Raps holding out hope

LANCE HORNBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:17 AM ET

Hang around the Raptors locker room this week and you'll hear a lot of serious talk about 1911.

Not that the players suddenly have taken a deep-thinking historical perspective on the year Ronald Reagan was born, or that mail service began and when Denmark abolished the death penalty. What that number means to the players is their new target of 19 wins and 11 losses in the final 30 games, which they pray would squeeze them in to the NBA playoffs.

While this current six-game losing streak, capped by Saturday's odious 78-70 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, hardly inspires confidence they can attain such a goal, this year's NBA East is very forgiving.

"We looked at the schedule and if we go 19-11, then we have a really good chance of making it," centre Jake Voskuhl said. "That's our goal, but we just can't let losses stack up. It depends on us coming together and stringing two, three, four wins, then maybe one loss or two, then get three (or) four more wins."

The conference is so jumbled (five games separate six teams in range of eighth spot) that 37 or 38 wins could wind up as the magic number. The Atlanta Hawks made it with 37 last season.

But the Raps can't just keep talking a good game. They need to realize their post all-star break opportunities, which includes a five-game March homestand and lots of dates with equally struggling teams.

But it has taken them more than half the season to get to 19 wins as is and the 30-game countdown started with Saturday's loss.

"That's where guys get frustrated, because we know we're a good team," Voskuhl said. "We have extremely capable players, extremely capable coaches. It's just bringing it all together. People here are frustrated because we believe in our coaches and in one another. It's the same (core) that was 41-41 the year before."

The most recent losses in New Orleans and Memphis followed a slow-start, big-spurt pattern, with a chance to win thwarted by clutch three-pointers by the other team.

Chris Bosh was not in either game and likely will sit tomorrow in Minnesota and Wednesday at home against San Antonio to make sure his sprained knee is healed after the all-star break. In his absence, the hot Andrea Bargnani came back to earth and teams were able to put the lid on centre Jermaine O'Neal when it counted.

"Early on (against the Grizz), Jermaine got down low, but then they did a good job of forcing him to catch it out about 15 feet," coach Jay Triano said. "Then it was a matter of us settling for jump shots."

Attempted shots at least. Toronto recorded its fourth worst shooting game in team history, 29.5%, resulting in a season low in points. The Raps couldn't believe they lost an eight-point decision to a team that shot 38.5%.

"We made a couple in the third quarter, but it was definitely too late," Bargnani said. "We have to find something to turn this thing around."

The Raptors took yesterday off to travel and clear their heads.

"This isn't something that has hit us out of nowhere," Triano said. "We talked in pre-season that there will be games like this. I'll take our consistency on defence and effort the past couple of nights. We have to figure out a way to get more movement and a little more transition offence.

"We looked slow and lethargic (Saturday), running with them instead of in front of them. I wasn't pleased with the way the ball moved. We just have to concentrate on that, share it and get better shots."

LANCE.HORNBY@SUNMEDIA.CA


Photos