Less than a week after holding a closed-door meeting, the Toronto Raptors return home a changed team - both on and off the court. The Raptors were a relaxed bunch at Monday's practice as they prepare for tonight's game against the lowly Minnesota Timberwolves. It's a short return home for the Raptors - they face the Bucks in Milwaukee on Wednesday - but the meeting with Minnesota should provide a great chance to build on the momentum generated from a pair of unlikely road victories.
Tensions were high after Toronto dropped a 146-115 decision to the Atlanta Hawks last Wednesday, a loss that had Raptors superstar Chris Bosh labelling the team's defensive effort a "total embarrassment" and questioning his teammates' pride.
Head coach Jay Triano huddled with his players after the game to give them a chance to air any grievances they might have.
The Raptors followed with a thrilling 109-107 overtime win in Washington, then routed Chicago 110-78 for just their third winning streak of the season.
Triano said the meeting served its purpose.
"I think it was just communication between some guys that don't really get to say a lot," said Triano. "It was a chance for them to say what they felt and what they thought, and because of that, everybody understands each other.
"It's definitely not done. We've got to keep getting better and keep growing close if we're going to be successful."
With nine new players on the Raptors' opening-day roster, a feeling-out process was expected. Yet, while Toronto has been cohesive on the offensive end, ranking fourth in the league in points per game (105.7), the defence has been abysmal. The Raptors rank second-last in points allowed (109.3), and the 146 they surrendered to the Hawks was the second-most they had given up in franchise history.
There have been suggestions the Raptors' European players haven't been getting along with their North American teammates. Point guard Jose Calderon said that contention was nonsense.
"I don't know where that came from," said Calderon. "When (fellow Spanish player Jorge Garbajosa) was here, I talked to him because he spoke Spanish, so it was a little bit easier for some conversations. That's all.
"It's not just nine new guys on the court. It's not just Basketball. We need to get to know each other. We spend more time with our teammates than we do with our families. That's why we have to stick together and do stuff together."
Raptors rookie DeMar DeRozan said the meeting provided players with a chance to confront their teammates in private, rather than through the media.
"That's basically what it was," said DeRozan, who has scored in double figures in three straight games. "We just have to be more vocal, come together as a team, and that's what we've been doing."
Fans hope a unified Raptors team will begin to improve on its underwhelming 9-13 mark - and Tuesday's matchup with the Timberwolves (3-17) is a great place to do it. Minnesota has won just once on the road this season, and has lost its last 10 meetings with Toronto dating back to 2004.
Triano said his players wouldn't take Minnesota lightly.
"You hope not, and that's one of the reasons we try to approach every game like it means something," said Triano.
"This is a team that has had tons of injuries. They're finally getting guys healthy right now.
"They're going to be motivated to play, and we'd better be exactly the same. You can't afford to (look past teams), not with our record."
Notes: Bosh left practice early, saying he wasn't feeling well. The Raptors expect him to be fine for today. ? F/C Andrea Bargnani (left ankle) is listed as day-to-day, though Triano expects him to play against Minnesota tonight.
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