Reason to believe

MIKE ULMER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:06 AM ET

Reasons to go to last night's Raptors game against the Atlanta Hawks.

1. See if Salim Stoudamire looks like his cousin, Damon. Yes, yes he does.

2. Watch Chris Bosh continue to develop as the cornerstone of the Toronto franchise. Twenty-five points last night. Check.

3. Maybe, just maybe, get a hint of what is to come.

It took awhile, but fans with that agenda hit on all three elements during the Raptors' 113-111 defeat.

Yes defeat. It's not like they're going anywhere.

The Raptors are 20-37, the Hawks are 19-37 and wearing canary yellow uniforms that were two years old and before last night still hadn't produced a win. For both teams the playoffs are the tail lights that disappeared over the horizon in November.

But progress.There was a little. Charlie Villanueva accounted for 25 more points as well as 11 rebounds, but like everyone else he was lost in the dour moment. "It's definitely painful," he said, "but guys are definitely learning."

The most germane number was supplied at the gate.

The Raptors announced an attendance of 15,137.

In fact, only about 10,000-12,000 fans half-filled the ACC to welcome back the Raptors from a four-game trip that coincided spectacularly with their four-game losing streak.

There are extenuating circumstances, of course. The Hawks have some young talent. The Raps are just three games under .500 since starting 1-15, which is to say the hatch doors of the ship sealed perfectly after the water got in.

This year is about the evolution of Bosh into an Olympian, Mike James into a very wealthy free agent and Villanueva, Joey Graham and Jose Calderon into sophomores.

And boy, doesn't that make you want to sell a kid and drag whoever is left to a ball game, a mid-winter scrimmage with two teams going nowhere that for three quarters was as exciting as a wand search at Pearson.

And so the first thing new president and general manager Bryan Colangelo should have noticed wasn't what was happening on the floor but rather how many seats pointed up. It looks like he got here just in time.The building has never looked so empty for a Raptors game.

That's 15,137 tickets sold and while the accountants can marvel in a system in which people pay and don't come (it's a bit like a gym that way), empty seats aren't big on eating popcorn. As well, they are like flags signalling a discontent that takes years to ferment and nearly as long to dispel.

The Raptors are right now a place not to be seen, the antithesis of the cool, urban destination of even a couple of years ago.

This is different from how they fare in the standings. With a free-agent addition and the further maturation of the roster, the Raptors could be a playoff team next year.

Until then, there is only the future, and on the odd night, like last night, a vivid demonstration of what the fans will get when they come back.

The always-positive Morris Peterson, who tied the game with three free throws with a few seconds left in regulation, notices the changes.

"In the past we have had a lot more fans but I think if you look at the direction this team is going and the moves we are making, I'm pretty sure our attendance is going to go back up.

"Sooner or later, we're going to hit the right note."


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