Raptors deliver more of the same

FRANK ZICARELLI, TORONTO SUN

, Last Updated: 10:26 AM ET

The month of December began with a loss to the Denver Nuggets and it concludes with a similar ending.

Along the way, the Raptors fired head coach Sam Mitchell and now it's just a matter of time before another shoe drops, likely a major trade.

These days, the only thing dropping is the Raptors' record and the players' heads following yet another disappointment.

Rather than end the year with a bang, the Raptors closed out 2008 with a whimper, succumbing to the Nuggets 114-107 on a night when the home side was minus two starters in the wake of injuries -- Jermaine O'Neal (knee) and Jason Kapono (quad).

The fact the Raptors hung around, despite the injuries, is of little significance.

The fact Andrea Bargnani reached the 20-point plateau for only the third time this season, and first in more than a month, is of little relevance.

The Raptors can't defend when stops are necessary, can't control the boards when they do force a miss, and can't make enough shots when a basket is required.

The fact they continue to earn moral victories amid the losing is inconsequential.

"We've had stretches where I think we've shown that we're a pretty good basketball club,'' interim head coach Jay Triano in what many would perceive as a frustrated coach stretching the truth.

"When we can put it together for 48 minutes, we'll be pretty darn good."

The Raptors have lost eight of their past 11 games and it figures to get worse with visits by Houston and Orlando in store.

When they visited the Mile High City earlier in the month, the Nuggets blew out the Raptors to the tune of 132-93.

It wasn't as ugly in the return affair, but the end result was the same nonetheless.

This time, the Raptors couldn't keep their man in front of them, one of the hallmarks of solid defence.

Penetration forced help, which meant plenty of easy and uncontested baskets by the visitors.

For the night, the Nuggets scored 50 points in the paint.

With Denver leading 101-98, Chris Bosh heaved a three-pointer that hit back iron.

Nene then scored following an offensive rebound when no Raptor boxed out Denver's centre.

Another Bosh miss was followed by a Chauncey Billups three-pointer and the game was essentially over.

Everything seems to be going wrong for the Raptors these days.

It will never happen given their zeal for making money, but one day the folks who run Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. must realize they are destroying any momentum by airing shameless corporate promos instead of getting the fans engaged.

Bad enough the referees weren't doing the Raptors any favours, and the look on Jose Calderon's face after he picked up his third foul in the second quarter said a lot, but when the home side would make a run leading into a timeout, corporate spots were blared on the overhead screen or some inane on-court promotion was taking place.

Home court, afterall, has been a non-factor for the Raptors, who are 5-9 at the ACC this season.

"We can compete against any team,'' Calderon said. "We just need to get a win."

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REPLAY

BEHIND THE MIKE

Raptors assistant coach Mike Evans was back in his customary spot on the team's bench. Evans missed the team's past three games, away contests in Sacramento, Portland and Oakland against Golden State, following the death of a family member. A one-time NBA player, Evans coached the Denver Nuggets on an interim basis following Dan Issel's dismissal in 2001.

MELO FELLOW

Given his Syracuse roots, Carmelo Anthony is as popular as ever. During the pre-game intro, Denver's star small forward was given a warm applause by the ACC faithful.

UP AND ADAMS

To round out their 12-man active roster, the Raptors summoned little-used swingman Hassan Adams from the inactive list. The team had a roster spot in the wake of Jermaine O'Neal's knee injury.


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