Raptors coach Sam Mitchell is doing his best to guard against a pre-all-star break letdown.
The Raptors will begin all-star weekend after a game in New York tonight against the horrendous Knicks, a definite scary spot on the schedule. With players looking forward to some time off and the Knicks having lost 10 in a row, a loss really could damage the surging Raptors' mental state.
"We've just got to come play," Mitchell said. "They're getting ready for the break also. Not just us, the whole league. (Knicks coach) Larry Brown is going to have those guys ready to play. They're not going to quit. We understand that. We're the same team that was 1-15 at the beginning of the year. We don't take anything for granted or take anyone lightly or disrespect anyone."
Work Charlie work
Charlie Villanueva is making solid progress in his six games as a starting small forward, but Mitchell is trying not to let the rookie's head get too big.
Mitchell wasn't happy with Villanueva's work ethic in practice earlier this season and he rewarded him with a seat on the bench for his lack of effort. Mitchell certainly doesn't want to see that happen again with Villanueva on the rise.
"This young man has an unbelievable amount of talent," Mitchell said. "The thing we've got to do is continue to push him and he's got to push himself. This is a tough league and you don't become a really good player in this league without making some sacrifices and pushing yourself."
Mitchell called a post-up play for Villanueva with less than a minute left in a 98-94 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday and the New Yorker came up aces.
"Charlie has proven if you give him the ball in the right spots, he can do something with it," Mitchell said of Villanueva, who will play in the rookie-sophomore challenge this weekend in Houston. "I've got confidence (in him). I wouldn't put the ball in his hands if I didn't."
After the Raptors swept a pair of back-to-back games, Mitchell gave his team a rare day off yesterday.