Raptors crawling to the finish line

STEVE LOUNG, Sports Network

, Last Updated: 5:21 PM ET

Toronto - In the midst of their final long road trip of the season, the Toronto Raptors don't have much more to learn about themselves and it wouldn't be overly surprising to see them finish their remaining games with lackluster efforts.

After all, Toronto just suffered its 50th loss of the season and looks like it will finish last in its division - the Atlantic - for the first time since the 1997-1998 season, when the Raptors were still playing out of the Central Division.

While it may be true the Raps (20-50) will probably see an end to their season on more losses than wins, the suggestion that this squad would suddenly decide to cruise to the finish line is doubtful and the team's latest victory is indicative of this.

The triumph over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday may have been because of some confidence the Dinos picked up in their win against the Washington Wizards on Friday, when they managed to weather a late-game push by the Wiz. It also could have been because they were in a very similar situation earlier this season when their last back-to-back wins also came against Washington and OKC.

Regardless, snapping a 14-game road losing streak, that began all the way back on Jan. 7, and sweeping the season series against one of the league's elite is still a very big deal.

That's why the poor showing against the Denver Nuggets on Monday is a little excusable. Toronto was coming off an emotional high to play the tail end of a back-to-back against a team that's been on a tear of late and has historically dominated them. This all adds up to a let-down that was bound to happen.

How the club rebounds Wednesday night, when it takes on the Phoenix Suns, will be more important. The Suns are in the thick of a very tight race for eighth place in the Western Conference's playoff picture and will probably look at the Raptors as an easy way to gain ground.

Toronto should be expecting this and prepare itself accordingly. If there's one thing the Raps can do well, it's respond with a much better effort after being blown out in their previous outing.

SPOILER ALERT

One of the ways the Raps can keep themselves motivated is to channel what they're doing on the court into more than just trying to win. They should purposely be acting as the spoiler to as many teams' playoff chances and advantageous seeding as possible.

The Raptors are a young team that seems to have quite a bit of pride, so being the pain in the side of their competitions' hopes to make the postseason would suit them very well.

The team they have the greatest chance to foil is the Milwaukee Bucks as they will play them twice before the season finishes. A victory against the reeling New York Knicks also could seriously impede coach Mike D'Antoni's team's quest for the sixth seed and a better potential matchup for his team with the Miami Heat.

Playing the role of spoiler also can be an indication of the future because, if Toronto manages to rack off a few wins against any of these teams fighting for playoff positioning, it shows that the team has the ability to compete against other decent clubs and brings forth hope of next season's squad being in the thick of the postseason race.


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