Raps pushing for home court

STEVE BUFFERY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:22 AM ET

The Raptors could clinch the Atlantic Division title and a playoff spot as early as this week, but head coach Sam Mitchell plans to keep the pedal to the metal right through to the end of the regular season.

And if that means giving standouts Chris Bosh and T.J. Ford major minutes, so be it.

Mitchell wants homecourt advantage for the first round of the playoffs, which is a hardly a surprise given that the Raptors are 26-10 at home this season and 14-22 on the road. Winning the division guarantees a playoff spot, but not homecourt advantage. The Raptors have to win the division and have a better record than their opponent to get homecourt advantage in the best-of-seven opening round.

Mitchell also wants his team firing on all cylinders heading into the post-season, and not gearing down by resting key players or taking it easy in games after they've already qualified for the post-season.

"We're not good enough to do that," Mitchell said yesterday, following practice at the Air Canada Centre. "We're the same team that went to Boston and lost to Boston (on Monday). So we have to play smart, and play together every minute, or it's tough for us to win.

"We have to drill that into the players' minds," the coach added. "Because anytime you have some success, sometimes you have a tendency to, not let up, but to relax. And we're not good enough to do that. There's only two teams that have proven to be good enough to do that this year and that's been Dallas and Phoenix. Everybody else has to work like a dog to get everything they've got."

Mitchell is certainly aware that in order to have any chance of advancing into the playoffs, the Raptors will need the likes of Bosh and Ford rested and ready to go. But at this point, homecourt advantage is the priority.

"If you've got an opportunity to get it, you need to go after it," he said. "Homecourt doesn't guarantee you winning (the series) but it helps knowing that you're going to have those first two games at home in the playoffs. And for a team that hasn't been in the playoffs (since 2002), I think that will be important."

Needless to say, the mood at practice yesterday was considerably upbeat, given the Raptors' dramatic 123-118 overtime win in Washington on Friday night, when Morris Peterson hit a 31-foot circus shot at the buzzer to send the game into extra time.

Mitchell had kind words for Peterson, who nailed the shot despite being glued to the bench for most of the night. Peterson's minutes and numbers are down from last year, but he has stayed ready to play and has complained very little, which the coach appreciates.

"I love Mo," Mitchell said. "Mo has been a fighter for me, he's played hard since I've been here. It was tough not playing him (Friday) night. But we've talked about it. I tell him all the time, carry yourself as a professional. When you get on the court, whether it's 10 minutes or 30 minutes, you play hard. And always put it back on the coach to have to answer the question why you didn't play. Make the reporters come to me and ask, 'Why didn't Mo play?'"


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