Extinction near for Raptors

STEVE BUFFERY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:03 AM ET

THE RAPTORS certainly are playing like a desperate team. Like they desperately want this miserable season to end.

Exhibiting very little urgency or hunger in their play, the Raptors lost to the Milwaukee Bucks 90-83 yesterday at the Air Canada Centre and are now a sliver away from being mathematically eliminated from a spot in the NBA playoffs.

A Raptors loss or Boston Celtics win will officially end any hope of Toronto qualifying for the post-season. This is a team that has lost seven in a row and appears to be on the verge of imploding.

The Raps have a coach who looks shell-shocked and of players who keep saying the right things about playing hard for pride and for the fans. But game after listless game, this is a team that seems to have packed it in a long time ago.

SIX GAMES LEFT

The question is, will the Raptors win again this season? There are six games remaining and five are against teams with superior records -- including two against the tough Detroit Pistons and one against the NBA-leading Indiana Pacers.

The only team the Raps play with an inferior record, the Chicago Bulls, have defeated Toronto in three games this season.

Coach Kevin O'Neill, who probably will be fired when the season is over, reiterated yesterday he believes that his players have been adversely affected by all of the controversy that has surrounded the organization, particularly the firing last week of general manager Glen Grunwald.

"Again I'll say it, I empathize with the guys in the locker room because it's difficult enough to play in this league and try to get in the playoffs, and it's very difficult to play under extenuating circumstances," he said.

Veteran Michael Curry, who tied a season high yesterday with 10 points on 4-for-6 shooting from the field, appreciated his coach's sentiments, but believes using the front-office controversy as an excuse is wrong.

Vince Carter, who had 18 points for Toronto, shooting 7-for-21 from the field, said the most frustrating aspect of losing and being pushed out of a playoff spot is the fact the Raptors are not that bad, personnel-wise.

"We're definitely a playoff team. All the talent and ability around this locker room, we can compete with some of the best teams," he said.

Milwaukee outscored Toronto 38-28 in the paint yesterday and shot 46% from the field, while the Raps shot 41%.

Curry was a standout on defence, particularly guarding Milwaukee forward Keith Van Horn, who managed only 10 points -- four of those were from the free throw line.

Forward Donyell Marshall snapped out of his offensive slump, recording his team leading 34th double-double of the season with 10 points and 16 rebounds, while Jalen Rose had 21 points and seven assists. Brian Skinner led the Bucks attack with 19 points.


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