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News » Like Raptors, Wizards hope magic will return

Like Raptors, Wizards hope magic will return

Like Raptors, Wizards hope magic will return
Basketball REPORTER

Chris Bosh is not a religious guy. More spiritual he says.

But in the year of the fall, as the Raptors hope to rise again, even Bosh knows that all resurrections are not created equally.

Last night, Good Friday, the Washington Wizards were at the Air Canada Centre. Think the Raptors have had a disappointing season?

The Wizards' best player, Gilbert Arenas, signed a six-year, $111-million contract and missed the season after undergoing his third surgery on the same knee. Their defensive anchor, Brendan Haywood, played his fifth game last night after missing the first 74 with a wrist injury. They started their season 1-10 and fired their coach.

"It's just one of those years for them: a couple injuries, them not being healthy and things not clicking," said Raptor interim head coach Jay Triano. "There's a little bit of a parallel [to] our season in some ways."

It's not hard to make the case their paths are soon to diverge. Last night the Wizards got a 20-footer at the buzzer by Caron Butler to outlast the Raptors 100-98 in a crazy finish that saw Jason Kapono hit a pair of threes 13 seconds apart to tie the game with 29 seconds before Butler ended it for good.

The loss was the Raptors ( 30-49) third straight, and while doubtless disappointing to the 18,107 at the Air Canada Centre, it meant little. This late in a lost year there's no need for long faces and there were none in the Raptors locker room.

But if you could describe a 19-61 team as buoyant, the Wizards are it, and not because they won just their sixth road game of the year.

"We're optimistic," said Butler, who scored 19 of his 21 points in the second. "We're going to finish out this season strong. We're going to get our core guys back healthy, and make a run at this thing [next year]."

It's a mantra this time of year in most NBA dressing rooms where expectations have gone unmet. But in Washington it's not just talk.

In addition to their core - Arenas, Butler, Haywood and Antawn Jamison - the Wizards dismal season means they're slotted to pick second in the NBA draft, depending on how the Ping-Pong balls fall at the draft lottery.

It's not often teams that have been in the playoffs for four straight seasons and have had stretches - between injuries to their stars - when they've been among the best teams in the Eastern conference can debate the merits of selecting Oklahoma University star Blake Griffin and Spanish teenager Ricky Rubio.

All of which is worth remembering as the Raptors contemplate their own 2008-09 season. Injuries were a factor. And the lineup was unbalanced. But the team is healthy now and Shawn Marion is a front-line small forward, but the Raptors are still missing something.

And it's not like the Eastern Conference is going to stand still while the Raptors go about the business of improving. Bosh has been around long enough to know that much. The Wizards are just one of the Eastern Conference's lottery-bound caste to have realistic visions of getting better.

"I think it's definitely getting a lot tougher in the East... I think next year, there are a lot of teams that want to build on things," Bosh said. "I know we want to build on things, Indiana does, Charlotte, they're starting to turn the corner, and New York, too. It's New York; they have to try to have a good team every year."

So, as the Raptors head into the off-season trying to regain the momentum the franchise seemed to be growing, it's worth remembering the best-laid plans have a way of falling flat. After 'slumping' to 41 wins last season the Raptors thought the answer was in solving chemistry problems and adding defensive toughness and rebounding by sending T.J. Ford to Indiana in return for Jermaine O'Neal. It didn't happen.

"You're thinking some days, 'Well, if we get better at this, we'll do this,' " said Bosh, who had 21 points and 10 rebounds last night. "Sometimes it doesn't fit. ... Sometimes even though we have good guys and we have good players, the chemistry just doesn't fit. You don't know why and you try, but it just doesn't work that way."

Thoughts to consider as the Raptors reflect on their fall and just maybe make plans to rise again.



notes The Raptors paid tribute to Alvin Williams in the first half. The former Toronto point guard was sitting at centre court in seats normally used by MLSE chairman Larry Tanenbaum. Andrea Bargnani was a game-time decision, but played despite missing Wednesday's game against Indiana with tendinitis in his heel. Washington Wizards star Gilbert Arenas was with the club, but didn't play last night as he continues his comeback from knee surgery. Former Raptor Mike James was with the team, but is out for the season after breaking his pinkie finger on his right hand.

Next Tomorrow against

Philadelphia at the Air Canada Centre, 6 p.m. Eastern


Radio The Fan590

Michael Grange

Author: Fox Sports
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Added: April 11, 2009


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