Do or die time for Raps

FRANK ZICARELLI, Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 11:06 PM ET

Whatever resolve remains will be put to the ultimate test.

Whatever energy that can be summoned will be desperately needed.

The time has arrived when words are rendered meaningless, when action is required and when execution is a must.

It’s do or die time with these perplexing Raptors, who, despite an alarming loss to the Golden State Warriors on Sunday, continue to control their own destiny.

Six games loom, but the short term is dotted with doom.

Beginning with Tuesday’s visit to Cleveland, the Raptors face three opponents they simply don’t match up well against, going a combined 2-7 in meetings with the Cavs, Celtics and Hawks.

If the Raptors can somehow post a win of any kind in the next three tips, they’ll have some wiggle room. The season-ending schedule that awaits, turns in their favour with three foes that Toronto has simply owned this season.

The Raptors could have done themselves a huge service by holding serve against the Warriors, who escaped the ACC with a 113-112 win.

The Raptors, who trailed by as many as 16 points in the fourth quarter, never led past midway through the opening period.

Had Chris Bosh converted just as the buzzer sounded, a sequence that was ignited by Sonny Weems, the Raptors wouldn’t be in this predicament.

The Raptors do hold the tiebreaker over the Bulls and their schedule is more favourable when compared to Chicago, which plays host to Milwaukee and the Andrew Bogut-less Bucks Tuesday night.

There are games against the Cavs, Celtics and a season-ending road game against Charlotte for Chicago.

The Raptors finish against the Bulls, Pistons and Knicks, teams Toronto is a combined 8-0 this season.

If the Raptors do eke out a win in any of the next three games and hold court against Chicago, it’s very likely Toronto will make the post-season.

Jarrett Jack, who scored 16 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter against Golden State, has never appeared in a playoff game.

The Raptors have experience, but there are inexperienced players, who haven’t been subject to this kind of scrutiny and pressure and who have been asked to step up.

“We are still a very young team,’’ Jack said. “We are not a team that has a boat-load of playoff experience or a bunch of experience that coming down the stretch we really know what to do in this situation.

“This is my first time. It’s DeMar’s (DeRozan) first time, Sonny’s first time. The only people who have really been in this situation are Turk (Hedo Turkoglu), Antoine (Wright), Rasho (Nesterovic) and Chris, for the most part. The rest of us, we are learning as we go along.

“These are the things we have to pick up and add to the mentality of this ball club.”

In Chicago, the Bulls are fully aware of their lot.

They sacrificed some pieces at the trade deadline to clear cap space, but they at least enter this six-game stretch healthier and with a chance to get past the Raptors and into the post-season.

“I can’t control what other teams do, unless we’re playing them,” head coach Vinny Del Negro told the Chicago Tribune. “My mindset is prepare the players like we always have and let them play and execute. Playing together, defending and rebounding have won it all year for us.”

Derrick Rose can flat-out dominate games at the point position and has boldly predicted a playoff appearance.

But Rose can’t do it alone. He needs help.

“I think we’re very focussed,” Bulls big man Joakim Noah said. “We understand we have to be on edge. If not, we’re going to lose. We have to fight every night. If we don’t come with that mindset, we can lose by 40. We have proven that this year.

“We beat Cleveland and we’ve lost to New Jersey. Some teams can come in, run their systems, joke around the whole game and still win. But whenever we come with that mindset, we always get smacked.”

The same applies with the Raptors.

frank.zicarelli@sunmedia.ca


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