Raps still in game

STEVE BUFFERY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:48 AM ET

The only nets the Raptors will have to worry about at the end of April are the kind that fish golf balls out of the water.

Mathematically, the Raptors still are in the playoff hunt. Realistically, however, it's all over but the shooting.

With 25 games left in the regular season, the Raptors find themselves 8 1/2 games out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Milwaukee Bucks currently sit eighth overall and would qualify last for the playoffs if the regular season ended today. The Raptors have their work cut out for them if they hope to catch 29-29 Milwaukee.

But even tougher than that would be leapfrogging over the two teams -- Chicago, Boston -- that sit ninth and 10th, respectively. As well, the Orlando Magic are currently tied with the Raps at 20-37 (prior to last night's games). It's quite a hill to climb, but, still, nobody's throwing in the towel quite yet.

"There's still a chance we can sneak in there," point guard Mike James said yesterday following practice at the Air Canada Centre. "You never know. We could win five, six games in a row and whoever's in eighth could lose five, six games in a row."

James is obviously a glass is half-full type of guy.

Still, the Raptors do have a favourable schedule as the regular season unwinds, with 14 games remaining at home. And the team has played decently since beginning the season at 1-15.

On the other hand, Toronto has lost five in a row and faces an explosive New Jersey Nets team this afternoon at the Continental Airlines Arena.

During the all-star break two weeks ago, star forward Chris Bosh suggested the Raptors had to finish 20-9 to have any chance of making the playoffs. Given that logic, they would now have to go 20-5. That's not a molehill, that's a mountain.

Head coach Sam Mitchell refused to talk numbers or specific goals yesterday, only that he wants his team to finish the season on a roll.

"I think it's realistic for us to just continue to try to get better, and I think we have gotten better," he said. "If you look at how competitive we are, we're right there. But obviously we've got to have some more of our guys step up and play better."

James, for one, said having the playoffs as a goal always is something to strive for, even though it may not be realistic.

"It keeps you staying focused, it keeps you hungry and keeps you aggressive," he said.

Bosh will be formally named to the USA team for this summer's world championships in Japan and the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The third-year forward, who was named to his first all-star team this year, can hardly wait to get together with Team USA.

"I'm prepared," Bosh said. "I've looked at the (summer) schedule and it's brutal. It's two-a-days for two weeks and competition pretty much every day, and being away, overseas on the road. It's a definite sacrifice. But if we make that sacrifice and win, I'm sure it will be worth it."


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