Raptors Prepare For A Season Unlike Any Other

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Leandro Barbosa touches his head. Then he taps a spot on his chest directly above his heart.

“It’s going to take both,” he says.

Media Day brought the first public viewing of the 2011-2012 Raptors and it will be a regular season like no other.

The Raptors will play 66 games in an astonishing 113 days. What begins Boxing Day in Cleveland will end four months later at home against the New Jersey Nets.

“Man, it’s insane,” said centre Aaron Gray, a seven-footer who played last season with the New Orleans Hornets.

“We’re doing two-a-days now. This is what the whole season is going to feel like. The teams that use more guys and have good depth are going to be more successful.”

No surprise then that coming out of the lockout the Raptors brought experienced hands.

Nine-year-veteran Rasual Butler has been added to add some long distance shooting and leadership. Jamaal Magloire becomes the first-ever Canadian Raptor. Hard-nosed Anthony Carter brings tenacity and a defensive presence.

Suddenly, depth players are all the rage. The static rules about who plays how much will be chucked out the window.

“I’m kind of used to it but it’s going to be crazy,” said Barbosa. “It’s kind of the situation we deal with on the national team, lots of games in a very short time. I don’t think it’s going to be that hard for me, Andrea Bargnani, Jose Calderon, guys who play internationally.”

Insulating kids such as Ed Davis and DeMar DeRozan with veterans seems doubly important. The season will be an emotional ride with games piled onto games. The rate of injury seems certain to increase, especially with an abbreviated two-game training camp.

“It’s going to be more important than ever to not get too high when you win or too low when you lose,” Barbosa said.

Players used to rolling up big minutes are likely in for a shock, said Calderon.

“Everybody has to be ready. For the good of the team, if one night you’ve got to play 10 minutes, you play ten minutes. That’s what we are going to be thinking about. You can’t play 35 or 40 minutes every night. It doesn’t make any sense.”

With new coach Dwane Casey stressing defence, the Raptors will be looking to grind down opponents despite the compressed schedule. The Raptors are implementing a new defensive scheme. With fewer games, a poor start becomes even more dangerous. No one is saying this is going to be easy.

Combine the renewed emphasis on depth, the off-court comings and stayings of some of the league’s top players and a shortened schedule and you have the potential for a season as eventful as it is compressed. That said, a sainted run doesn’t have to extend quite as long for a longshot to finish in the money.

“As long as we start off well,” said Anthony Carter. “Every team has the same amount of training time. If we work hard and believe in each other, anything can happen.”

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