Mitchell testy with Raps facing test

STEVE BUFFERY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:38 AM ET

PHOENIX -- Sam Mitchell's personality yesterday was about as full as life as the outlining desert in these parts.

Mitchell dismissed a suggestion that his squad is in a good place to start a four-game West Coast swing because they are on a three-game winning streak.

He also chided a couple of hacks who floated the theory that Steve Nash's winning two MVP awards is a surprise given his Canadian background and lack of size.

"Nobody was surprised when Magic (Johnson) won or (Michael) Jordan won, so why is it a surprise that it's Steve Nash?" Mitchell said. "That's your shortcomings."

Still, one can't really blame the Raptors head coach for being a bit testy. He is still without the services of frontcourt star Chris Bosh, who has made the trip, but is unlikely to play this week as the Raptors touch down for a game tonight in Phoenix, followed by games in Los Angeles against the Clippers on Wednesday, Portland on Friday and Seattle on Saturday.

Bosh is out with a bruise on his left knee.

The Raptors are also without backup point guard Jose Calderon, who left the game on Sunday night at the Air Canada Centre against Golden State with a lower torso injury, though the Spanish standout may join the team later this week.

But there is also some good news on the horizon.

Shooting guard Fred Jones, who was placed on the inactive list with a left calf contusion on Dec. 17, took part in a full practice at the US Airways Center yesterday and is expected to play tonight against the high-flying Suns, a team that is gunning for a franchise-record 15th win in a row.

Calderon's absence will be felt. One of the top backups at the No. 1 spot in the NBA, he is averaging 6.4 points and 3.1 assists. Taking up the slack with Calderon out of the lineup will be veteran point guard Darrick Martin, who has been more a de facto assistant coach this season than player. Martin, 35, has played in all of three games this season but is pumped for a chance to contribute on the court. Perhaps a bit too pumped.

"The guys threatened me a little bit when we were going through the walk-through," Martin said yesterday following a team practice in Phoenix. "They were like, 'look old man, save your energy for tomorrow.' But I love to play this game. It's very sacred, very precious to me. And any time I can be on the floor in an NBA arena is something I always cherish."

Mitchell will also ask starting point guard T.J. Ford to give him a little more in terms of total minutes tonight.

PLAYING WELL

As for the 10-14 Raptors' chances against the red-hot Suns, who are 17-6, Phoenix guard Steve Nash said his team will lose if it takes Toronto lightly.

"No question. I think Toronto's playing well and they have a lot of emerging young players that are getting better and better," he said. "And after playing seven games in 10 days and having this streak, we came out and had a horrible practice (yesterday), so we better come focussed."

The game tonight also marks the homecoming for Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo to Phoenix, where he made his mark as one of the top executives in the NBA.

"I think it's exciting that Toronto has a young and exciting team and, as a Canadian, I'm rooting for them," Nash said. "I want them to do well, and I think it's great that Bryan's been able to create a new culture with the team and I think they're on the right track."


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