Raps hit with harsh sked

BILL HARRIS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:34 AM ET

The easiest thing would be to wrap yourself in the Canadian flag and curse those damn Americans.

After all, there's only one NBA team left in Canada, and that team -- the Toronto Raptors -- has been saddled with two six-game trips in the first five weeks of the regular season.

No team should have to endure that, right?

Raptors general manager Rob Babcock seems strangely calm about it, too.

But isn't he an American?

Maybe he's in on it.

Maybe they're all in on it.

What's more, we're told by our operatives that the Blue Jays, the only Canadian entry left in Major League Baseball, have been slapped with a killer schedule for next season, too.

In fact, schedules that appear to be needlessly taxing -- front-loaded to ensure poor starts, which affects fan interest -- virtually have been annual occurrences for the Raptors and Jays.

HIRED IN JUNE

What is this, the sports version of the War of 1812?

To be fair, however, the Raptors and Jays are as much, if not more, to blame than the leagues in which they play.

"I think the NBA's schedule-makers do what they can to treat everybody fairly," Babcock said. "And often it has to do with the dates in your building. A lot of times, if we have a lot of filled dates early in the season, well, the league has to send you on the road. There's nothing you can do.

"I don't know what has happened with the Raptors in the past because I wasn't here," added Babcock, who was hired by the club last June, long after the NBA had begun work on its schedule.

"But you present available dates, then you present preferred dates, and they do the best they can with it. It's not an easy thing."

True, concocting a schedule for 30 NBA teams is difficult. But regularly through the past decade, the Raptors brain-trust quietly has been accused of not fighting hard enough for its team from a competitive point of view.

For example, when the first draft of the 2004-05 schedule was sent around to NBA teams last spring, Jerry West or Pat Riley or Mark Cuban would have hit the freakin' roof had their clubs been sentenced to two early six-game trips.

They would have thrown the whole works back into the league's face and said, "Try again."

Perhaps Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, Ltd. -- which owns the Raptors -- was more concerned with hockey games that won't be played, Avril Lavigne concerts and Disney on Ice than to worry about something as icky as those sweaty hoopsters.

But with attendance for Raptors games apparently on the decline, the suits need to be reminded that how the club fares on the court has a direct impact on how it does at the gate.

Sellouts aren't guaranteed any more.

Again, Babcock was not around to squawk about this season's schedule. But if he's faced with a similarly obtuse schedule next summer, will he squawk then?

"Naw, you may have one year that seems worse than others, but it all evens out," Babcock said. "You still have to play half at home and half on the road. Whatever you get, you take it, do the best you can and try to look at the advantages."

Advantages?

Are there any?

"In this case, we're still learning about each other and there is no better way to do that than to go on the road for 10 days," Babcock said.

DISASTER

"And we're not tired of travelling now. In March, if you run up against a 10-day trip, and you're banged up, you're not playing well, you're down mentally, it can turn into a disaster. Not that it certainly couldn't turn into a disaster in November, too, but at least you're fresh."

That's an incredibly mature approach.

Maybe too mature.

Could Babcock be part of a massive international conspiracy?

Not that we're paranoid or anything.

And by the way, just what the hell are you lookin' at?


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