Mitchell's men take a cushion

MIKE GANTER -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:51 AM ET

LOS ANGELES -- At this point it's all about minimizing the damage.

A five-game trip which began last night with a loss in Los Angeles marks the single biggest challenge the Raptors have faced this year.

They are without their top scorer, rebounder and unequivocal leader as Chris Bosh waits for his sore right knee to respond to treatment.

There is not much working in the Raptors' favour right now. The teams they face on this trip -- the Lakers, Golden State Warriors, Denver Nuggets, Sacramento Kings, and Utah Jazz -- have a combined home record of 115-40 this season. In franchise history the Raptors' road record against these five teams now is 15-41.

About the only positive spin one could put on a situation like this is the Raptors have built themselves a bit of a cushion to withstand these potentially tough times.

The Raptors are solidly in fifth place in the Eastern Conference. Their record of 34-29 leaves them three games ahead of the sixth-place Washington Wizards.

But it's what is behind Washington that has to be of some concern to the Raptors these days. That would be the Philadelphia 76ers, who are 7-3 in their past 10 games, and these days are as good as any other team in the East not playing in Boston.

The Sixers, who the Raptors handled easily this season taking three of the four game season series, are playing their best basketball of the year and are just 11/2 games behind the Wizards in seventh.

Raptors head coach Sam Mitchell has had them on his radar for the past few weeks. He has been telling anyone willing to listen that the Raptors were fortunate to come out of the season series with Philadelphia with a 3-1 record, even if the one loss was one of the real stinkers of the Raptors' season.

Fortunately for Mitchell and his club, the Sixers are looking at a pretty demanding schedule the rest of the way. Of their 18 remaining games, nine are against Detroit, San Antonio, Denver, Boston, Cleveland and Orlando.

The Raptors, though, have to worry about themselves first and foremost and they have their own schedule problems.

With 19 games left to play, the Raptors need wins and no one knows that more than general manager Bryan Colangelo.

"The problem with what's remaining of the schedule is we have to find a way to win a couple of games here that looking at the schedule you can say we're not favoured to win," Colangelo said following a practice Monday at the Student Activities Center gym at UCLA. "We've lost to too many opponents, especially recently after (winning) five of six and feeling pretty good about ourselves."

Sure, there are games down at the bottom of the Raptors schedule -- a stretch that includes Charlotte twice, Atlanta, New Jersey twice and Milwaukee over six games beginning March 31 -- that would appear to be the great equalizer to the monster trip facing the Raptors presently but Colangelo already has factored all that in and has determined his club is going to need wins right now as well.

"It's a difficult trip," Colangelo said. "There's no arguing how difficult the West is right now and some of these teams are playing their best basketball, but once again, it's an unpredictable game and unpredictable schedule.

"Right now it's not about holding onto five, it's about trying to get back to four or three," he said. "You do what you can to win these games."


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