Raps playing for pride

STEVE BUFFERY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:49 AM ET

The Raptors have six more chances to show their fans that they care about more than just collecting a paycheque.

"It's hard not playing for something," point guard Mike James said, following Toronto's 95-89 loss to the Hornets in Oklahoma City on Friday night. "The only motivation we have is our pride."

Whether pride will be enough to snap a seven-game losing streak is uncertain. Of the final six games on the schedule, only two are against teams not in the playoff hunt -- this afternoon at the Air Canada Centre against the Charlotte Bobcats and next Wednesday in Orlando against the Magic.

James said the final week and a half of the regular season will demonstrate what the Raptors are made of, adding that they have to find a way to remain hungry for victory despite being out of the playoff picture and not having the services of all-star Chris Bosh, who is out for the season with a sprained left thumb.

"These young players have to take these last few games, not as a joke, but with the understanding that they have to keep working hard and try to plant a seed for next season," said James, who has averaged 29.2 points per game in his past five. "That's the hard thing, being able to keep your focus and coming out day in and day out. But we still have a job to do, and we have to be professional about it in finishing up the season."

Then there's the matter of Sam Mitchell's job. While the second-year head coach seems to have a good relationship with new general manager Bryan Colangelo, he would certainly feel better about his future with the organization if the team managed to snap its losing streak and win a couple of games before the season is over.

Mitchell, who has one more year on his contract, recently received a vote of confidence from Colangelo, who has maintained that he believes his coach is doing a good job with the tools at hand. Indeed, with injuries climbing, Mitchell has been forced to put together a starting lineup in the past couple of games that has including two rookies in Joey Graham and Charlie Villanueva and second-year forward Pape Sow, who is still very much a raw project.

The remaining two starters, veterans James and Morris Peterson, are finding it much more difficult to find room to operate with the opposition keying on them instead of Bosh, especially James, who is having a break-out season.

"There ain't no more open looks for me," James said. "Now I have to find other ways to keep making plays. It's just a level of respect that I rightfully have in the league now, and rightfully deserve. Now coaches have teams that want to key on me, especially on the offensive end. So I just have to continue to work hard on my game, keep refining it, and whatever jab they throw I have to be able to counter it."


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