Mitchell has playoff itch

STEVE SIMMONS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:35 AM ET

The year was 1995: The last time Sam Mitchell found himself in the second round of the NBA playoffs.

That was twelve years and three teams ago -- a season before the Raptors had even played a game.

"It feels like yesterday," Mitchell said. "You don't forget that. When you go so far with a group of people, you become life long friends. I love those guys. That's the thing I try and tell these guys ...

"To be one of the last teams playing, that's special."

This is Sam Mitchell's 18th season in the NBA. He hung around for 13 years on marginal talent and a whole lot of heart. This is his fifth year coaching.

Only twice in 18 seasons -- both times with the Indiana Pacers, both trips to the Eastern Conference final -- has he ventured beyond the first round of the playoffs.

Eleven times he has been in the playoffs, nine times he has gone out in the first round, including his past eight playoff appearances. A dismal eight wins and 26 losses over the past eight playoff series. Twenty-eight wins, 42 losses in his playoff career. Not necessarily encouraging.

But now it's different. Now it's his time, his show, his team. The time to define himself in his league, build a reputation that is beginning to grow, time to be noticed.

Mitchell will tell you that this is all old, that he has been around forever, but the truth is, this is all pretty new to him. New to be the coaching face of a team that won its division, won home-court advantage, put up its first banner last night, has some built-in expectations, not to mention a contract that expires when this season eventually does.

Over three seasons in Toronto, he almost has been fired, almost fired himself with his wandering mouth, stumbled, fallen, had his coaching questioned, his face on dart boards, gotten up.

Now comes a different kind of exposure, a different kind of pressure. Only he says he doesn't see it that way.

"I've been coaching for my life since I've been here, for my career," Mitchell said. "So what, you're going to put more pressure on me now? You're going to add to the countdown (to be fired) when we came off the West Coast trip. Or the second year, when we started 1-and-15. What else are you going to do to me that I haven't withstood?

"I still brush my teeth and my teeth haven't fallen out. I get up in the morning and shower and shave and I didn't let myself go. I didn't lose my hair. And I still manage to dress fairly decent. What else are you going to do to me?

"You talk about pressure. We made the playoffs. We had to make the playoffs. We won the division when no one thought we could win our division. We got home-court (advantage) when no one thought we could home court.

"So now what are you going to do to me? Put superficial pressure on me? I keep telling you guys, I put pressure on myself because I want to win. What's more pressure? My job? My career? Seriously. You guys know. You've been around this team the past three years since I've been there. You know my ups and downs and the troubles I've been in. You know I've gotten into a little trouble sometimes, trying to be cute or smart. But you guys know. What else you going to add?"

If we thought we knew Mitchell yesterday, we will learn more tomorrow and the day after that. Playoffs don't hide a lot. Playoffs put everyone under the microscope. Playoffs reveal more than we knew before.

"I want to win," he said. "This is what I do. This is my livelihood."

FIRST-ROUND MATCHUPS

EASTERN CONFERENCE

No. 1 Detroit Pistons vs. No. 8 Orlando Magic

No. 2 Cleveland Cavaliers vs. No. 7 Washington Wizards

No. 3 Toronto Raptors vs. No. 6 New Jersey Nets

No. 4 Miami Heat vs. No. 5 Chicago Bulls

WESTERN CONFERENCE

No. 1 Dallas Mavericks vs. No. 8 Golden State Warriors

No. 2 Phoenix Suns vs. No. 7 Los Angeles Lakers

No. 3 San Antonio Spurs vs. No. 6 Denver Nuggets

No. 4 Utah Jazz vs. No. 5 Houston Rockets


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