Raps' work ethic pays off

FRANK ZICARELLI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:48 AM ET

For one Magic moment, the Raptors had the look of a team capable of making stops down the stretch and knocking down key jumpers.

For one Magical afternoon, the Raptors looked like a team that was mentally tough.

In what is surely the team's biggest win of the season, the Raptors executed at both ends in crunch time, were sparked by Roko Ukic's energy and rode Anthony Parker's hot shooting hand en route to beating the Orlando Magic 108-102.

It was a quality win against a quality opponent, an encouraging sign that perhaps the Raptors have turned an important corner.

"We have to bring the same intensity, the same focus on defence and keep moving the ball on the offensive end,'' Chris Bosh said.

"We have to have the belief in our hearts that we can play with the best in the NBA."

There's plenty of work that awaits the Raptors, but in winning back-to-back games against Houston and Orlando, Toronto showed a work ethic that often has gone missing, an edge to its game that hasn't surfaced.

Both Jose Calderon (hamstring) and Jermaine O'Neal (knee) were no-gos, but several players stepped up.

The win, while deserving, does little to scuttle the rumours that continue to circulate and percolate.

But as the league waits to see what move general manager Bryan Colangelo makes, the team's two-game winning streak has at least raised the stock of some players.

Parker came through with a much-needed breakout game, scoring a season-high 26 points.

Joey Graham showed a toughness by banging with Dwight Howard, an assignment he wanted and was granted when head coach Jay Triano went small in the fourth quarter.

Without the injured Calderon, Ukic and Will Solomon combined for 38 points and 11 assists.

On an afternoon of many big shots, none was bigger than Ukic's running one-hander in the lane that sealed the deal with 38.1 ticks remaining.

"I've been playing with much more confidence,'' Ukic said. "It's a big win for us because now we can go on the road with a winning streak."

The Raptors have given up seven double-digit leads this season, second-highest in the NBA, and seemed poised to blow their eighth.

But instead of wilt, the team willed its way to win in the game's final 12 minutes.

"It's a sign of us maturing a little bit,'' Triano said.

"Maybe it was a little bit of a character-builder. The last two games at home we've been playing with a lot of confidence and I think it all stems from the intensity in which we attempt to defend."

Down the stretch, the Raptors were forcing misses and controlling the glass.

With Bosh making his free throws and Ukic producing the game-clinching basket, the Raptors showed flashes of being a good team.

"The biggest difference was the energy level of the two teams,'' Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy said. "Their energy was a lot higher than ours."

Jameer Nelson, whose play at the point was instrumental in Orlando's post-season series win over the Raptors last spring, agreed with his coach.

"It wasn't the same intensity level we've been playing with all year,'' he said. "But you have to give those guys credit.

"They made plays when they had to make plays and we didn't."


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