Home games no help to Raps

FRANK ZICARELLI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:44 AM ET

The Raptors will be home at last today, closer to last place and down to their last gasp at making the post-season.

Last night's 107-97 loss to the host Houston Rockets was the Raptors' final road game against a Western Conference opponent.

When the autopsy is performed on this season's team, which could arrive in about a fortnight, one of the most damning pieces of evidence will be Toronto's inability to establish any sense of home-court advantage.

The 2006 edition, which won 47 games and was crowned Atlantic Division champions in a weak grouping, posted 30 wins at the Air Canada Centre. Last season's team won 25 home games.

As the Raptors get set to play an extended stretch of home games beginning Friday against Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat, Toronto is a pitiful 12-16 at home.

Theories abound as to why the Raptors haven't been able to hold court this season.

The bottom line with this collection is its lack of mental toughness, a troublesome flaw that began following the departures of Jorge Garbajosa and Morris Peterson.

It never has been properly addressed, despite the acquisitions of Jermaine O'Neal this past off-season and this year's pre-deadline deal for Shawn Marion.

Good teams always bring a mental toughness and a defensive intensity into games, regardless of location or quality of opposition.

This year's Raptors have yet to string together a four-game win streak. The team's longest home win streak is three.

Little wonder why the Raptors' post-season hopes are fading.

The formula in the NBA is to play .500 basketball on the road and dominate at home.

The Raptors haven't been good at home or on the road, but their play at the ACC has been at times embarrassing.

They have been booed off the floor and blown leads.

Now comes the moment when the Raptors can actually atone for their past failings at home.

The question is whether they are capable of putting together a meaningful win streak.

Of the team's remaining 11 games in March, nine will be at home, including a stretch of five in a row to close out the month.

There will be no dominant post presence as was the case last night against Yao Ming or last Friday's matchup with Shaquille O'Neal in the Arizona desert.

The Raptors won't see a legitimate big man until they travel to Orlando to play Dwight Howard and the Magic on April 1.

Perhaps it would be fitting that the Raptors get mathematically eliminated from the playoffs during this coming home stretch.

Good teams flourish at home. The Raptors have foundered.

More than any reason, it is why the Raptors haven't been able to find any level of consistency.

BAND ON THE RUN

Jermaine O'Neal played four games with his new Heat teammates without his trademark headband, bowing to Pat Riley's long-standing rule that prohibits its use.

J.O. said he felt naked without the headgear and Riley acquiesced.

Said head coach Erik Spoelstra, who learned at the feet of Riley: "Pat is old school, but new school. We've had a rule in place for a long time.

"Anybody could wear a headband if you had the guts to go into his office and ask. Jermaine asked and we're progressive now."

WORTH PONDERING

The Raptors' recent history of drafting players is terrible.

Given the chance to redo the 2003 draft, do the Raptors take Wade over Chris Bosh?

Teams often get too caught up in addressing a need when the best approach is to take the best player. Size also comes into play because teams prefer a big over a small.

Wade is the only player from the much-heralded '03 class to win an NBA title and is playing at a level that ranks right alongside Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, who went first overall six years ago.

This isn't a knock on Bosh, and remember also the Raptors had Vince Carter in 2003.

How can anyone not want to have Wade on their team?


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