Raps slip on the ice

MIKE KOREEN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:32 AM ET

NEW YORK -- The Raptors, over the all-star break, will be thinking about a missed opportunity.

With the second-worst team in the NBA as their opponent, the Raptors failed to bury the ice-cold New York Knicks when they had a chance and lost a 98-96 heartbreaker last night at Madison Square Garden.

Jamal Crawford hit the deciding shot -- an 11-foot runner with three seconds left -- to break a 96-96 tie and the Knicks held on to end their 10-game losing streak. Seconds earlier, New York-born Raptors rookie Charlie Villanueva had tied it with a clutch three-pointer. Mike James missed a desperation three at the buzzer, officially ending the Raptors' three-game winning streak and putting in the books their first regulation-time loss in February.

"We definitely came out ready to play," Villanueva said of his team, which went up by 12 in an excellent first quarter.

"That first quarter was pretty productive and then we kind of let up. We kind of got a little bit too comfortable. They're hungry, they've got nothing to lose ... They wanted this game more than us."

Star forward Chris Bosh and Villanueva, who will play in the rookie-sophomore game tomorrow night, are off to all-star weekend in Houston with bitter tastes in their mouths. Villanueva, playing his pro first game at MSG, picked up two fouls in the first 18 seconds, but bounced back and almost was a hero. Bosh led the Raps with 25 points.

With a victory, the Raps could have matched their road win total (11) from last season and entered the all-star break five games back of the Philadelphia 76ers for the final playoff spot.

But they scored just 37 points in the second and third quarters combined after rattling off 32 in the first and stayed in foul trouble pretty much the entire game, especially down the stretch. The Knicks hit 29 of 34 free-throw shots and had 50 points in the paint.

"You just can't foul and put teams in the bonus early," coach Sam Mitchell said. "You've got to move your feet, play defence. Because when you need to be aggressive on defence and have some fouls to use, we can't take them because teams are already in the bonus."

The Raptors bench also didn't help, being outscored 26-13 by the Knicks reserves.

It was also the first time Knicks' Jalen Rose and Raptors' Antonio Davis played against their former teams since the trade for each other Feb. 3. Rose got the last laugh and his first win in a New York uniform. He made 11 free throws and finished with 17 points.

Maybe the guy who needs the break most is Raptors guard Morris Peterson, who scored zero points in a second half when his legs cramped up after a 19-point first half.

"His body is tired," Mitchell said. "We've been playing well up into this break, but we need this break. Mo is our only two-guard we've got with any size ... Everybody's worried about how many minutes I'm playing Chris. But I'm worried about how many minutes I'm playing Mo."

The Raptors return to action on Tuesday in Memphis against the Grizzlies.


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