Staying strong

STEVE BUFFERY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:57 AM ET

The Raptors reached a milestone against the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday night, but nobody's going to be presented with a plaque for this one.

In losing 105-98 to the toughest team in the East, the Raptors guaranteed themselves a losing record for the fourth consecutive season. With 17 games remaining, Toronto would have to win every game just to end the season at 40-42.

And for all intents and purposes, the Raptors are out of the playoffs. Not including last night's game they sat nine games behind eighth-place the Philadelphia 76ers for the final spot in the Eastern Conference. The last time Toronto made the playoffs was during the 2001-02 season, that also was the last time they finished the season above .500 (42-40).

Given all these rather grim statistics, one might expect the players to shift into a cruise control mode, perhaps with the exception of Mike James, who is playing for a new contract, and 10-day signee Andre Barrett, who is trying to earn a guaranteed contract in the NBA. Head coach Sam Mitchell, however, looked like he swallowed a can of sour olives when asked about the cruise control scenario.

"We got a good group of guys who like playing, they like each other and I would be really, really shocked if we had a letdown," he said. "I just think our guys are going to go out and compete.

"We don't have guys who are going to quit," Mitchell added. "That has been the thing with our team all year. Even when we were 1-15, our guys were trying."

The Raptors are 3-7 in their past ten games, but some of those losses have come against powerhouses like Detroit, New Jersey and Miami. Tonight at the ACC, the Raptors host Toronto native Jamaal Magloire and the Milwaukee Bucks (32-32).

Mitchell yesterday decided to throw a relatively easy practice, as the Raptors played back-to-back games on Tuesday and Wednesday and play again tonight.

For the most part, the players appreciated the rest.

"We had back-to-back games, we played well in Philly (on Tuesday) and I think we played well yesterday (against Detroit). They were just a better team," rookie Charlie Villanueva said. "We definitely needed a relaxed practice."

In fact, the practice was so relaxed, Mitchell spent time playing 3-on-3, with a group of players including Villanueva and centre Rafael Araujo.

The coach seemed to enjoy it, although later he claimed that it wasn't much fun.

"I can't take the beating anymore like I used to. I can't believe I used to actually get in the paint and bang with guys that size," he said. "The mind's willing but the body just won't allow you to do it.

"He's done," observed Villanueva. "He shouldn't even be out there."


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