Raptors on the rebound

ADAM WAZNY -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 7:37 AM ET

Quick! List the starting five on the Toronto Raptors.

Outside of naming Chris Bosh and Jalen Rose that request may be more difficult than a two-hand reverse jam for most, whether they're National Basketball Association fans or not.

The team has undergone its share of struggles and is lately making more headlines for what it does off the court than for what it does on it.

But despite that -- and the 90-156 record over the past three seasons (all non-playoff years) -- Canada's lone NBA franchise is feeling pretty good about itself these days.

A fresh, new season unspoiled by mounting losses tends to do that.

"It's no secret, we've had a couple of tough years from a team stand point, but at the same time, the Raptors have arrived," said Tom Anselmi, executive vice president and chief operating officer at Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment Ltd.

The Raptors and the Portland Trail Blazers play an exhibition game at MTS Centre tonight.

"This isn't an expansion team anymore."

The Raptors are heading into their 10th season and are making their second trip to Winnipeg.

The club played back at the Winnipeg Arena in 1995 and faced the Vancouver Grizzlies in the first-ever Naismith Cup. Toronto won that game 98-77.

The Grizzlies are long gone now, leaving the Raptors to carry the Red and White torch as the lone Canadian NBA team.

There was the natural rivalry with Vancouver, sure, but Anselmi thinks the clubs were actually a benefit to each other in selling the NBA to hockey-crazy Canada.

"But as time goes on we're starting to be able to handle things on our own," Anselmi said.

"It's a unique opportunity that we have now, and we're going to take advantage of it."

Tonight's game is a result of that, but how the game of basketball is received also has something to do with the Raptors playing here.

Winnipeg has a rich basketball history, what with the universities cranking out quality teams annually and the rapid rise of youth basketball.

Heck, let's even throw the International Basketball Association in there. The Thunder and Cyclone deserve some props, too.

A crowd of well over 10,000 is expected at the MTS Centre, a lofty number that doesn't surprise Anselmi.

"Winnipeg, and all of Manitoba, is a great part of the country for basketball," he said, referring to the suggestion that if people aren't playing hockey or curling in the winter, they're on the hardwood in a gym somewhere.

"The city has a great infrastructure for the game here."

Tip-off is at 7 p.m.


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