Teeing Up The Game...
November 3, 12:20 p.m.

It's been a few days since I last checked-in and we've got a lot to talk about!

How 'bout them Raptors?

3-0; sitting atop the Atlantic Division. Talk about a solid start for Toronto.

I'll be honest with ya, I thought the Raps were going to get off to a 2-1 start – I said so on "Double Dribble" on Raptors NBA TV last week. I figured they'd get the home opener against Golden State but split the two road games in Philly and Milwaukee.

However, Toronto did a solid job defensively in all three games and pulled out two impressive road wins against the Sixers and Bucks.

Though the rebounding has been an issue thus far, the disparity on the boards has been weakened by the strength of the Raptors' D. T.O. has held its opponents under 45% from the field in all three games. Quick hands (steals) from the likes of Anthony Parker and Jamario Moon and big swats (blocks) from Jermaine O'Neal, Chris Bosh, and Andrea Bargnani propelled the Raps to comeback wins on Friday and Saturday.

Coming back late in the fourth and then stifling Golden State in overtime on Friday was the kind of game Toronto wouldn't have won last year. Whether their psyches were too fragile or what – it’s anybody's guess – but in 2007-08, more often than not, if the Raptors coughed up a lead, they weren't coming back. In fact, after Saturday's comeback win in Milwaukee, I was walking to the bus with Jose Calderon and I said to him: "Back to back comebacks Jose. You guys weren't winning games like this last year." He responded (and I'm paraphrasing): "You're right. We would have been up, say, by 10 points but then end up losing by 10 points."

Victories like that build character. Defence builds character.

I overheard O'Neal, after Saturday's game, asking a team employee what the franchise record for blocks in one season is. What does that say about his character and his commitment to the defence? Just three games into the season he already has aspirations of setting records in T.O., and bumping Marcus Camby back to #2. And O'Neal has been putting his body on the line as well – drawing a number of charges against Philly, Golden State, and Milwaukee. If your highest-paid player is making plays like that, it HAS to rub off on the team. The Raptors as a whole should feed off the six-time All-Star more and more as each game passes.

Toronto will need that defence, that intimidation and that lane presence when they host the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday night. And the next seven day stretch features a few tough games. Not only do you have to deal with the Bad Boys, but a tough Atlanta team is on tap Friday and then the NBA Champs are only a week away. In the middle of all of that is a battle against a Charlotte Bobcats team that is sure to be better under Larry Brown.

It's a tough string of games but hopefully the Raptors have confidence – and momentum – off their 3-0 opening week. As O'Neal said to me a couple of weeks ago, getting off to a quick, solid start in a season is key. He said that the first 10-15 games can really make a difference for the next 10-15 'cause you can get into opponents' heads. He said if a team – like Toronto – were to go 13-2, 12-3, or 11-4... something like that... it'd go a long way in not only boosting the Raptors' confidence, but deflating their opponents' mindset as well. He said opposing teams will feel half-beaten already, thinking: "We can't beat them" - if a hot-out-of-the-gates team comes to town.

This week will go a long way in determining if Toronto is on its way to being that kind of team. If the defence keeps up, and if Bosh continues to score like he has, the Raps have a good shot at doing some damage early on.

E. Smith ericsmithfan590@yahoo.com