Raps near 6th, Nets deep-sixed

FRANK ZICARELLI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 7:20 AM ET

The Nets result was encouraging, but there still is plenty of work ahead as the Raptors lock in on the post-season.

For starters, the Raptors have to find a way to start games with a greater sense of urgency and purpose.

When the playoffs tip off next weekend, likely in Orlando or Detroit, the Raptors can't afford to be in an early deficit.

Against the New Jersey Nets, whose playoff fate was made official, the Raptors allowed the perimeter-happy visitors to get a lot of open looks, opportunities they cashed in on to lead by as many as 14 points.

But with no inside presence to speak of, it was just a matter of time before shots that once dropped would come up short or hit back iron.

In addition, the Nets never showed a willingness to attack the paint or get to the foul line, contributing factors that allowed the Raptors to take control en route to a 113-85 win.

It took public enemy No. 1, aka Vince Carter, the better part of 21/2 quarters to get to the line -- and even then it was a dubious call with the Raptors playing solid defence on Carter's drive.

The Raptors still can't run shooters off the three-point line, but they at least became more committed as the evening unfolded, downright stifling in the third quarter when the game swung in Toronto's favour.

Toronto's once moribund bench came to life, a hopeful note as the Raptors try to tap into their depth, led by Carlos Delfino's shooting and Jose Calderon's calmness.

Andrea Bargnani, who appears more comfortable as a sixth man, even battled under the boards, keeping possessions alive and getting to the foul line as Raptors head coach Sam Mitchell starts to settle in on an eight-man rotation.

But Toronto's win, coupled with its victory over the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday, must be put into context.

Neither team is very good and the Nets entered the night clinging to the faintest of playoffs hopes, needing a win and an Atlanta loss to stave off elimination.

Not that such matters mean much to a Raptors team desperately trying to secure the No. 6 seed and a first-round date with the Magic, but their win eliminated the Nets from the post-season chase.

INTENSITY

And as the Raptors get ready for their final three games of the regular season, the same intensity they showed in the second half last night must be carried into the first quarter.

There was even a hard foul, a rarity with these Raptors, when Chris Bosh refused to give Richard Jefferson an open lane to the basket, an act of aggression that was appropriate.

"We just know we have to play defence,'' Bosh said. "We have to play tight. We know that offensively we are going to make shots, but we have to make stops."

With Philly losing, the Raptors move into that attractive No. 6 seed because they hold the tiebreaker over the 76ers.

"That's the best position for us to be in,'' T.J. Ford said of the sixth slot. "Detroit has the experience and they know what it takes. You would rather go against somebody with the same amount of playoff experience as yourself.

"Chris put up big numbers against Orlando. If you look at the things that he's been able to do against Orlando, I would take that every time."

There's still the chance the Raptors can run the table and catch Washington for the No. 5 seed and a first-round date with LeBron James and the Cavs.

The Wizards play host to Philly tonight.

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REPLAY

DELFINO ON FIRE

Carlos Delfino finally broke out of his scoring slump, leading all scorers with 24 points to post his first 20-point game since Feb. 25 and fifth of the season. He entered the night having scored a total of 20 points in his last five games.

POINT TAKEN

With T.J. Ford settled in as the starter and Jose Calderon finding his niche with the second unit, the Raptors' point guard situation is in good hands heading into the post-season. For the second game in a row, neither turned the ball over. As a combo, Ford and Calderon have recorded 37 assists in wins over Milwaukee and New Jersey.

SECOND TO NONE

The Raptors produced 67 second-half points to tie a season high, while shooting a blistering 57% from the field.


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