Raps out to slay West Coast dragon

Toronto Raptors head coach Jay Triano talks to his team during a timeout. (REUTERS/Mark Blinch)

Toronto Raptors head coach Jay Triano talks to his team during a timeout. (REUTERS/Mark Blinch)

MIKE GANTER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:51 PM ET

Ah, the West Coast -- where Raptors teams of the past have gone to die.

Well, maybe not every trip, but there's no denying the West has not been kind to the Raptors.

Will things be any different this year?

That was the question on everyone's mind Saturday as the players did some light shooting drills and a little work in the weight room before heading out to Sacramento where they start a four-game western swing on Monday night.

At least this season the schedule gives them a favourable break. Usually the team has a day to get there and then suits up the following night. This time they flew out Saturday, have a practice scheduled in Sacramento on Sunday and then play the next night.

The hope is the extra day to acclimatize can change the Raptors fortunes out there.

To say the West has been unkind to the Raptors is like saying hurricane season kind of has it in for Florida.

For the sake of this article, we will consider a West Coast trip only those that include a stop in Los Angeles and we'll only go back years.

Under that criteria, the Raps have made two trips to the West Coast each year over those six seasons. Over that span, they have played 52 games and have won a total of eight.

It gets worse if you just consider that first trip to the Left Coast, which is what the Raps begin on Monday. On the first trip west in those six years, the Raps have won three of 26 games.

The only time in the past six years they have come back from the West Coast with even a .500 record from any of those 12 trips was in the 2006-07 season when they lost the opener of their second trip west in Phoenix, defeated the Clippers and Portland and then finished up with a loss in Seattle.

The last time they had a winning road trip that included L.A., you have to go all the way back to the 2003-04 season when the Raps defeated the Clippers and Utah after losing the opening game of the trip to Utah. The last time the Raptors won a season series in their West Coast swing came back in 2001-02 when they went a combined 6-3 in those two trips.

Jay Triano has been making these trips with the Raptors since 2002-03 and has seen more than his share of the bad outcomes.

In addition to getting his own team better acclimated with the extra day, Triano also notes that they're going to get the Kings coming home after playing in Cleveland on Sunday night. The Raptors will actually be waiting for them in Sacramento when they get home.

That too could be an advantage.

But more than anything, Triano just wants to see more of what he saw on Friday night against Cleveland. He wants to see the effort on defence, he wants to see his team forcing the pace.

That said there are a few things he knows his team must get better at if it hopes to finally slay that West Coast dragon.

"Everyone is going to have to get used to the rotations and we're not comfortable with that yet and I don't blame the players," Triano said. "They are not playing extended minutes. They are playing short spurts sometimes. A guy might have it going ... I thought Sonny (Weems) played very well (Friday) night and then I put in (Linas) Kleiza and he played really well. Then I can't get Sonny back in. I am going to ride the hot hand and we'll figure this out as we go. Guys are going to have to get used to making their minutes count when they get them."

DeMar DeRozan has only experienced this West Coast phenomenon once but's he's already well aware of the potential beatdown that awaits if a team doesn't put forth its best effort.

"It's tough," DeRozan said. "You can go on a West Coast road trip and come out 0-5 especially playing against the top notch West Coast teams. But we just have to go in there and be ready. I think it will be a challenge for us. It will test us and we should really learn from it."

Following the Sacramento game, the Raps will have a day to regroup before taking on Utah and then another day to regroup before taking on the defending NBA-champion Lakers. That will begin the toughest part of the trip with a game in Portland the very next night.

We may not know a whole lot about this team now, but a stretch like that one should give everyone paying attention much better insight into what kind of team this Raptors team will be.


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