Playoffs? Raps gunning for home-court

STEVE BUFFERY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:45 AM ET

There is a refreshing wind blowing through the Raptors practice gym these days, and not just because someone left a window open.

A few short weeks ago, the Raptors were reeling from four consecutive losses and there were whispers that head coach Sam Mitchell was getting ready to walk Bryan Colangelo's plank.

Now the talk around Raptorland is of becoming a .500 team and making the playoffs.

"Oh yeah. You have to see light at the end of the tunnel," said all-star forward Chris Bosh . "You have to be positive all the time, but in order to do that we have to take it one game at a time. We can't look past anybody. But when the opportunity comes (for a win) we can't let it slip through our fingers."

There was a time when the P-word was just not used in around the Raptors, and for good reason. It's been four full seasons since the club, now 19-21 with its 101-85 win over Sacramento on Wednesday night, last made the playoffs.And not since 2004 has this team had a .500 record after Jan. 1.

But winning six of their past eight games, including a one-point loss to NBA powerhouse Dallas on Jan.14, has the Toronto side revitalized and thinking post-season.

"Every day. Every day," said Bosh, when asked how often he thinks about qualifying for the playoffs. "I've been thinking about it for four years. Ever since the season started, we've been talking about it.

MEANINGFUL GAMES

"And not only do we want to make the playoffs, we want to have home-court advantage. That's one of the main things. It's good to go (to the playoffs), but we want to have four games scheduled at the Air Canada Centre. We're playing for a lot right now. All these games are meaningful to us."

The Raptors are leading the weak Atlantic Division, but would have to finish with the fourth-best record (or better) in the Eastern Conference to get home-court advantage. Currently, they are seventh-best. It's a tall order, but Bosh, who is averaging team bests of 21.5 points and 11.4 rebounds, is optimistic.

"Everybody is jelling pretty fast," Bosh said. "I didn't know how long it would take, but it's still a surprise to be almost .500 midway through the season. That was kind of the big issue around here (early in the season), 'Are we going to get together fast enough to make a run?'. But everybody believed it and so far we've been coming together pretty good."

Since opening the season with just two wins in 10 games, the Raptors have gone 17-13. They are 11-6 at home, and play their next four games at the ACC.

Surprisingly, it's defence that is propelling the Raptors towards the .500 mark. The talk early in the season was of running and gunning and blowing the opposition out of the water. Lately, they have become one of the more responsible defensive teams in the NBA, allowing just 88.7 points per game over the past six.

Mitchell has been banging his head against the wall for two seasons to try to get his troops to defend. They finally seem to be getting it.

"We've changed a lot of things and tried to simplify things to make it easier," said Mitchell of his defensive concepts. "The main thing is just communicating -- talking and communicating with each other. If you do that, it makes defence easier."


Videos

Photos