Raptors eyeing playoff spot

Raptors guard Alvin Williams takes a few shots during the team's practice yesterday at the Air...

Raptors guard Alvin Williams takes a few shots during the team's practice yesterday at the Air Canada Centre. Williams had surgery on his right knee in November. (Toronto Sun/Veronica Henri)

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:05 AM ET

If Rob Babcock had his way, he might make a slight alteration to The Toronto Sun's "100 Things We Hate About Sports" feature, which ran in Sunday's editions.

The updated version likely would include Reason No. 101 -- trade rumours.

Babcock despises them, and has said as much during the course of the season. Yet despite the best wishes of the rookie general manager, the scuttlebutt just won't go away.

Ever since Vince Carter was dealt to the New Jersey Nets last month, speculation has swirled regarding the possible dealing of forwards Jalen Rose and Donyell Marshall as part of a potential Raptors housecleaning.

This past weekend brought reports of Marshall possibly heading to either Philadelphia or Minnesota and Rose going to the Big Apple for Penny Hardaway. Staying in form, Babcock wouldn't comment on either.

But now comes a new dilemma for Mr. Babcock.

Rose and Marshall are playing their best basketball of the season. So, for that matter, is the entire team, which has won six of its past eight and suddenly finds itself just two games behind the division-leading New York Knicks, who visit the Air Canada Centre tonight.

With the possibility of a playoff berth no longer a pipe dream, do the Raptors revert back to the age-old credo "If it ain't broke, don't fix it?" Or do they attempt to dump Rose's fat contract as part of a long-term building plan?

"Hey, that's why Rob gets paid the big bucks," Rose said yesterday, drawing chuckles from the pack of reporters surrounding him. "It's not necessary for me to answer. It probably will be based on the team's future."

A future that will look a whole lot rosier should they be able to post a victory tonight, an outcome that would bring the Raptors to within one game of the Knicks.

With all five teams in the Atlantic Division under .500, the Raptors have as good a shot as any to make a run at top spot, a position that ensures not only a post-season appearance but also home-court advantage in the first round.

When one writer mentioned to Marshall that a Knicks team with an alleged $103 million US payroll should be faring better than this, the Raptors forward pointed to other examples throughout pro sports where spending does not necessarily equate to winning.

"Look at the Yankees, who haven't won in a while," Marshall said. "Look at Indy. Peyton Manning had one of the great years in football yet he's at home right now."

The Raps know a little something about enjoying life at home. They are 13-5 at the ACC while posting just three wins on the road, including a 100-91 victory over the Timberwolves in Minnesota Monday.

Marshall claimed the team's road woes have nothing to do with an alleged penchant for late night frivolity.

"We're not a team that likes to go out, or do anything like that," said Marshall, who led the Raps with 22 points against the Timberwolves.

"We're a team that likes to stay in the room.We sit up there and talk trash and play PlayStation against each other, hanging out in the hotel."

How much longer will Marshall be "hanging"as a member of the Raptors?

"That's Rob's call,"he said. "But as long as it says Raptors on my chest I'm going to play hard."


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