Wins on the way for Raptors?

STEVE LOUNG, Sports Network

, Last Updated: 2:45 PM ET

TORONTO - They were in a different country, probably ate food they've had before but was just called something different and played in an arena that most on the roster had never thought of stepping foot in.

What wasn't different for the Toronto Raptors in London, England, however, was the team's inability to close out games.

The Raptors played the first regular season NBA games to be played in Europe in a two-game set against the New Jersey Nets in London's O2 arena to promote the league internationally. The promotional job that the two teams did should be considered a huge success as both contests were sold out and the fans were treated to some quality, highly competitive basketball in both games.

However, for Raptors fans, Nets ended up sweeping the London series and it was mainly due to some classic Toronto ineptitude down the stretch.

In Friday's affair, the Raps were up 81-78 entering the fourth quarter but surrendered 38 in the final frame. On Saturday, the team put up a valiant fight but still fell a little short in triple overtime.

The two cases are different but there's one common denominator between them; poor execution on both ends of the floor when the game mattered the most.

Looking at what happened in the fourth on Friday, New Jersey cranked up its defensive pressure a little and Toronto suddenly stopped scoring and, most importantly, eased up on what it was doing defensively and on the glass.

During the thriller on Saturday, the Raps played very well until the third overtime. It might've been because of fatigue but Toronto didn't look sharp at all in that final overtime period and really only had a chance to win because New Jersey made careless turnovers.

The decision to go with Andrea Bargnani on a clear out on the wing for the win was the right choice as he was playing a great game but the seven-footer's decision to take a contested jumper instead of putting the ball on the floor and trying to attack a Nets defense that didn't have Brook Lopez to defend the rim was pretty ill-advised.

In both matches, the Raptors had a chance to win and failed to make the necessary plays to grasp victory, a trait that has, unfortunately, plagued the team all season long.

The club's inability to win close contests is a result of the team's youth and, while it can be frustrating for Raptors fans, it's the course of action management chose to take.

Wins on the way?

What the Raps' fan base can look forward to is a slew of winnable upcoming games.

Toronto's next five opponents will be against the Utah Jazz, Indiana Pacers, Charlotte Bobcats, Detroit Pistons and Washington Wizards. Every game except the one against Detroit will be at home and the Raptors will have a good shot of coming out of the stretch with three or even four victories.

Each team, with the exception of Indiana, is going through some sort of disarray, making each opponent a bit more vulnerable than they would usually be.

This is a fortunate mini home stand in Toronto's schedule that it must take advantage of because, after the game against Washington, the Raptors will depart on a five-game Western Conference road swing. More importantly than what the club has scheduled after the home dates, will be the confidence a few W's will bring to some of the young players on the team.

If the theme for this final two months of the season is player development, management and the coaching staff will probably get a whole lot more out of the players they want to see step up if the team is able to string together a few wins here and there.


Videos

Photos