Vince eyes a deaf ear

STEVE BUFFERY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:08 AM ET

INDIANAPOLIS -- Vince Carter is about as popular in Toronto these days as termites.

But guess what? The man once affectionately known as Air Canada, doesn't much care.

Carter's new team, the New Jersey Nets, are in the middle of a playoff race and Carter is concerned little that his reception tomorrow night at the Air Canada Centre -- his first appearance in Toronto since his trade to the swamp on Dec. 17 -- likely will be a nasty one.

"If we weren't playing for anything, maybe it would mean more," he said, following Jersey's 90-86 loss to the Indiana Pacers here last night at Conseco Fieldhouse.

"With four games left, and we're playing for a playoff position, there's no time to worry about it."

Most basketball fans north of the border are not pulling for Carter and the Nets to overtake Philadelphia or Cleveland for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

By forcing Raptors management to trade him this season, Carter is enjoying a playoff race while Toronto fans endure yet another mediocre season.

"It's fun," Carter said. "This is definitely a great position to be in, almost the best situation to be in."

Carter picked up 22 points in a losing cause last night, but demonstrated a resiliency that rarely was seen during his Toronto days, bouncing up off the court after twice being hammered on hard fouls.

Arguably the most popular athlete in Toronto for much of the past decade, Carter forever cast himself as a villain in a town he once owned by requesting a trade, and then admitting after he was dealt that he did not always give 100% effort while donning a Raptors jersey.

With the stench of those comments lingering like a busted septic tank, Raptors fans have waited for the once revered star to return to the ACC and that time is tomorrow night.

So what does Carter expect when he jogs on to the court?

"Who knows?" he said, with a laugh. "Probably thousands of cheers and a lot of singing."

In 21 games with the Raps this year, Carter seemed uninterested, scoring 20 points or better only six times, never reaching the 30 mark. With Jersey, he has collected 30 points or better 21 times.

To many Raptors fans, that's rubbing their noses in it. But the perennial all-star doesn't see it that way, insisting that his new-found production and joy in playing comes from being healthy and on a team with a second superstar -- point guard Jason Kidd.

"Since I've been down here, I don't really have to carry a lot of the load," he said. "The body has the chance to rest. It's a little easier."

"He's been unbelievable," Jersey coach Lawrence Frank said. "He has been more than advertised."


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