Raptors take step backward

STEVE BUFFERY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:50 AM ET

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Sure, there is some young talent on the squad and general manager Bryan Colangelo will have a high draft pick and some cap room this summer.

But, no matter what kind of positive spin the organization puts on it, this season represents a significant step backward for the sad-sack Raptors.

The Raptors currently are 26-49 with seven games left, including tonight's match at the Ford Center in Oklahoma City against the New Orleans Hornets (36-38).

Toronto would have to win all seven to match the number of wins from the previous two seasons (33-49).

Given the Raptors' six-game losing streak and the absence of all-star forward Chris Bosh for the remainder of the season, it's almost certain they will finish with the fourth-worse record in franchise history (not including the abbreviated 1998-99 campaign).

Still, head coach Sam Mitchell insists, pretty well after every game, that he sees a light at the end of the tunnel, that his young players are learning the ropes in the NBA, and that eventually the likes of Joey Graham, Pape Sow and Jose Calderon will adapt to the league.

"They're playing harder than they ever thought they would have to play, and they've had to learn more than they ever thought they'd have to learn about basketball," Mitchell said this week.

Mitchell also believes that his players are buying into the club's defensive scheme. Unfortunately for the second-year head coach, most of his players seem more interested in padding their offensive stats than defending as the season winds down.

The Raptors have averaged a whopping 119 points against in their past six games and most of the intensity seems to be on the offensive side of the court.

Another sign that the players are not really interested in defending is the number of fouls the team has committed. On Wednesday night in Indianapolis, the Pacers went to the free-throw line 45 times. The Boston Celtics went to the line 53 times against the Raps on Tuesday night.

"I think guys are working hard, guys are trying, but mentally we have to do the little things on defence. We're reaching too much," said Morris Peterson, who fouled out in Wednesday night's 111-103 loss to the Pacers in Indianapolis. "Everybody is making fouls we shouldn't make."


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