Ford takes a test drive

DEAN McNULTY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:18 AM ET

Raptors coach Sam Mitchell would like nothing better than to not have to talk about whether T.J. Ford's ankle is better or Chris Bosh's knee has healed completely.

The third-year NBA coach, however, was at it again yesterday, explaining that while Ford did practice with the team at the Air Canada Centre, he wasn't yet ready to announce that Ford will be in the starting lineup tomorrow when the Washington Wizards come to town.

"He was a little rusty, but he looked all right. I think he was trying a little too hard," Mitchell said. "It's just nice to have him back."

Ford has been out since re-injuring his ankle against the Utah Jazz on Jan. 19.

In that time, backup point guard Jose Calderon has stepped up to play admirably in three wins prior to a loss in Indiana on Saturday.

And while Mitchell certainly had high praise for Calderon's efforts, he would like to see the team begin the second half of the schedule with all his starters out of the infirmary.

"I hope we can get healthy for the stretch run," he said. "Just getting (Ford) back is good. We put a lot of pressure on Jose.

"He was out there 40-plus minutes a game. I thought he handled himself unbelievably well."

STAY HEALTHY

Mitchell knows all too well, however, that in order for the Raptors to maintain their slim hold on first place in the less-than-stellar Atlantic Division, the team will have to stay healthy.

"For us to get where we want to go we need to be healthy," he said. "We need T.J. and we need Jose."

Mitchell said that it has been a juggling act for the coaching staff this season just trying to complete the lineup cards.

"We haven't had a situation yet this season where we had everybody in uniform," he said.

Now, he said, the team is as close as it has been to getting everybody healthy.

"If we can get T.J. as close as possible to 100%, where he can push the ball and get into the lane, that will help us in the stretch run," Mitchell said.

"We need to get T.J. playing the way he was on the last West Coast swing.

"And we need Jose to continue to play the way he has been playing."

With just three road games in the next 15 days, the Raptors also have the time to get in a lot of practice.

"It always helps to be a home," Mitchell said. "It's a comfort thing."


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