Health check

MIKE GANTER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 7:11 AM ET

Slumped over a plate of ribs, his first solid food in 21/2 days, a flu-weakened but improving Sam Mitchell wanted nothing to do with the daily media briefing that comes with the title of NBA coach.

A case could be made that Mitchell's health and the health of his team were following similar paths.

Both were on the rebound, the coach's personal health probably a little behind that of his improving team.

As this week began, his team not only was sick, it was teetering on the edge of comatose as it limped to the finish of a regular season with a playoff date already sewed up.

Now six days and a couple of wins after his Raptors hit rock bottom, the first of them the solid variety over Milwaukee, the second -- Friday's win over the visiting New Jersey Nets -- have put the Raptors back on the road to wellness.

Now it is Mitchell's turn, and based on the way he was attacking those ribs, recovery is not far off.

As for the health of his team in light of those two wins, though, Mitchell was in no mood to discuss.

Asked if he could get a proper gauge of his team based on wins over one team that was out of the playoff picture and the other who had already had their playoff last rites read, Mitchell turned slowly to his questioner and asked if he had been dropped on his head as a child.

In Mitchell's book, a win in the NBA is just that. The opponent doesn't matter and to question the validity of any win is tantamount to declaring oneself brain damaged.

Whatever.

Eventually, Mitchell acquiesced and explained his team's well-being and its playoff readiness was declared by the way it went at the Bucks and Nets defensively. Mitchell, like every other coach in the NBA, knows that a team going into the playoffs with problems on the defensive end is looking at a very short stay. Against Milwaukee, the Raptors were as energetic and communicative protecting their own basket as they have been all season. Against the Nets, after a poor first quarter, the Raptors adjusted and played three successive quarters of lock-down defence.

That more than anything had the Raptors coach feeling good about his team, but there still was the uneasiness of not knowing who that first-round playoff opponent would be.

With three games left in the season, the Raptors are looking at the possibility of facing any one of Orlando, Detroit or Cleveland. Heading into today's game in Detroit, the Raptors are in sixth based on the fact that they own the tie breaker with the Philadelphia 76ers thanks to a 3-1 edge in the head-to-head season series. That would get them a date with Orlando. A drop to seventh gets the ill-fated matchup with Detroit, while a longer shot, but by no means impossible scenario could have them catch and pass Washington, who are a game up on the Raptors for fifth and a date with the Cavaliers.

How that unfolds likely will come down to the final game of the schedule on Wednesday.


Videos

Photos