Raptors coach Kevin O'Neill cares about the NBA all-star game about as much as the prime minister of Tonga cares about the arctic hare's diminishing habitat. "It's one of those things that's not a big deal in my life," O'Neill said yesterday.
However, O'Neill is leaning toward welcoming next weekend's all-star extravaganza in Los Angeles because it gives his banged-up team an opportunity to rest up and heal. That includes rookie centre Chris Bosh, who is out with a sprained left ankle, forward and defensive standout Michael Curry, who is recovering from elbow surgery, and starting guard Alvin Williams, who has returned from a sprained right ankle but is nowhere near 100%.
There is one other guy O'Neill is very concerned about who will not get a break during the all-star weekend, Feb.13-15, because he'll be playing in the showcase game. Vince Carter returned from a right quadriceps injury on Jan. 25, but O'Neill revealed yesterday that his resident superstar still is playing in considerable pain, even though Carter has averaged 40 minutes a night since returning against Chicago.
"My guess from seeing him in practice situations and game situations is that he's playing through quite a bit of pain," O'Neill said. "But that just shows you, the guy cares about winning."
The Raps have gone 3-3 since Carter's return, including one-point losses to the tough Detroit Pistons and Los Angeles Lakers last week. He has averaged 22.2 points per game during that time.
O'Neill is not about to reveal the source of his star's aches and pains but he did suggest that Carter's willingness to play, and play hard, while hobbled proves again that Vinsanity is not as soft as many have suggested.
"I always said Vince was tough," said O'Neill, who gave his troops yesterday off.
As for Bosh, there is a chance he will play tonight against the visiting Indiana Pacers, although the coach is not banking on it. If the prize rookie remains on the sidelines, O'Neill likely will start Robert Archibald again at centre and bring Jerome Moiso in for some major minutes. Moiso has been a revelation during his past two games. Buried on O'Neill's bench for most of the season, the French national was rushed into action with the injury to Bosh and responded against Philadelphia and Orlando in a big way, scoring double-doubles in both games.
Despite coming off a two-game winning streak, O'Neill is more than aware that his team, with Bosh or without him, is going to have a tough time tonight against the Pacers (36-14), who lead the Eastern Conference.
"They are extremely well-coached, their players play extremely hard, they have two all-star players (Jermaine O'Neal and Ron Artest), and a probable Hall of Famer in Reggie Miller," said O'Neill, while denying that coaching against Rick Carlisle for the first time will be something special. O'Neill coached under Carlisle in Detroit and considers him a mentor.
"I'm happy for his success, but I'd rather be playing him if he was coaching a worse team," O'Neill said.