Raps have it easy

MIKE KOREEN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 11:02 AM ET

If the Raptors expect to continue their ascent from the basement, now is the time to make some hay.

The Raptors, who remain a minnow in the NBA landscape, have some other lightweights on their schedule in the next few weeks. In fact, nine of their next 10 games are against teams with losing records.

Included in that stretch are three teams the Raptors (8-22) already have beaten this season -- a road game against the Atlanta Hawks Tuesday and home games against the Orlando Magic and Houston Rockets Wednesday and Friday.

Also on the January docket are two home games against some fellow NBA bottom-feeders -- the Charlotte Bobcats Jan. 11 and the New York Knicks Jan. 15.

Of course, the Raptors will face some obstacles. The Raptors do not have much time to rest as they play their next five games in seven days and 10 in the next 18. And with rookie rotation regulars Joey Graham (left knee) and Jose Calderon (right foot) nursing injuries, coach Sam Mitchell may have to be creative with his lineup.

But, overall, there are way more good signs for this team than there were one month ago when its record was 1-15. Things can keep getting better if rookie forward Charlie Villanueva can keep up his pace from Friday when he scored 25 points and pulled down 10 rebounds in a 99-97 win over the Indiana Pacers.

Villanueva has been a streaky player this season. One day, he looks like a world-beater and the next day he looks like a raw rookie.

"The thing for Charlie is he has to bring energy every night," Mitchell said. "I told him he's got to get more consistent. He's got to stop having one good game, a great game like he had against Indiana and now we go to Atlanta and he disappears. He's got to start putting together four, five six good games in a row. But that's the toughest thing for a rookie: consistency."

Villanueva couldn't have said it better.

"Some nights offensively you don't have things going, so I have to find it some other ways," he said. "On the defensive end, you try to make it click. It's tough, it's tough. You've just got to bring it every day, you've got to be focused every day, you've got to be mentally tough."

The Raptors will practise today in Atlanta to get ready for their third game of the season against the Hawks tomorrow.


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