Wednesday , Mar , 07 , 2007 C.Y. Ellis

Raptors need to sharpen claws

(Sports Network) – Luckily for the Toronto Raptors, the New Jersey Nets and
New York Knicks are also having a hard time reaching the win column lately.

Because if both New Jersey and New York were winning basketball games, the
Raptors’ lead in the Atlantic Division would be extinct. That’s why Toronto
should give thanks to a higher power for remaining atop the standings.

Toronto, which is four games ahead of New Jersey and 4 1/2 games in front of
the Nets, is mired in a three-game losing streak. The team has dropped five
of its last eight games, but surprisingly remains fourth overall in the
Eastern Conference standings. Toronto has not lost four in a row since
December 6-11 this season.

The Raptors will try to regroup this evening when they open a brief two-game
homestand versus the Memphis Grizzlies at the Air Canada Centre. The Seattle
SuperSonics will also pay a visit up north, where the Raptors are 20-9 this
season. Star center Chris Bosh is averaging 25.1 points and 11.0 rebounds at
the Air Canada Centre this season, while forward Morris Peterson is averaging
12.2 points at home. Bosh and Co. will be playing six of the next eight games
in Canada.

Rookie of the Year candidate Andrea Bargnani missed Saturday’s loss against
the Cleveland Cavaliers to tend to an ailing relative back in Italy. Bargnani,
however, returned to the States and played in Tuesday’s setback to the
Washington Wizards, recording nine points in 23 minutes.

Bargnani is currently third among rookies with 11.1 points per game, and is
averaging 15.3 points and 6.8 rebounds over his last six contests. The Raptors
can’t afford to not have him in the lineup, especially with Memphis
coming to town. The Grizzlies have defeated Toronto eight straight times.

The Raptors could also use the services of guard Anthony Parker on
Wednesday night. Parker, who is averaging 11.6 points and 3.9 rebounds in 57
games this season, has missed the last four games with a sprained right
ankle. If Parker is unable to play against Memphis, reserve guard Juan Dixon
is expected to make his second straight start for the Raptors.

Dixon, acquired from Portland at the NBA trade deadline, posted 14 points in
Tuesday’s loss to the Wizards after recording a season-high 24 points in a
losing effort to the Cavaliers over the weekend.

If the season continues this way for the Raptors, they will have to start
looking out for the Philadelphia 76ers in the division. Philly is 9 1/2 games
off the lead in the Atlantic standings, but has won its last four games.