Effort will be key for Raptors

FRANK ZICARELLI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:10 PM ET

TORONTO - When they gathered as a group late Friday night following yet another meaningless pre-season game, it dawned on the Raptors coaching staff the meaning of playing with energy.

There are no illusions with this team given the many shortcomings that simply cannot be addressed during the course of a training camp and how many exhibition games are allowed.

This is a team that will give itself a chance to win when it plays with intensity, which, sadly, is often lost during the grind of an NBA schedule.

But it hit Jay Triano and his staff, almost sending off an alarm bell that prompted the team to convene a Saturday afternoon practice that can be best described as intense, hardly the norm when a Sunday matinee tip looms.

What the staff saw, or more fittingly what it has not seen, is the level of intensity the Raptors showed when they began their eight-game pre-season slate in Vancouver against the Suns, the same Phoenix team that provides Sunday afternoon’s opposition.

“I don’t know if we’ve had that since,’’ Triano confided on Saturday. “It’s obviously something we have to try to bring back.”

In the context of a pre-season, nothing can be gleaned, but effort is a habit that will sustain teams with question marks that aren’t easily solved.

It’s virtually impossible for a team such as the Raptors to play every game as though it were Game 7 of an NBA final, but there can’t be room for sustained periods of inactivity, when the lack of mental toughness gets revealed, when effort is all but forgotten.

Triano has been running his team ragged this pre-season, cutting no corners and giving absolutely no player any long leash.

He doesn’t pay, and nor should he, any notion of fatigue playing a factor.

In fact, Triano went so far as to say on Saturday that he asked the players themselves why effort was lacking against Boston on Friday, save for the fourth quarter uprising fuelled by players who will likely spend most of their time on the bench this coming season or on the inactive list.

“We practised two-a-days before that game in Vancouver. That was the time to be tired,’’ reckoned Triano. “Maybe it was the excitement of it being the first game, but we have to find that level and the level we had in the fourth quarter.

“That has to be our staple. And I know it’s hard, but that’s what our basketball team has to be.”

The Raptors torched the Suns 129-78 in Vancouver, but as Triano has candidly pointed out the team has yet to duplicate that effort in the ensuing games.

Following Sunday’s tip, two exhibition games remain before it gets real and when it’ll get really tough for the Raptors.

The Suns are basically using their 10-man rotation, save for the occasional injury that surfaces during a pre-season game, for the last couple of game.

Triano would love to nail down his rotation, but he can’t, at least not yet.

There’s the flexibility to go with an 11-man rotation, but it’s not likely to happen.

Realistically, one needs a rotation of nine players, 10 at the most.

“I’m starting to look at getting guys minutes,’’ Triano added. “At the same time, you want to build their endurance that’s required when the regular season begins.

“I have to get guys into a rhythm. I haven’t allowed that to happen because I’ve tried to balance minutes, but we’ve got to start.”

Above all else, it starts with effort.


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