Finishing touch eludes Raptors

BILL HARRIS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 11:32 AM ET

To put a Canadian twist on an old expression involving horseshoes, "close" counts only in curling. As the Raptors enter a new calendar year, they are finding solace in the fact they've lost a lot of close games.

However, that champagne glass either is half-full or half-empty, depending upon your point of view.

"It's that old cliche, so close and yet so far," Raptors forward Chris Bosh said. "Those last four minutes are a tough four minutes."

The Raptors are 10-21 and have lost 11 games by seven or fewer points. But let's be honest: The vast majority of NBA games are fairly close, at least for a while, before the superior club prevails.

The Charlotte Bobcats, an expansion team, had lost nine games by seven points or fewer heading into play last night. And the absolute worst team in the NBA, the barely breathing New Orleans Hornets, also had lost nine games by seven points or fewer.

So, while the Raptors are correct in pointing out they've been highly competitive in a lot of the games they wound up losing, they hardly are alone in that regard.

Nonetheless, Raptors coach Sam Mitchell believes his club has until the all-star break in mid-February to get back into the Eastern Conference playoff hunt.

"It's frustrating because we're losing, but a lot of these games we could have won," Mitchell said. "You have to be encouraged because you have a chance to win. It would be more frustrating if we just didn't have a chance.

"We're leading or we're in the game until certain stretches of the fourth quarter. We're not as bad a team as our record. We just have to put together a string of wins. We don't have to be .500 at the all-star break. If we're four or five games under .500, then we're in it."

When Vince Carter was a Raptor, there was no question who the club's go-to guy was supposed to be down the stretch in close games. It didn't always work out that way, with Carter often injured or in a mood to defer. But theoretically, he was the man.

While Mitchell insisted his club's biggest deficiencies at crunch time are at the defensive end rather than the offensive end, he admitted the ascent of a new go-to guy is important.

"Well, we need that," Mitchell said. "We know Jalen (Rose) can do that because he has done it throughout his career. And we're trying to groom Chris to be in that position, just from the standpoint he has the capability of taking the ball to the basket.

"People are so wary of (Bosh) beating them off the dribble, they're going to give him 15-foot shots. And late in a game, if you can get a 15-foot shot, that's a good shot. Plus, he demands a double-team most of the time. Now, the thing Chris has to understand is that, in that situation, you have to walk up to the free-throw line and be ready to knock those free-throws down.

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"Chris is 20 years old, man. We're excited about what he can be. And the thing about Chris is, whatever we ask him to do, he does. He understands what we need from him and he wants to give it to us. And he is going to give it to us. I'm not concerned that he's not going to be able to deliver."

With Bosh midway through his second NBA season, that delivery could be on back-order for a little longer. In the interim, the Raptors simply have to find a way to win the types of close games in which they have specialized in self-sabotage.

Losses are losses, be they blowouts or nail-biters. Remember, the road to the draft lottery is paved with teams that were "just a couple of key possessions away."


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