Raptors want home-court advantage

STEVE BUFFERY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 6:49 AM ET

Nobody was tapping their ruby shoes together or anything like that at practice yesterday, but the Raptors definitely believe there is no place like home.

Given that a playoff spot is almost a foregone conclusion for the Raptors (39-32), who lead the New Jersey Nets by 61/2 games with only 11 games left in the Atlantic Division standings, the players are now focusing on finishing in the top four in the Eastern Conference, so they can earn home-court advantage in the first-round of the playoffs.

Winning the division guarantees a playoff spot, but not home-court advantage. And with the Raptors 26-10 at home this season, compared to 13-22 on the road, it's a given that they want to start any series at the Air Canada Centre.

But to finish in the top four (they are fourth right now heading into tonight's game in Washington against the Wizards) in the Eastern Conference, the Raptors will have to develop some consistency.

This is a team that played superb two-way basketball on Wednesday night in a 96-83 victory over the Miami Heat at the ACC. But that win came after a real stinker of a loss, 95-87, against the lowly Celtics in Boston on Monday. Before that effort, the Raptors recorded impressive wins against the Denver Nuggets and Orlando Magic, which came in the wake of arguably their worst performance of the season, a 92-74 loss in New York to the Knicks.

"I was talking to Jay (Triano, assistant coach) about that earlier. We've been having a lot of good-game, bad-game (situations)," all-star forward Chris Bosh said yesterday. "In a seven-game series, that's not going to work.

"Sometimes we let our guard down after a big win, and we have to make sure we don't do that."

The Raptors finish the regular-season schedule with games against the three teams they may face in the first round: Washington, Miami and Chicago Bulls.

"We have to take these games seriously," he said. "(Tonight in Washington) is another game for third place right now. In order to get the position we want (home-court advantage), we have to fight for it. And it's a good challenge for us because to win in the playoffs, you have to win on the road."

The Raptors practised yesterday without head coach Sam Mitchell, who was laid up with a bout of food poisoning. Mitchell also missed the morning shootaround on Wednesday. Yesterday's practice was run by first assistant Jim Todd.

"He'll be all right," Bosh said of Mitchell. "He's a character and a warrior at the same time."


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