Raptors get serious

Chris Bosh and the Toronto Raptors play host to the Cleveland Cavaliers tonight. (Sun Media/David...

Chris Bosh and the Toronto Raptors play host to the Cleveland Cavaliers tonight. (Sun Media/David Lucas)

MIKE GANTER -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:02 AM ET

The real push for the Raptors begins tonight.

Their 29-24 record has put the Raps in the enviable position of being chased -- not the chaser -- in the Atlantic Division standings. But that doesn't mean they won't be hunting down conference rivals such as Washington, Detroit, and the Cleveland Cavaliers, whom they play to host tonight, looking to improve on their current No. 4 seeding.

"Personally, I'd rather be the hunter than the 'huntee'," Raps guard Anthony Parker said yesterday. "I think we just need to keep the mindset that it's us against the world and we're still going out and trying to prove ourselves."

In Parker's mind, the Raptors have played well of late, but have yet to get the respect teams in similar positions have received. He believes he and his teammates should use that to their advantage.

"I know for a fact we don't get the kind of respect a Cleveland gets, so from that aspect, I think everybody thinks Cleveland is the better team. So, we're going out every night trying to get that respect," Parker said.

Darrick Martin -- who has become more coach than player with T.J. Ford and Jose Calderon excelling as they are at the point guard position -- believes that, as well, as the Raptors have played, they're going to have to turn it up another notch just to maintain their present standing.

"We need to pick up our intensity level," Martin said of the final 29 games. "It's not that we didn't play hard before or other teams didn't play hard and didn't want to win, but at the end of the all-star break you can really see the light at the end of the tunnel. You know what you're playing for. You are trying to get to that pot of gold and so everybody is playing that much harder and has picked up their level of play."

FULL 48 MINUTES

Martin has no doubt that that is exactly what the Raptors will do down the stretch. All they have to do is take the things they've been doing so well in stretches over the first 53 games and do it for a full 48 minutes a night.

"It's all about mental toughness at this point," Martin said. "We play hard, so we have to be able to execute mentally for 48 minutes. If we're supposed to be on this defensive assignment, we have to do it for 48 minutes. If we are supposed to run this offensive play, we have to know what we're doing for 48 minutes."

Martin's confidence in this club stems from the fact that in his 12 years with six different teams, this is only the third year in which he has felt he has been on a club that had 15 guys all playing for the same thing.

His first experience with that feeling came in his two-year stint with Sacramento beginning in 1999. He felt it again it 2003/04 with Minnesota. All three of those clubs played in the post-season, the Timberwolves going all the way to the Conference Finals. He's feeling it again right now.

"That's what a team is," Martin said. "We work for each other. We don't work for ourselves. That's rare."


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