The blunt truth: Raptors not good

FRANK ZICARELLI -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:07 AM ET

For the Raptors, the regular season has been reduced to its final four.

While there are those who hold out the wildest of hope that somehow the team can summon the qualities successful sides need to make a meaningful run in the post-season, these Raptors seem incapable of playing playoff-style basketball.

Never have been, never will, at least not as currently constituted.

That is why the four-game tuneup for the post-season will represent, in essence, an exercise in futility.

Even if the Raptors had more time to iron out the many kinks to their game and even if the likes of Andrea Bargnani and Jason Kapono were able to regain their shooting form, the Raptors are not equipped to beat any opponent in a seven-game series.

And that includes an Orlando Magic team that is thin on playoff experience.

About all that is left to salvage in the final four games is a degree of confidence, an air among the Raptors that has been fleeting all season and one that basically has disappeared during their alarming losing streak.

Teams just don't turn on some magical switch and suddenly become defensively oriented, nor do they suddenly begin to attack the basket when all they have done for the entire season is settle for perimeter jump shots.

Even had the Raptors been flirting with a 50-win season, as opposed to a .500 campaign, the alarm bells still would be present, the warts exposed for all to see.

This is a time when good teams tighten rotations and reinforce responsibilities, but the blunt truth about these Raptors is that they are not good and they haven't been good from training camp in Europe.

The team underestimated Jorge Garbajosa's presence, while Bargnani, on far too many nights, has been overwhelmed.

Chris Bosh began the year hurt and when he started to find his comfort zone, he got hurt again.

When you watch Bosh close out the season, you see a three-time all-star who is physically and mentally tired.

T.J. Ford was playing lights out until Al Horford's flagrant foul in mid-December.

When he was asked to come off the bench at a time when Jose Calderon had emerged as a starter, one of the team's biggest areas of strength became a distraction.

Not all has been lost, but not much has been gained, either.

Teams such as the Milwaukee Bucks, who staggered into Toronto following an overtime home defeat to Boston, have nothing to play for as they play out the string.

The Raptors' opponent tomorrow, the New Jersey Nets, is clinging to the thinnest of playoff hopes.

Detroit, Miami and Chicago -- Toronto's season-ending foe -- have nothing on the line.

The Raptors can make all the shots they want and make enough stops in crunch time to help restore some faith, but it's a classic case of too little, too late.

Even as Charlie Villanueva was torching and mocking his former team in a first-quarter shooting clinic, there was no resistance, yet again revealing the Raptors' soft underbelly.

The team's nosedive, ironically enough, began when the Raptors stood at a season-high 32-24 following a win in Minnesota on Feb. 27.

Since then, the Raptors are 7-15, beating twice a Heat team that is, in all intents and purposes, a glorified D-League team, Seattle, New York and Charlotte, each lottery-bound.

You can add the Bucks to the list after the Raptors ended a three-game losing streak with their 111-93 win.

The only team in recent weeks Toronto has been able to beat that had a winning record was Detroit, which came to town last month on the heels of an emotional win over the Phoenix Suns.

So much work to do in the off-season, so little to be gained in the coming weeks.

You never want to go into a spring playoff on a losing note, but at the same time one can't lose sight of the plight that has been the Raptors and their makeup.

Fans, undoubtedly, will get excited when the playoffs tip off next weekend, but beware. The experience will be short-lived as the Raptors' deficiencies will be even more exposed.


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