Hedo Turkoglu was too sick to play or practise last week. Last night the Toronto Raptors suggested they just might be sick of him.
As for the Raptors' so-called playoff push, it's enough to make you ill.
In another strange turn in an increasingly strange season, the Raptors lost a crucial road game 97-94 last night against the Miami Heat, a rival in the bottom half of the Eastern Conference playoff race, wasting a 16-point lead with 13 minutes to play.
Toronto scored just two field goals in the final six minutes of the game, while Miami stormed back on the strength Dwyane Wade, who scored 21 of his game-high 32 points in the second half, and with help from Udonis Haslem, who scored 11 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter, hitting 10-of-11 shots from the field as the Raptors tried to collapse on Wade.
Turkoglu was acquired in the off-season to provide the Raptors with a perimeter creator in crunch time, but he was benched last night, a new low point in a disappointing season for the $53-million (U.S.) off-season free-agent signing.
Dressed for action after missing half of one game, all of another and two practices with a stomach virus, Turkoglu was never summoned by head coach Jay Triano.
"I told them I want to play," Turkoglu said before the game. He declined the opportunity to comment afterward, and Triano shed no light on the situation. Asked if he was sitting out for health or discipline reasons, Triano said only: "Both."
It was his first game coming off the bench since March 10, 2006. Prior to last night, he'd started 236 games in which he'd dressed.
The benching came in the wake of reports that Turkoglu was out in Toronto's trendy Yorkville district after the Raptors' crushing loss to the Denver Nuggets on Friday night, a game he didn't play because of a stomach virus that caused him to leave at halftime of the Raptors loss' to the Utah Jazz last Wednesday.
When pressed, Raptors president Bryan Colangelo said that word of Turkoglu's night out had reached the team - apparently fans had spotted him and sent e-mails to team officials and some media - and the matter had been dealt with "internally," the implication being that the Turkish small forward had been fined.
Before last night's game, Turkoglu denied that he'd been out at all, but added that what he said didn't matter.
"It's all good, man," Turkoglu said. "I've been dealing with this [stuff]the whole year. They've been on me on this [going out]the whole year long. If I wasn't out, sick or healthy, they [the fans]would still say something. I don't say anything. Ten games left of the season, all I try finish strong."
His teammates seemed to support him as they tried to hang on to the eighth and final playoff spot, their lead down to a half game over the Chicago Bulls, Toronto having lost three straight.
"We're in support of Hedo," said Antoine Wright, who started for the second straight game in place of Turkoglu. "He's our teammate. We want to see him back on the court, but management is handling that. … We need everyone in our locker room to be playing basketball, in my personal opinion."
The Raptors struggled offensively in the fourth quarter, Chris Bosh particularly. The Raptors' all-star has been stymied by aggressive double teams after the all-star break and was again last night, finishing with 19 points on eight-of-20 shooting, though Bosh implied it was his teammates who needed to lend a hand.
"I trusted my teammates a few times and kicked it out," he said. "When that happens, we have to have the proper spacing and knock down our shots. I don't think our spacing is correct right now."
It's just another problem for a team in disarray.