The flurry of injuries that have swept through the Toronto Raptors would be disconcerting to a team that is finally finding its footing after a wobbly start to the NBA season.
But when your opponents are the woebegone New Jersey Nets, even the darkest days can turn sunny.
With three regulars out of the lineup and a fourth, Jarrett Jack, fighting off illness, the undermanned Raptors still presented too much for the Nets to contend with and they managed a 108-99 victory at the Air Canada Centre last night.
For the Raptors (27-23), it was their sixth win in their past seven games while the Nets (4-44) have lost 15 of their past 16.
But it was by no means an easy night for the home side.
The Nets, who have been playing better of late, overcame an early 11-point disadvantage to take a 42-30 lead with seven minutes left in the second quarter, which made the hometown crowd of 15,222 restless.
"I told the players before the game, this is a big game for us," Toronto coach Jay Triano said. "This team [New Jersey]is playing a lot better, the last four games have been close games. They're battling now."
With Sonny Weems, starting in place of injured rookie DeMar DeRozan, once again providing plenty of up-tempo play - including an awesome one-handed slam off an in-bounds pass from Jack in the second quarter - the Raptors ripped off a 16-4 run to regain the lead and held on for a 57-56 advantage by the half.
The Raptors hauled a tenuous 83-78 lead into the fourth quarter, then a high-flying fast-break slam by Weems, who contributed a career-high 14 points and 11 assists, helped propel the Raptors to their sixth consecutive win at home.
"Sonny was energetic and beyond," Triano said.
Antoine Wright, starting in place of Hedo Turkoglu, chipped in with 18 points.
Raptors all-star Chris Bosh, who has been red-hot of late with four consecutive games with at least 20 points and 15 rebounds, was kept in relative check but still came on strong to finish with 20 points and nine rebounds.
It has not been an enjoyable season for the Nets, who began the year with a record-setting 18-game losing string that cost coach Lawrence Frank his job.
Kiki Vandeweghe, his replacement, hasn't fared much better.
He appears understandably downtrodden leading a team that is on pace to challenge the NBA record for the fewest victories in one season - nine - established by the 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers.
"Pin me up against the wall - firing squad," Vandeweghe uttered when he met with reporters before the game.
The Raptors have their own issues, and limped into last night's game without the services of three of their regulars, including Turkoglu and DeRozan, both starters.
They were joined on the sidelines last night by Jose Calderon, who wrenched his right ankle when he stepped on the foot Jack during a loss to the Indiana Pacers in Indianapolis on Tuesday.
Last night, Jack was playing under some duress, battling a viral infection, and he didn't inform Triano until 15 minutes before tip-off that he was willing to try to play.
Jack played 39 minutes, finishing with 17 points and nine assists.
"I told coach I was going to give him whatever I had, if it was two minutes, three minutes," Jack said. "Tonight it happened to be 39 minutes. Thanks coach for taking it easy on me."
DeRozan, who missed his fifth game in a row with a sprained right ankle, said he is feeling much better and expects to start practising again tomorrow and should be ready to go on Sunday when the Raptors play the Sacramento Kings.
Turkoglu's status is still uncertain, He's missed three games in a row with a broken orbital bone under his right eye.
The Raptors have attempted to fit the rugged veteran with a mask to protect the injury so he can play. But Turkoglu is grousing that the mask presses against the broken bone and causes him even more pain. He has been pushing the team to let him play without any protection.
"We have to find a way to protect the fracture," Triano said. "We can't throw him out there and have it get hit again and have that fracture become any bigger. It could become pretty dangerous."
NOTES The Toronto Raptors don't play again until Sunday, a three-day break between games, a timely hiatus for a team nursing so many injuries. … Former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney was sitting courtside for their game against the New Jersey Nets last night, a couple of seats down from Larry Tanenbaum, who is part of the Raptors and Toronto Maple Leafs ownership group. Seated beside Tanenbaum was Dion Phaneuf, the newly acquired hockey saviour, and Leafs teammate Phil Kessel. … With a 35-point, 15-rebound performance during a loss against the Indiana Pacers on Tuesday, Toronto forward Chris Bosh logged his fourth consecutive game with at least 20 points and 15 rebounds, a franchise record. … Speaking of Bosh, the all-star forward has been appointed an assistant coach for the Sophomore team that will challenge the Rookies Feb. 12 on all-star weekend. Bosh will also play in the all-star game on Feb. 14.
NEXT Sunday, against the Sacramento Kings, noon EST.
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