It's challenging times for the Raptors

FRANK ZICARELLI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:09 PM ET

TORONTO - Jay Triano tried to imagine the unimaginable, a scenario that would make his team’s plight much more intolerable to the point of complete madness.

For a moment, just imagine if these free-falling Raptors, losers of nine straight heading into Friday night’s tip against visiting Milwaukee, were dotted with more veterans as opposed to the current look featuring youth and inexperience.

Say what you want about these Raptors, and a lot has been said, but on most nights they at least put forward an honest effort, even though the team’s limited talent base and thinning roster deny the unit any realistic shot at victory.

To hear Triano tell it, competition in a practice setting, that is when the team has enough healthy pieces to actually have a five on five session, has been quite spirited.

Almost from the moment the Raptors gathered back in the fall, the message being conveyed was that hard work in practice would translate into minutes on the floor and opportunities.

It’s a theme that continues today, an approach that lends itself well for a young unit, even if wins have been as elusive as fielding a healthy roster.

“I’m not sure if I had a salty veteran who was getting outplayed by a young guy, and I was playing the young guy, how the veteran would respond,’’ Triano said.

“I don’t know if the veteran would respond by folding the tent or whether he’d respond by fighting back. All these guys are fighting for their careers.”

In a way, the presence of players signed to 10-day contracts, rookies that show flashes only to revert to bad habits and flawed players who are eager for refinement have created a competitive environment.

Toronto’s imperfect lot presents what Triano calls as a “nice challenge’’ in finding ways to get a guy such DeMar DeRozan the ball when an opponent knows the Raptors will run a play through their second-year wing.

Or, in the case of Andrea Bargnani, trying to get the ball in the rebounding/defensively deficient centre in a spot on the floor where the opposition least expects it.

It’s all part of the challenge in these challenging times for Triano and his staff, fully away that it could be a lot worse if the makeup of this unit was different.

“We’ve got a lot of players who won’t be the focal point (on a team) for the rest of their career,’’ Triano added. “What we’ve tried to do is create competition for spots in practice.

“Every drill we do is a competitive one. Due to our roster situation, we have a lot of guys champing at the bit that they might get more time.”

No matter how competitive an environment is created behind the team’s practice doors, it hasn’t translated into wins.

Lost, though, in all this losing is the simple fact that not much was expected of the Raptors this year, even when they weren’t battered and bruised.

At times during this losing streak, a guard such as Jerryd Bayless has been asked to slide over at small forward.

Players such as Trey Johnson and Alexis Ajinca have been thrust into a game, despite having zero practice time.

It hasn’t been pretty, but believe it or not it could be a lot worse.

Another example of a player who has been asked to do more is Julian Wright, a long and athletic forward not noted for his ability to initiate an offence or make perimeter shots.

Up until Wednesday’s loss to Philly, Wright’s stroke in January had been pretty good, coming off a career-high 41 minute game against Memphis when Wright made five of his seven shots.

Against the Sixers, the visitors basically played off Wright and forced him to beat them with his jumper, which he couldn’t.

No Raptors took as many heaves in the first half than Wright, who finished the night by missing seven of his 11 attempts.

To his credit, Wright drove to the basket more in the second half and was able to finish on a few of his forays.

To their credit, the Raptors haven’t quit trying.


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