Whew! Bosh finds his smile

MIKE GANTER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:07 AM ET

LOS ANGELES -- What was looking like a bleak Christmas for the Raptors, brightened just a tad Monday night.

Staring at a six-game losing streak, which undoubtedly would have left the holiday turkey tasting dry and flavourless, the Christmas cheer anything but cheerful, the Raptors caught a few breaks, made a few of their own and finally held a lead until the final buzzer in a 97-75 win over the undermanned Los Angeles Clippers.

It's obviously premature to declare the Raptors slump over, but with the win, they have at least ended the downward spiral the team has been in for much of December.

Better still, the team's must-have performer was back playing at his customary must-have level.

Chris Bosh has been a shadow of the player who rampaged through the November schedule. His numbers are down in December, but worse than that, the life had disappeared from his game. That MVP talk that seemed plausible when it first came up in November was bordering on laughable for anyone who witnessed his rapid decline.

He has been heavy-footed and lethargic, nothing like the live wire who was attacking the rim at will and refusing to allow defenders to impede his path.

There have been signs fatigue had taken over in back-to-back losses that began this trip.

He refused to talk to reporters after an embarrassing loss in Oklahoma City and then was lifeless in his attempt at optimism in San Antonio after a better game, but one that still resulted in another loss.

Then there was Monday's post-game talk after the win. Bosh engaged the people around him, laughing at himself with others as his 31-point night was analyzed in detail.

This was the Bosh of old, the Bosh who doesn't question when his next shot is going in. The Bosh who expects to drain the 18-footer or even the unlikely three-pointers he hoists.

"He has been working hard and we keep telling him that if he keeps working hard at the defensive end of the floor, eventually he's just too good a basketball player to stay cold for a long period of time," Raptors head coach Jay Triano said.

"He did a great job and he stayed with it. His defence was extremely solid and if you can rebound and defend, you're going to be a good player in this league for a long time to come. He's such a talent that the scoring will come."

The scoring came Monday night, and as much as the defensive principals that are starting to become ingrained in each and every Raptor, Bosh's pure joy in the aftermath of that game is reason for hope for this team.

They remain six games under .500 with three more always-tough west coast games to come before they return home, but the signs are there that the tide is turning.

"It's a start," Bosh said resisting the urge to proclaim all is well again. "I'm just happy to get a win. First, we had to get a win and now we have a foundation. We're playing good defence and we're starting to be consistent. Once our offence catches up, we'll be a tough team."

Not to be outdone, centre Jermaine O'Neal put together solid back-to-back games for the first time since a five-game stretch that came to an abrupt end when his surgically repaired knee once again became a problem after a nasty fall in an early November game.

O'NEIL LOOKING GOOD

Bosh has noticed the bounce back in O'Neal's legs and with the two all-stars on the roster getting back to their all-star form, optimism on the team is high again.

"Defensively over the past eight or nine game I think we have played very, very well," O'Neal said. "Now we just have to control the boards a little bit better and if we can continue to play the defence we have been playing, then we should be able to turn this thing around fairly quickly."

It was only one win, but it did wonders for the mood in the Raptors locker room.


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