“If I need more scoring…I’ll play Joey Graham”

The Raptors practiced on Friday and afterwards Jermaine O’Neal spoke with the media who kept pestering him about how he left early in the Denver game and whether they should be worried about it. O’Neal was visibly irked because apparently they’ve been asking those questions to Sam Mitchell, his teammates, the ballboy, doorman, some random usher, a hobo on the street and a security guard who didn’t want any part of it. In response to the question, O’Neal promised the media and the fans that he’ll be completely transparent about his health issues because he didn’t want the fans to be on “pins and needles”.

He dismissed the reason for not finishing the Denver game as entirely precautionary and said “I’m in pretty good shape” and went on to talk about practice. The first hour of which on Friday was spent entirely talking about defense. What I would give to be a fly on the wall in that room, eh? O’Neal admits that the squad hasn’t played good defense all preseason long:

“We haven’t played great defense, we’ve allowed a lot of dribble penetration, allowed guys to catch the ball in the low-post..we really didn’t look well defensively all preseason and we got a lot of work to do in a short period of time because we looked pretty bad..the emphasis for the next five days of practice is defense…we have to be a tough physical team”

He’s echoing the sentiments of a lot of the fans that have watched the preseason games and have felt that the squad is a bit disjointed and far from being a polished product. Nobody expects perfection at the end of preseason but what’s concerning is the lack of continuity and form in our offensive play. The shape of our offense was starting to look better as the preseason wore on and Jermaine O’Neal was finding his way into it and starting to produce alongside Chris Bosh. The other players were the real concerns, more specifically Jason Kapono, Anthony Parker and Jamario Moon. All three looked very unimpressive in the preseason and you have to think it’ll take some time before they get their act going (if they get their act going). Jermaine O’Neal and Chris Bosh have too much talent to be unproductive players and simply throwing them out there is halfway to netting some good offense, the challenge lies in integrating the other non-All-Star caliber players into the lineup and making them produce alongside the stars. That’s obviously where Mitchell comes in and we’ll wait and see how that goes.

Chris Bosh also mentions that the “pick ‘n roll defense and transition defense needs to get a lot better” and that they’re working very hard in practice to correct what we’ve seen over the past month. He’s also saying that the synergy between him and O’Neal will get better and it might not happen before the first regular season game because no matter how much you try in practice, you can’t simulate a real game. Understood and agreed. I’d say give this team 10 regular season games to get their act together and I think both O’Neal and Bosh understand that.

Bosh mentioned that every player needs to take upon themselves a defensive challenge each and every game for the overall team defense to get better. I love that approach, a player should be pissed off when the other team scores and should make sure it never happens again! That used to be the old Eastern Conference philosophy when the Bulls, Knicks and Heat were battling for supremacy and I’d like to see the Raptors return to that mindset. We might not have the personnel to replicate the defensive efforts of those great teams but what we do have the bodies to play a physical style of game, it’s just a matter of propagating that attitude from Chris Bosh and Jermaine O’Neal to the rest of the team. Again, that’s where Mitchell comes in and we’ll wait and see how that goes.

Speaking of Mitchell, he too spoke with the media after practice and here’s a hilarious quote:

“If I need more scoring…I’ll play Joey Graham”

That’s a serious quote in response to being asked who he’s going to play at small forward. There’s more on this staged race for a starting spot in the Sun today. I stay staged because as bad as Jamario Moon has been in the preseason, Joey Graham hasn’t been any better. He had one good game against Minnesota and threw down a couple big dunks here and there but that flash isn’t going to impress Mitchell. There’s no way Graham gets the starting nod on opening day, Mitchell loves Moon too much to let a bad preseason cost him his job. Mitchell went on to say in the post-practice interview:

” We aare faaaainn toooning and thais thangs we can dooo baater, we can doo this baater, we can doo that baater. We eksicuoooted on affense aand deefense a lat baater today…Aim going to be a reeeaall stikler abaout taking caare af da baaskatball. We turning daaon tooo maany open shats. To be aanest wich you I dint eeven no we played ar games en a spaace af naaain daze”

Hilarious guy this Mitchell character. There’s an article in the star where Dave Feschuk thinks that Mitchell’s a lot less optimistic about how the Raptors will fare on opening day than his two studs. I don’t see it, I think everybody acknowledges that there’s work to be done and that the things we set out to accomplish at the start of the preseason weren’t all accomplished. As O’Neal pointed out some of it does have to do with the games being congested and not spread apart properly but that’s not stopping anyone from being confident that they can’t fix the problems in the next couple weeks.

Hassan Adams left practice early because he felt soreness after colliding with a teammate. Apparently nobody noticed that he wasn’t there anymore.

That was the day at Raptors practice yesterday. We also found out yesterday that TSN2 will likely be part of the Rogers sports pack that already has TSN. In other words you won’t have to pay any extra money. Nothing’s official yet but all signs point to a deal being made very soon. As I said in a post a few days ago, this whole fiasco isn’t Rogers’ fault, its about a TSN executive who tried to get leverage for a brand new product by throwing some cash at MLSE and convincing them to port over the games. I don’t understand why people are making Rogers out to be the bad guy in this whole thing. They’re not obligated to carry a rival sports network, if they actually do add TSN2 at no extra charge, props to them and a big thank you!

There’s tons of links to articles from across the web on the front page and AltRaps will follow up with a post full of links. If you’d like an easy shot at winning free tickets to opening night, check this out and be sure to join us on Friday October 31st and Philthy McNasty’s on King St. in downtown Toronto for an All-Raptors party.

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