Birthday wishes

BILL HARRIS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:51 AM ET

Chris Bosh turned 21 yesterday. He now legally can drink alcohol anywhere in Canada or the United States. As the Raptors practised yesterday morning at the Air Canada Centre, Bosh was ... uh ... how do we put this?

"I'm a little under the weather," the Raptors sophomore forward said, wearily. "I'm ready for a nap."

Bosh had been the guest of honour at a surprise birthday party the night before, following the Raptors' loss to the Chicago Bulls.

"I just hung out with the family, had a party, it was really special," Bosh said. "I got a couple of gifts and they had a little video of people from high school and people from college, so it was cool."

So what do you get for the man who has everything?

"That right there, sentimental stuff," Bosh said.

But does Bosh really have everything? He's a rising talent and the cornerstone of the Raptors' future, but he has yet to play for a winning team in the pros.

"I'm going to enjoy being 21, but I hope it's better than 20," Bosh said. "We can win more games, maybe. That's what I'm hoping."

Tonight the Raptors will begin a five-game road trip when they take on the 76ers in Philadelphia. One might have thought the Raptors' ugly loss to the Bulls finally, mercifully, would put an end to playoff speculation, but again yesterday the Raptors were asked to ponder what kind of streak they'll have to put together to secure a post-season berth.

At 28-39 and with four teams to pass en route to the eighth seed in the East, the Raptors' so-called playoff drive has been reduced to a mathematical equation. While miracles occasionally do happen -- the Raptors produced one by going 12-2 down the stretch in 2002 -- it's significant that two of the Raptors' key players currently are nursing lower back injuries.

Bosh is one of them. Donyell Marshall is the other.

Marshall said yesterday it'll be a game-time decision as to whether he can play tonight.

"It feels a lot better than it did when it originally happened (on Wednesday)," Marshall said. "In the second quarter it started to get sore. At halftime we tried to work on it -- that's why I came out a little bit late. I went up to block Ben Gordon's shot and when we came down it just irritated it even more."

Bosh has played in the past two games after sitting out one night with a bruised back, but he hasn't been himself lately. He looks sore and tentative on the court, which he admitted was something of a surprise.

"People keep telling me I'm favouring it," Bosh said. "I didn't know I was looking like that. As far as pain goes, it's not there. I'm probably just being conscious of it. I have to make sure I get that out of my head.

"I had a joint problem (in his back) before, but that's behind me. I want to put this behind me, too."

Bosh and Raptors coach Sam Mitchell had a brief meeting on Wednesday -- after the game but before the party -- in which the coach told the player to suck it up.

"(Bosh) came into my office and I said, 'Young fella, this is part of the NBA,' " Mitchell said. "We all can play great when we feel great, but you have to learn to play when you're a little sore. I'm sure he's tentative about making certain moves. He took two nasty falls within a week. But he has to get past that mentally.

"You do have to remind yourself he only is in his second year. The tough thing is, he's one of our best players and we just need him every night."

Learning to play with pain is part of growing up.

So when Bosh looked in the mirror yesterday, did he see an adult staring back at him?

"I don't even think I looked in the mirror, honestly," said Bosh, who chuckled as his continued his recovery from a very late night. "I don't even want to see my face."

Ah, to be 21 again.


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