Raptor sees bright future

STEVE BUFFERY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:47 AM ET

What do H.G. Wells and Donyell Marshall have in common? One wrote The Invisible Man, and the other is usually an invisible man until the second half, when he starts picking up minutes.

And like Wells, the Raptors forward is a bit of a futurist. Wells envisioned a bleak future for society while Marshall foresees grim tidings for teams in the Eastern Conference, other than his Toronto Raptors whom he believes could be playoff-bound.

"You've seen the records in our division, why wouldn't you think of the playoffs?" the normally soft-spoken Marshall said following practice yesterday. "We're right there. After the All-Star break, a lot of things can happen."

ONLY TWO GAMES BACK

The Raptors, who host Shaquille O'Neal and the Miami Heat tonight at the Air Canada Centre, are 18-24, but sit only two games away from first in the Atlantic Division. Despite the fact that not one team in the Atlantic has a winning record, the winner of the Division gets an automatic pass into the post-season. And with Toronto 7-3 in its last 10 games, Marshall figures the Raptors may be the favourites in the East.

"We're definitely a team that's on the rise," he said. "And only for us to keep proving ourselves right and you guys wrong, we have to keep winning.

"If you look at the beginning of the year, a lot of you guys (in the media) probably didn't even think we'd be in the situation that we are right now. Especially after we went on that losing streak. I'm sure you didn't think we would be in the divisional race.

Marshall, who may play tonight after missing Sunday's game against Charlotte because of a sprained right wrist, acknowledged that getting past Shaq. Along with centres Rafael Araujo and Loren Woods, Marshall will be asked to try to contain the 325-pound monster of the court.

"How do you prepare to play him?" Raptors head coach Sam Mitchell said. "All you got to do is just go out there and play.

"We're not going to change everything that we've been doing against Miami, because the way we've been defending and the way we've been helping, I like that," Mitchell said of his team. "We're going to do the same things against Miami (that we've been doing) since after the New Year."

If there's any reason for optimism about tonight's game against the 30-13 Heat, it would be the result of Toronto sporting a better home record than Miami's road mark. However, the fact that the Heat lost to Philly on Monday night probably won't make the situation any easier for the Raps, as Shaq may be angry and ready for a huge game.

"We don't care about him being angry," Jalen Rose said. "He would have been angry if they had won. That's how it is. He's a competitor."


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