Raptors take that first step

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:43 AM ET

With teams packed ahead of them thicker than a farmers' protest convoy on the 401, it's high time for the Raptors to make their move.

The first of a three-game homestand was a logical starting point last night and Toronto obliged with a near-complete effort to tame the Orlando Magic 106-96.

Having lost three of four on their recent road swing, and down to only 21 games to pass four teams, the Raptors did not trail all evening. A 13-0 Magic run, which earlier this year often would have caused Toronto to crack, failed to usurp the Raptors' lead as the fourth quarter began.

"We can't win every game, but we have to try," said forward Donyell Marshall, one of seven Raptors in double figures on the night.

"We didn't come off the road the way we wanted to. We felt like we let (an under-manned Dallas Mavericks' team) embarrass us. Now it's time to take advantage of our schedule."

Chris Bosh had 15 points and 15 rebounds, with Morris Peterson and Rafer Alston netting 16 points each to lead Toronto. Peterson, the newly crowned NBA iron man, saw his 258-game consecutive streak flash before his eyes in the fourth quarter when a flagrant foul by rookie Dwight Howard of the Magic sent him crashing to the hardwood, his back absorbing the worst of the impact.

"I feel like I've played all those games," Peterson joked after emerging from the treatment room. Howard, last year's No. 1 pick in the NBA, had 20 rebounds, while Steve Francis led all scorers with 27 points. But it was the Raptors' staying power that delighted coach Sam Mitchell the most.

"When (Orlando) did make runs and we needed baskets, the guys took the initiative and turned the corner," Mitchell said.

Peterson dusted himself off to sink both foul shots and Matt Bonner followed with a three-pointer to derail the Magic express.

Toronto produced a 9-0 run to end the first half, which also featured contributions from Rafael Araujo in an extended role as starter and Bonner with some big plays off the bench.

DAUNTING TASK

However, climbing out of the hole this team has dug itself with a 3-11 December remains a daunting task. The Raps are still nine games under .500.

"Time is definitely running out," guard Rafer Alston said before the game. "We're in every game until that last four or five minutes when it's gut check time. We have to find a way ... to get that (gut) checked.

"We seem to let up and the other teams pour it on. If we keep the pressure on the other team, maybe they'll fold."

Jalen Rose said his Raptors shouldn't get too carried away with their success last evening, for just that reason.

"I'm disappointed in the way we finished the game," said Rose, who scored 13 points. "They were ripe having played the night before and instead of us jumping on them and having the killer instinct, we got a little selfish in the last five minutes (with the lead slipping to seven with 2:08 to play)."

But he was pleased with the overall result.

"It is impressive the kind of balance we had today," he said. "We'll probably need a lot more of those the rest of the year."


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