Raptors won't get comfy

Kris Humphries might see his minutes increase after the Raptors lost Andrea Bargnani to an...

Kris Humphries might see his minutes increase after the Raptors lost Andrea Bargnani to an appendectomy. (Sun Media/Craig Robertson)

STEVE BUFFERY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:50 AM ET

Raptors head coach Sam Mitchell is like a disgruntled interior decorator. He hates talking about cushions.

That is, he hates discussing the six-game cushion his team enjoys on top of the Atlantic Division, a cushion that may come in handy as the Raptors battle for a playoff spot with 14 regular-season games left.

Still, Mitchell winced yesterday following practice when the topic came up. The third-year coach is convinced that dwelling on its lead will only hurt the club's chances.

"If you would stop asking, then I wouldn't even have to talk about it. I only talk about it because you guys ask me," Mitchell said. "I couldn't tell you how many games ahead we are."

Mitchell wants his club to bear down against the Denver Nuggest tonight the way it did on Wednesday night in a 92-85 victory over the Orlando Magic, a win that materialized despite the absence of three key players, rookie forward Andrea Bargnani, who had his appendix removed Wednesday morning, starting shooting guard Anthony Parker (sprained right ankle) and backup point guard Jose Calderon (sprained left ankle). Calderon took part in a team scrimmage yesterday and may play tonight, while Parker worked out on his own.

BIG ON THE BOARDS

"We got 55 rebounds (Wednesday) night. And you're talking about a team that's not a great rebounding team. So I don't think we played like we had a cushion," the coach said. "We were hungry. They had full strength, we had three of our main guys out. You're not going to win a game like that unless you're ready to play, and play with a lot of intensity."

Mitchell may shake up his starting lineup against the explosive Nuggets, who rank third in the NBA in points per game (105).

Mitchell is thinking of starting the quicker, smaller, Juan Dixon, in place of Morris Peterson at the shooting guard slot, alongside T.J. Ford. But Mitchell knows the Raptors can't expect to run against the Nuggets all night and win.

"We've got to play it at our pace," he said. "We have to pick our spots. If we get the opportunity to run and get some layups we'll take them. But we don't want to run for 48 minutes."

Bench strength is one advantage the Raps have over the Nuggets. The coach has been harping on his lesser-used players this season to be ready to play. And with the club besieged with injuries, guys like Kris Humphries and Joey Graham are getting that chance.

"Guys complain, 'I want to play more, I want to play more.' But it seems like as soon as you start to complain about it, something happens and the minutes come," Mitchell said. "So you've got to be ready to play and if you're not ready to take advantage of the opportunity, then not only are you hurting yourself, you're hurting the team.


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