Raptors fade away

BILL HARRIS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:11 AM ET

It was the fresh start for which Jalen Rose had been longing, but hardly the result for which the Raptors had been hoping. Rose, the veteran forward who was unhappy when he was yanked from the starting lineup in late December, but excelled in 16 games coming off the bench, was back among the starting five last night.

Rose replaced the struggling Eric Williams, but on this night the move -- as was the case with each subsequent move the Raptors made -- paid zero dividends. The Raptors suffered arguably their worst loss of the season, falling 101-94 to the expansion Charlotte Bobcats before a crowd of 15,986 at the Coliseum.

The Bobcats had lost 10 games in a row and had played the night before in Chicago, so they should have been exhausted. True, the Bobcats always play hard, but there really was no excuse for the Raptors to allow Charlotte to shoot 47.1% from the field.

"The things you (media) write about us, calling us dogs, those labels are going to stick," Raptors coach Sam Mitchell said. "I'm going to defend my guys, but they have to give me some ammunition, so when someone insults them, I can stand up and say 'no' without looking like a fool."

Last Sunday in Toronto, the Raptors needed a furious fourth-quarter comeback to beat the Bobcats 103-92. But it was Charlotte that dominated the fourth quarter last night, starting it with a 14-2 run.

In the final few minutes the Raptors were so error-prone, it almost was comical. They cut the deficit from nine points down to three, but committed several unforced turnovers and watched helplessly as Milt Palacio missed two key free-throws.

The Raptors dropped to 18-26 with the loss, while the Bobcats improved to 9-31. The Raps are 3-20 on the road this season.

"What have we done to earn any credibility or respect?" Mitchell said. "We get killed every day in our papers. We get killed around the league, and the reason we get killed is performances like this."

MOPETE 0-FOR-8

Rafer Alston led the Raptors with 20 points, while Rose had 18 points, six rebounds and five assists. Morris Peterson went scoreless on 0-for-8 shooting in 22 minutes.

Top man for the Bobcats was Kareem Rush with 21 points, with Primoz Brezec adding 17 points and 12 rebounds.

Williams, who came over from the New Jersey Nets in the Vince Carter deal, supposedly had been inserted into the starting lineup because of his defensive abilities. But the Raptors starters hadn't been stopping anyone in recent games, and with Williams not producing any offensive numbers, either, Mitchell decided a change was warranted.

"Like I said all along, it wasn't my call, but I was going to try to be a pro about it," Rose said. "Like everyone else, I'm going to be judged by how many games we win, and this was a disappointing game."

That's something on which Rose and Mitchell were in total agreement.

"We had a stretch of games at home in which we fought hard to give ourselves a chance to even sniff the playoffs," Mitchell said. "If we lose this game and we play hard, fine. But we don't play hard on every single possession. We let the mental part of basketball beat us."

The Raptors will play host to Canadian Steve Nash and the high-flying Phoenix Suns tomorrow afternoon at the Air Canada Centre (4:30 p.m.).


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