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Orlando Magic centre Dwight Howard, left, is double teamed by Toronto Raptors forwards Chris Bosh and Antoine Wright during the second half of their NBA basketball game in Toronto November 1, 2009. Bosh drew a foul on the play. (MIKE CASSESE)
Orlando Magic centre Dwight Howard, left, is double teamed by Toronto Raptors forwards Chris Bosh and Antoine Wright during the second half of their NBA basketball game in Toronto November 1, 2009. Bosh drew a foul on the play. (MIKE CASSESE)

Michael Grange

Defensive breakdowns already costly for Raptors Add to ...

On one hand it's early. On the other hand, it's not like the Toronto Raptors haven't seen this movie before.

Opposing guards attack the Raptors in screen-and-roll situations and force Toronto to come over to help, setting up a kick-out pass to an open three-point shooter. Sometimes the shot goes up, sometimes the ball flies across the floor again.

Sometimes the guard makes it all the way to the basket.

Regardless of the nuances of the plot, the ending is too often the same: Lot's of open shots for Raptors opponents, a near certain death in the NBA.

With just three games played it's hard to draw hard and fast conclusions, but after holding the Cleveland Cavaliers to 34.9-per-cent shooting on opening night the Raptors have been in a defensive free-fall: giving up 240 points in their past two games, allowing opponents to shoot 50 per cent from the three-point line and ranking 29th out of 30 teams in defensive efficiency.

Not exactly the returns head coach Jay Triano was wishing for when he spent the preseason preaching a more traditional, conservative defensive approach. Or what Raptors president and general manager Bryan Colangelo expected when he added defensive-minded rotation players like Jarrett Jack, Antoine Wright, Reggie Evans and Rasho Nesterovic.

But Triano says that nothing will change for now.

"In year's past we had a defensive philosophy and we'd get to this point and something would be hurting us and we'd abandon it, 'Let's do something different,'" Triano said. "We're not going to do that. We just have to do some things better, that's what today was."

But he acknowledged that slowing the dribbler, a problem last season when Jose Calderon played injured and the Raptors were otherwise under-manned at point guard, was an issue on Sunday when the Orlando Magic scored 125 points in large part because they went 17-of-32 from the three-point line.

Jack said defensive breakdowns happen when a team is just getting to know each other.

"It's kind of like you're the new kid in a new school, and you know the answer to the question but you're hesitant to raise your hand, that's kind of like how we are," said Jack, who was signed to a five year, $20-million (U.S.) free-agent contract. "We need to relax a bit and do what we're all capable of doing."

Jack said the Raptors are slowly adopting a defensive mind-set in practice - no mean feat considering the team is largely comprised of offensive-minded players. Much of yesterday's practice was spent fine-tuning the adjustments needed to be made when the ball handler does gain an advantage at the point of attack.

"You have an individual responsibility, but your team has a collective responsibility, so even if you don't do your individual part to some degree, then that's where the guys on the court with you have to pick you up where it's needed," Jack said. "It's tough for anyone to do anything perfect all the time. You might not get beat for a basket, but you might get beat for a dribble so that someone may need to step up so we can force [the ball]to the weak side so we can force a contested jump shot."

The Raptors have had some impressive offensive performances - Chris Bosh is third in the NBA in scoring with 31.0 points per game and second in rebounding with 14.7 per game. Andrea Bargnani is shooting 59 per cent from the floor and averaging 22 points per game.

Bosh says it's time for adjustments, not panic.

"It's three games. We'll look at this and I'm going to forget this day by January and February and March when we're doing well on down the road, no one is going to remember we were 1-2," he said. "We win one more game and we're .500."

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