Raptors all together now

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:06 AM ET

With a few seconds left and victory all but secured, an ever-helpful Raptors public relations person stopped by the media table.

"If we win, we're 16-16 since the Carter trade," he said. Now, a cynic might have been a little skeptical that, given the rough ride general manager Rob Babcock has been taking the past few weeks, this was an attempt to spin a little positive public opinion.

Maybe yes, but facts are facts. The Raptors, who dug in and played some gritty defence when it counted down the stretch, beat the Kobe Bryants 108-102. Toronto is still a flawed basketball team, but nobody can say the Raps are not better than they were when they were dragging Carter around the court like an anchor. And their record proves it.

You can argue all day and all night that Babcock should have gotten more for their pouting superstar but the simple truth is they didn't because nobody offered anything better. Carter's dismissal to New Jersey was addition by subtraction.

That cleansing of negative vibes in the locker-room was one thing. Now, with the passing of the trade deadline and the false alarm about massive changes, the players have accepted their collective fate.

LEVEL OF PLAY

"We have 26 games to go and we have a goal to make the playoffs, to make a run and generally turn up our level of play," said Mo Peterson, who personally has dialed it up several notches.

Yesterday, he was handed a second-half assignment to guard Bryant, who had scored 21 first-half points for the Los Angeles Lakers. In the second half, with the game hanging in the balance, Bryant was held to 10 points. It wasn't all because of Peterson but he set the tone.

"We waited until the half to put Mo on him because we didn't want Mo to get 42 minutes of Kobe. That would be too much," coach Sam Mitchell said.

"To me, it was a team effort," Peterson said. "Every time he got past me, the big guys did a great job of helping out. All I could do is make it as tough as I could. Do that and you've done your job."

Bryant had scored 13 in the first quarter and looked like he was off to one of his typical monster games.

"After the first, I said, 'Oh, no. Not another 40-point night,' " Peterson said. "It's just about taking pride and not letting him have his way. We made some huge plays when it counted, when the game was on the line.

"We don't have anything to lose," Peterson said. "We're not in a playoff spot, we're starting to come together as a team. We know there aren't going to be any more trades. This is the team we have and it's a lot better like that.

"Guys don't have to worry about not being here tomorrow. We had a lot of guys who thought they were on the trading block. Every day, you would hear a different name.

"Now we have the guys who we know are going to be here for the rest of the year. This what what we're rolling with. No more distractions, no excuses."

The Raps now have three wins in a line since the all-star break and two since the trade deadline. They're heading out on the road for a stern test with games in San Antonio, Memphis, New Orleans and Dallas over the next seven days. They should win in New Orleans but anything beyond that is a bonus. After this trip, they will have 10 road games and 12 home games remaining. They should be able to hold their own at home as they have the past couple of months but they will need to be stronger on the road, especially against their own Atlantic Division opponents.

Currently eight games below break even, they need to be above .500 or thereabouts to have any chance at a playoff spot. Sure it's a tall order but hardly impossible.

"It's just the way it is," Peterson said. "We have to play better and we can play better. It's still within our grasp."

Makes you wonder just how much better this team might have been if Carter had been sent packing last summer, when he started bleating about being traded.


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