Raps bench shows animal instincts

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:32 AM ET

The Zoo Crew?

Sounds like the name of some FM radio morning show, complete with the 6 a.m. wakeup call for concert tickets.

But in the world of the NBA, the Zoo Crew refers to the Toronto Raptors' bench brigade. You know, the guys who spell starters such as Vince Carter and Jalen Rose, then proceed to light up the scoreboard.

The same guys who pumped home a whopping 50 points Wednesday night in the Raptors' 114-91 victory over the New York Knicks.

Leading the way was Milt Palacio, whose 18 points fell two shy of his career high. That, by the way, is the same Milt Palacio who came up with the new nickname for the Toronto subs.

"I joke around and call us the Zoo Crew because we're like a bunch of caged animals who come off the bench," Palacio said.

"We know we've got to come out there and play well, play hard and that's the biggest thing you have to do.

"You have to use the bench. We're the guys who come out and play with energy in the event the starters don't have much of it."

While Carter and Rose were humming at full throttle against the Knicks, the two veterans also have struggled through lengthy dry spells during the first month of the season.

Enter the likes of Palacio, Morris Peterson, Lamond Murray and Matt Bonner, who have seen more than their share of court time with the clock winding down in the fourth quarter this season.

That foursome has combined to average about 28 points per game.

Bonner, in fact, received the ultimate compliment the other night when Carter referred to him as "our saviour."

Coach Sam Mitchell has not hesitated to give the Zoo Crew the nod, especially during the times when Air Canada has been grounded.

"The bench has been playing well,"Rose said. "They've been getting minutes and they've been producing in those minutes. That makes you a tougher team to beat because guys come to the game confident that if they play hard they'll get minutes.

"Everyone has been contributing. Matt Bonner has been knocking down shots. Milt has played well. It's a total team effort."

Help could be on the way, too.

Forward Donyell Marshall, who has missed the past eight games with a right hamstring injury, expects to suit up when the Raptors and Knicks complete their home-and-home series with an afternoon tip at Madison Square Garden.

Marshall was averaging 8.0 points, 4.6 rebounds and 23.2 minutes in five games, so his presence definitely would help the Raptors overcome their road funk.

While the Raptors are an impressive 5-1 at home, Mitchell's squad is a dismal 1-6 away from the friendly confines of the Air Canada Centre.


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