How low will Raps go?

STEVE BUFFERY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 7:52 PM ET

Raptors general manager Bryan Colangelo recently cut short a scouting trip in Europe to return to Toronto, and not because he enjoys battling rush hour traffic during snowstorms.

Colangelo is deeply concerned about the way the Raptors are playing and didn't feel comfortable being away while his team struggled.

The 35-35 Raptors have lost two straight and eight of their past 10 and are in danger of dropping below the .500 mark (they play host to the veteran Detroit Pistons tomorrow night) for first time since Nov. 24, when they fell to 6-7.

"I would say concerned is the best way to describe it," Colangelo said from his Toronto office yesterday. "I think everybody is doing a bit of soul-searching and trying to get back on track and pick up some momentum going into the playoffs."

Ah, the playoffs. One of the Raptors' goals this season was to improve on their playoff performance from last season, when they lost in the opening round in six games to the New Jersey Nets. But the way the Eastern Conference standings are setting up, getting past the opening round is going to be an even taller order for the Raptors this season, given their current position in the standings.

It's almost certain that the Raptors will not finish in the top four in the Eastern Conference or secure home-court advantage.

Before last night, the Raptors were seeded sixth in the East and most likely will face the Orlando Magic in the opening round, on the road. The Magic hold a 1-2 series advantage over the Raptors this season. If not Orlando, the Raptors probably would face the Cleveland Cavaliers, also opening on the road, and are 1-3 against the LeBron James-led Cavs.

And now they have the red-hot Philadelphia 76ers on their tail. The Raptors and 76ers are both 35-35 (prior to last night's action) and while the R aptors hold a 3-1 series edge, the 76ers are a team on a major roll, having won eight of their past 10 and could pass Toronto for sixth. Both teams have 12 games remaining, though the Raptors enjoy a better schedule, facing only three teams above .500, with seven of the 12 at home, while Philadelphia faces six opponents with a winning record and six games at home. If the Raptors were passed by the 76ers and dropped to seventh, they would almost certainly open up the playoffs against the Pistons -- the team with the second-best record (49-20) in the NBA.

As for moving up, the Raptors are only a game and a half behind Washington, but the Wizards, winners of three straight, are set to get star guard Gilbert Arenas back any day and are primed to make a move in the standings. Arenas as been out since undergoing knee surgery on Nov. 21.

"This is where you find out what we're made of," said Colangelo, adding that he won't use long-term injuries this season to Chris Bosh and T.J. Ford as excuses.

"All in all, do we look at our record and say 'given all our circumstances, are we content?' No," Colangelo said. "You can always do better.

"I always expect to win games," the GM added. "I think we have the players that have proven that they can perform. But it's about maximizing the performance of all the individuals. We've had too many situations where players have been good for a period of games and have not performed for a period of games. We have to find a way (correct that)."


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