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Toronto Raptors head coach Jay Triano argues a call with official Courtney Kirkland (R) during the first half of the NBA basketball game against the Oklahoma City Thunder in Toronto March 19, 2010. REUTERS/ Mike Cassese (MIKE CASSESE)
Toronto Raptors head coach Jay Triano argues a call with official Courtney Kirkland (R) during the first half of the NBA basketball game against the Oklahoma City Thunder in Toronto March 19, 2010. REUTERS/ Mike Cassese (MIKE CASSESE)

Raptors face tall order Add to ...

There is a defibrillator that hangs from the wall near the media entrance at the Air Canada Centre with the words "Rescue Me" printed in big red letters beneath the apparatus.

That pretty wells sums up the predicament of the Toronto Raptors, whose once lofty playoff aspirations remain on life support following a desultory outing against the Utah Jazz on Wednesday night.

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And the players are well aware of their situation - the reason why point guard Jarrett Jack was moved to address his teammates in stern tones at the end of yesterday's short practice.

"There's a lot of emotion right now as far as where our team is," Raptors swingman Antoine Wright later said when asked what was discussed as the players circled around Jack. "Guys are not happy."

Jack said the motivation behind his sermon from the mid-court was simple and straightforward.

"There's [12]games left [in the regular season] let's just lay it all on the line regardless of what happens, win lose or draw," Jack said. "[Twelve] games, whatever you got.

"Let's just put it all out there and not let all this hard work that we've put into the season go to waste."

Toronto (35-35) holds down the eighth and final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference.

But after a thoroughly demoralizing 113-87 loss to the Jazz - their second consecutive 26-point setback on their home floor - the Raptors' hold on that precious playoff perch had been narrowed to just two games over the Chicago Bulls, who played at home last night to the Miami Heat.

The Raptors have lost seven of their past 10 games and things certainly don't get any easier in the short haul with the tough-as-nails Denver Nuggets, who are headed toward a 50-win season, in town to play Toronto tonight.

After that Toronto is on the road for games on Sunday and Monday against the Heat and the Charlotte Bobcats, respectively, two of the other teams who are jostling with the Raptors and the Bulls for the final three playoff spots in the East.

"Arguably the three most important games of the year," is how Toronto coach Jay Triano termed the coming stretch.

For the Raptors to be successful they have to prevent themselves from falling into prolonged funks when things are not going their way, as was the case early on against the Jazz.

Toronto misfired on five open shots to begin the game and then began to panic, trailing Utah 33-17 after the first quarter. That's not good news for a front-running team such as the Raptors, who are just 10-22 on the year when trailing after the first quarter.

"I just think our overall mindset, we have to be a little bit tougher," said Triano, adding that he felt his team has let down the fans the past two games at home.

The team's recent struggles appear to have taken a toll on Chris Bosh, Toronto's all-star forward and undisputed leader, who these days looks like someone who has just come back from a two-hour session at the dentist.

"I think we let mistakes get us down and that kind of has a snowball effect on our play," he said. "But if you make mistakes it doesn't matter. You're going to make mistakes, this is the NBA. Everybody can't play a perfect game.

"We have to react the right way and we just have to play hard. I think right now we have a lot of plays where we're just not in the right positions because we're not working to get there."

Bosh was supportive of Jack's pep talk at the end of practice but he admits that, with just 12 games left, time is running short.

"There's not much to talk about right now," he said. "We've been talking all year. The time for talking is over.

"It's just time to do it."

TIP SHEET

NOTES So much for that home-court advantage enjoyed by the Toronto Raptors earlier this season. After a 14-1 run at the Air Canada Centre from mid-December until the NBA all-star game on Feb. 14, the Raptors have gone 3-6 at home. That includes consecutive 26-point setbacks in their past two home games, against Utah and Oklahoma City. … Raptors coach Jay Triano has not ruled out the possibility of altering his starting lineup tonight. He said his decision will be based on who is healthy enough to play. Forward Hedo Turkoglu, who did not play in the second half Wednesday against the Jazz after suffering from stomach flu, went to practice yesterday but was sent home as he continued to feel ill. Marco Belinelli, who has missed Toronto's past three games with a bad back, did practise and will be a game-time decision. Triano also said that Reggie Evans has a bit of a sore foot and that Marcus Banks has a sore finger.

NEXT Friday night against the Denver Nuggets at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, 7 p.m. EDT.

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