Men back at work

STEVE BUFFERY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:39 AM ET

MEMPHIS -- Raptors head coach Sam Mitchell planned to run the rust out of his players last night at the FedEx Forum.

Yesterday's late practice in Memphis marked the first gathering of the Raptors since the team's loss against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden last Wednesday.

A few of the players travelled to Houston for the NBA all-star game festivities on the weekend, while others went home or to a vacation spot.

Mitchell went home to Atlanta but found himself stranded in the Olympic city yesterday after his flight to Memphis was cancelled. Instead of waiting around at the airport, however, the team's head coach rented a car and drove to Memphis, along with team scout Mike Evans. He arrived for the last 15 minutes of practice.

"It's normally a seven-hour drive and we made it in five," Mitchell said, waving aside suggestions that he drove like a maniac.

"I wasn't driving. It was Mike Evans," he said, with a laugh.

Also missing yesterday's practice was forward Eric Williams, who has asked to be traded. Williams reportedly spent the all-star break on the Caribbean island of Aruba and was connecting through Newark and reportedly his flight was cancelled. In any event, the players were put through their paces by the team's assistants.

BIG GAME

The Raptors (20-33) will have their hands full tonight against the Memphis Grizzlies (29-23), but all-star forward Chris Bosh said the team has set a goal for the second half of the season to finish 20-9 and try to make a run for a playoff spot in the mediocre Eastern Conference.

"With the way we've been playing lately, everybody's getting more confidence," Bosh said. "We're just trying to play team-orientated basketball. We know that it's not going to be easy trying to build this back up, but we're working, everybody from the front office to the court is working and we're really excited about how things are going."

After starting the season 1-15, the Raptors are one game above .500 (19-18).

Mitchell wouldn't confirm that 20-9 is the team's stated goal, but he expects his squad to finish the season on a strong note.

"I like my group of guys," he said. "When we were 1-15, I know you thought I was pulling your leg. But I like these guys. I like being around them, I like coaching them. I like the way the guys are on the court. I like them in the locker room. I like how they are off the court. They play hard, they try to do what we ask them to do. They like each other and I really feel like we're starting to build a team. People say chemistry is over-rated. But I don't think so."

"We were on the road the other day and I saw three-four guys get in a cab together, and I haven't seen that before, going to dinner together," Mitchell added. "All the good teams do that."


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