Early hole getting tougher to climb

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:56 AM ET

Lose by a little? Or lose by a lot? It's often tough to judge what's easier to take. Either way, it's a lousy way to start a basketball season.

For the struggling Raptors, it's a no-brainer. At 0-and-6, and with a roster still cutting its NBA teeth, they were able to take away so much more from yesterday's heart-breaking overtime loss to Seattle than if it was just another blowout.

The problem becomes, however, just a little bit more difficult to solve every time this team loses another game. The hole becomes deeper, the pressure to break through just that little bit more intense.

In case anyone is wondering at this early date, the record for consecutive losses from the start of a season is 17, a mark shared by the L.A. Clippers (1999) and Miami Heat (1988). The Raptors have a long way to go before that ugly prospect is on their radar screen, but unless they surprise somebody, it will be coming at them sooner than they think.

It can be helpful down the road for the team to know they came back from 18 points down to Seattle with 11 minutes to go in the fourth quarter, and that they had the jam to tie the game at the final buzzer.

But, judging the records of the teams they will play between now and the end of November, it's unlikely they'll find a softer spot than this one in their schedule any time soon.

They've now started the season with six losses. By the end of the month, they will have played 10 more, six of them on the road.

They have a home-and-home with the Philadelphia 76ers this week. Friday they're in Boston, Sunday back home against Miami. Then they head out on a west-coast swing to Phoenix, Sacramento, Los Angeles (Clippers) and Golden State. They finish November with home games against Dallas and Memphis.

There isn't a weak team in that bunch and the Raptors' only hope of getting their first win in that stretch is to catch somebody on a very bad night.

That's why yesterday's home game against a struggling Seattle team was such an opportunity.

"We had a chance to win the game. Our guys battled back, played hard and we tied the game on a play that might work once a year," said coach Sam Mitchell.

Down by three points with 2.7 seconds left, Mike James was fouled by Ray Allen. James made the first shot, then missed the second one on purpose, hoping for an offensive rebound. Charlie Villanueva got that, but missed the layup. Chris Bosh snatched that rebound and stuffed it home at the buzzer.

In overtime, the Sonics closed out the game in the final minute.

"We lost the game because they shot 49 free throws," said Mitchell. "It's hard to recover from that."

The SuperSonics made 41 of those free throws. At the other end, Toronto made just 18 free throws on 26 attempts, most of them in the second half. In the first half, the Raptors did not even go to the foul line until the final minute of the second quarter.

"That was the stat of the game," Bosh said. "Right now, it's always one stat that kills us. Either rebounding or free throws. We haven't yet had a game when we limited the other team's free throws and rebounded well ourselves.

"We feel that we can play with anybody in the league as long as we play the right way," Bosh said. "Play hard, rebound the basketball, share it and get points in the paint and at the free throw line."

Until that happens, this team will not win. And the more they lose, the tougher it will be to get all those good things to come together.

"I feel better about tonight, especially that we really competed," said Morris Peterson, who made his first appearance of the year in the starting lineup. "We didn't back down. We showed a lot of promise and we showed a lot of fight. Thats what the fans want to see. We're going to turn the corner.

"I think the fourth quarter today was a big stepping stone for us."

Stepping stone? Or just one more cursed rock for them to trip over? It will all become clear soon enough.


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