Raptors have time to turn it around

RYAN WOLSTAT

, Last Updated: 9:01 AM ET

All is not yet lost for the defensively inept, 11-17 Toronto Raptors.

Though the season appears to be spiralling out of control, the East is so pathetic that the playoffs are still well within reach for the struggling club.

If the team is to find its way and if the players and coaching staff want to avoid a major shakeup -- and rest assured there will be one if the Raptors continue to play the worst defence in the history of the NBA -- the next few weeks will be key.

Beginning tonight against the woeful 2-24 Nets, the Raptors will play five games in a row and eight of 10 against sub-.500 opponents. After a brutal, road-heavy start to the campaign, the Raptors get a relative rest in the next while.

That will give the team the chance to get on the same page in practice, which is crucial, since so far, each player seems to be reading from an entirely different book.

Head coach Jay Triano and star forward Chris Bosh have justifiably mentioned that the jam-packed early schedule prevented the club from getting together frequently enough on the practice court (most recently, the Raptors had only two scheduled practices in the first two weeks of this month). That will change with the team due for a significant number of days off.

Those practice sessions better turn into results on game days, because this group is running out of chances.

Not enough practices isn't the reason why the team lacks heart, hustle and defensive smarts and rolls over and dies on far too many nights at the slightest hint of adversity.

Continued failure will put the heat on Triano, the underachieving roster, and perhaps even former executive of the year Bryan Colangelo, who put together a solid team on paper -- one that appears to be much less than the sum of its parts. Not to mention, it could help nudge Bosh out the door next summer.

While there are some who pine for such a scenario it's the classic case of not knowing what you've got until it is gone.

Without Bosh, the league's fifth-leading rebounder, ninth-leading scorer and leader in free throws made and attempted, the team's record would rival that of the Nets.

Yes, the Raptors desperately could use a vocal leader, something Bosh clearly is not. But, remember, Vince Carter (given away to New Jersey for peanuts five years ago yesterday) was not the rah-rah type either.

Bosh, like Carter, can't do everything himself. He too can play at a spectacular level on the court, but he also could use the supporting players Carter had around him. A Charles Oakley. An Antonio Davis or an Alvin Williams. Teammates who weren't afraid to speak their mind while backing it up by always giving their all on the court.

No such player resides on this squad and it is a key reason why their season has gone in the tank.

Still, the East is only four deep. Three excellent squads with legit title aspirations and the rock-solid Atlanta Hawks. After that, things are wide open.

The Raptors, despite everything, sat just a game behind the eighth-place Charlotte Bobcats and 21/2 behind the fifth-place Miami Heat entering play last night.

That said, is it better to get crushed in round one of the playoffs by one of the four East teams playing above .733 ball at the moment, giving up a first-round pick to Miami from a prior trade in the process? Or to fall completely off the map and earn a lottery pick (the owed pick is top-14 protected)?

If getting to the playoffs keeps Bosh in town, that's the course to chart.

RYAN.WOLSTAT@SUNMEDIA.CA


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