Raps defying direction

BILL HARRIS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:17 AM ET

Reality sets in for NBA players after the trade deadline. Some are energized by the moves that were made. Some are discouraged by the moves that weren't. But the Raptors didn't fit either of those molds last night, as they produced a gutsy 106-102 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks before a sparse crowd of 15,833 at the Bradley Center.

The Raptors did not make a trade leading up to the deadline on Thursday, but after beating Vince Carter and the New Jersey Nets on Tuesday, they have won two road games in a row for the first time this season. What has changed?

"Confidence. Hustle. And just knowing we can play defence," said Raptors forward Chris Bosh, who was the best player on the court with a game-high 27 points. Bosh also went 11-for-12 from the free-throw line.

"We feel that we don't have anything to lose anymore," Bosh said. "If we go out and have each other's backs, what's the worst thing that can happen? That we lose a game when we go down fighting. That's way better than just laying over and waiting until the end of the season."

The Raptors made enough of their free-throws down the stretch -- just barely -- to keep the home side at bay.

"We normally make free-throws down the stretch," said relieved Raptors coach Sam Mitchell, whose club missed four from the line in the final minute. "But it's tough to win on the road."

The Bucks never led, but they cut what had been a 12-point deficit down to one in the fourth quarter.

The Raptors improved to 23-32, while the Bucks fell to 22-31.

Maurice Williams led the Bucks with 21 points.

The free-throw discrepancy was alarming from the Raptors' perspective for most of the game, before the Bucks started fouling intentionally late in the fourth quarter. The Bucks wound up going to the line 33 times, to 23 times for the Raptors.

Mitchell was asked if he could explain the difference without getting himself fined by the league.

"No," he said. "But I told our guys at halftime: 'Don't stop being aggressive.' "

With the Raptors inactive on the trade front this week, swingman Jalen Rose -- who had 16 points last night -- still is trying to figure out what it all means.

"The critics are going to point to the fact that the Atlantic Division is the most winnable division in the league, since it's considered the worst, and every team did a move but one," Rose said. "And the one we did (the Carter deal in mid-December), obviously, we probably didn't get fair value in return.

"So that's going to be well-discussed. Now it puts more pressure on the players, because you have to play, regardless of what happens roster-wise."

The Raptors still have plenty of veterans on the team, Rose included. So are they rebuilding or not?

"People talk about rebuilding and rebuilding is fine," Rose said. "I'm with that. But I'm more with reloading.

"When you reload, you actually have some success going and you add to that. Rebuilding means you are going to scrap everything and start all over. It's hard to scrap everything and start all over when you have a bunch of guys who already have been in the playoffs.

"This is a weird sort of rebuilding."

The Raptors will play host to the Los Angeles Lakers tomorrow afternoon at the Air Canada Centre.

bill.harris@tor.sunpub.com

Boxscore: Page S18


Videos

Photos