No D in Raptors' name or game

TERRY KOSHAN AND RYAN WOLSTAT, QMI AGENCY

, Last Updated: 3:11 AM ET

TORONTO -- All is not yet lost for the defensively inept, 11-17 Toronto Raptors.

Though their season appears to be spiralling out of control, the NBA's Eastern Conference is so pathetic that the playoffs are still well within reach for the struggling club.

The Raptors sit just a game behind the eighth-place Charlotte Bobcats and four behind the fifth-place Miami Heat.

The Raptors host the awful New Jersey Nets (2-24) tonight at the Air Canada Centre (7 p.m., TSN2), although they haven't earned the right to count on a sure thing.

Nets players such as centre Brook Lopez, who had his sixth consecutive double-double on Wednesday vs. the Utah Jazz, and guard Devin Harris have the potential to give the Raptors trouble.

"Jersey is starting to play a lot better," Raptors coach Jay Triano said. "We are not good enough to look ahead in the schedule and say it is a good game we have coming up. Can't do that."

The Raptors, after playing well in a victory at home on Sunday against the Houston Rockets, unravelled on the road. A 19-point loss to the Magic in Orlando on Wednesday came a day after the Raps were ripped by 20 points by the Heat in Miami.

Toronto's defence was a joke in both games.

TOUGH SKED

Triano and star forward Chris Bosh have justifiably mentioned that the jam-packed early schedule prevented the club from getting together frequently enough on the practice court (most recently, the Raptors only had two scheduled practices in the first two weeks of this month).

That will change now with the team finally due for a significant number of days off.

Small forward Hedo Turkoglu is taking forever to get accustomed to new teammates. Guard DeMar DeRozan, as most rookies do, needs time to find his way in the pros.

"I talk to him all the time about the fact I want him to continue to be aggressive," Triano said. "Stuff is going to happen. We can never complain about his approach to the game and the way he plays."

Beginning tonight, the Raptors will play five games in a row and eight of 10 against sub-.500 opponents. After a brutal, road-heavy start to the campaign, the Raptors get a relative rest in the next while.

The general lack of heart has made it easy for opponents. Centre Andrea Bargnani, after the loss in Orlando, was wondering why the defence was so poor. A glance in the mirror might give him a bit of an answer.

NEED MORE HEART

Bosh -- whose pending free agency hangs over the franchise like the sword of Damocles -- said the Raptors have come to a point where they are taking "two steps forward, three steps back. We're there some nights and not there some nights."

The pressure is on Toronto to play like it cares.

"We have guys who have been around," backup swingman Antoine Wright said. "We have to have the attitude of taking a challenge, and if we don't, we're not going to beat anybody. It does not matter we are playing New Jersey next.

"They play hard, they just don't have enough talent. If we played as hard as they do on a nightly basis, we would probably have more wins."

The team might have to weigh whether it is worthwhile to make the playoffs -- and likely get thumped by one one of the East's four strong team -- and giving up a first-round pick sent to Miami from a prior trade. The owed pick is top 14-protected, so missing the playoffs keeps the Raptors in the draft lottery.

RYAN.WOLSTAT@SUNMEDIA.CA


Videos

Photos