Starting to make sense

FRANK ZICARELLI, TORONTO SUN

, Last Updated: 8:59 AM ET

CHARLOTTE -- It was a night when the Raptors basically started from scratch.

With the regular season whittled down to its final eight, the hope is that last night represents a start of something good.

As Toronto's allegedly deep bench went silent into the Charlotte night, it was up to the team's starters to step up as a potentially significant stretch to the late season began with a 104-100 win over the host Bobcats.

With another winnable game looming in Atlanta tomorrow and the Bobcats paying a visit to the Air Canada Centre on Friday, the Raptors appear poised to solidify their playoff standing and seeding.

All this can be done if the Raptors are able to bring the same kind of urgency they showed in stretches last night for longer periods of time.

What became painfully obvious is that the starters will be asked to play extended minutes.

Sam Mitchell went with T.J. Ford, Anthony Parker, Jamario Moon, Chris Bosh and Rasho Nesterovic and rode them hard, essentially eschewing a bench that gave the head coach all of seven points.

Moon was replaced by Jason Kapono in Sunday's loss to New Orleans and responded to last night's challenge by actually getting to the foul line.

Kapono, meanwhile, never got off the bench.

Despite Bosh's 32 points, including 17 in the opening 12 minutes, and each starter reaching double digits in scoring, Mitchell was impressed with his team's defence, especially in the second half when the high-flying Bobcats were held to 35% shooting.

"I always remember what Pat Riley taught me,'' Mitchell said of the legendary coach.

"When things aren't working, it's not your scheme.

"You're just not doing it (defending) with the emotion, pride and energy you need to do it."

With Bosh and Nesterovic anchoring the back end, the Raptors became less vulnerable off the dribble and began to defend Charlotte's pick and roll with better purpose and results.

Nesterovic's presence is starting to rub off on Bosh, who has become more vocal on defence.

"It's easy for me to play with him,'' Nesterovic said of the three-time all-star.

"And I'm showing him something.''

The Raptors were something to behold when the game began. They made 17 shots in succession, a stretch that turned into a clinic.

Then came the stench of poor shots, miscommunication on defence and getting exposed off the dribble.

The change was dramatic as it was shocking, but then came a half-time gathering inside the locker room, a yelling and screaming session the players took to heart.

The game turned in the third quarter as the Raptors outscored the home side 21-10.

"It's always important to stay focused when playing the second game of a back to back,'' Ford said.

"To have all five starters reach double figures, that's hard. We just have to keep it up."

Mitchell did use both Ford and Jose Calderon as Charlotte went with two point guards on the floor.

Ford and Calderon managed the game well, but it was Bosh who stepped up big.

When they visited Charlotte earlier in March, the Raptors got pounded on the boards.

ATONEMENT

Bosh missed the game because of an injury, but he helped the Raptors atone for their previous shortcomings.

"I always want to impose my will (on offence), but defensively I wanted to do it as well," Bosh said. "I saw how we struggled and how bad we played on the boards."


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