into elite status when no opponent is taken for granted and every possession leads to a basket or at least a good look at the basket.

The Raps began the game, the first in a home-and-home series with Indiana, by turning the ball over four times in the first four minutes.

They were susceptible off the dribble and when rotations came late the Pacers capitalized by making open three-pointers.

As well as the Raptors have played, the time has arrived when they simply must take that next step, a process that could very well determine their playoff seeding.

Make no mistake because it's no longer a case of whether the Raptors will appear in the post-season, it's just a question of where they'll finish.

Going for the jugular and a killer mentality, especially at home, can't be an issue, but it was on Sunday.

When no one on the floor can guard Chris Bosh, entry passes must be made by being prudent and patient.

Danny Granger began by trying to defend Bosh, even though Granger gave up about three inches and 20 pounds.

When Granger got into early foul trouble, Dahntay Jones, who is two inches shorter and two pounds lighter than Granger, was matched up against Bosh.

As expected, the Pacers came with double teams on the catch and Bosh did make some passes out of the double teams, but the Raptors didn't fully take advantage of the obvious disparity.

The Raptors allowed the Pacers to hang around when the game should never have been in doubt.

As the evening unfolded, the expected happened.

The Pacers' shots, which were dropping frequently, weren't finding net.

Teams look inside when perimeter heaves are in short supply, but Indiana's only post presence is Roy Hibbert, a legitimate big body whose game is far from being refined.

The Pacers play host to the Raptors on Tuesday. Toronto then plays host to the woeful New Jersey Nets.

Toronto's season-high win streak of five should be extended to seven in the coming days.

Additional winnable tips await with Sacramento and Philadelphia, which will take the Raptors into the NBA's all-star break.

Breaking the spirit of weak opposition has to become a habit. It should never be an issue. The Raptors haven't developed it.

They've shown mental toughness in wins against Milwaukee, the Los Angeles Lakers, Miami and New York by coming back from double-digit deficits.

There should have no excuse against the Pacers, a team that erased a 23-point hole against the Raptors when the teams last played in early January, and no reason to go through prolonged stretches of indifference at both ends of the floor.

What was a 16-point Toronto lead was whittled to three when the Raptors' ball movement became static.

The game was tied on a sequence that began with Jose Calderon barely beating the shot clock by releasing a desperate three-pointer.

The Raptors were fortunate Sunday night, surviving the folly of their ways because of the quality of their foe.

For the Raptors, nothing should be taken for granted because nothing has been earned.

Not even against a team like the Pacers .

FRANK.ZICARELLI@SUNMEDIA.CA


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