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Toronto Raptors forward Sonny Weems (C) shoots between Chicago Bulls defenders Derrick Rose (L) and Kirk Hinrich (R) during the first half of their NBA basketball game in Toronto April 11, 2010. REUTERS/ Mike Cassese


It seems wrong to poke a stick at Hedo Turkoglu, who's gone from prize free agent to public whipping boy in the space of six disappointing months.

After all, even after the Toronto Raptors were blown out at home by the Chicago Bulls 104-88 in what theoretically important game, they're still in playoff contention.

Not after losing their fifth straight game. Not after facing the team they were tied with for the eighth and final playoff spot in Eastern Conference and getting drilled, boo birds in full throat since midway through the third quarter.

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In theory the Raptors, now a game behind Chicago but holding the tiebreaker, could win out against Detroit and New York and the Bulls could drop one of their remaining two and the Raptors would live to play Cleveland in the first round of the playoffs. And Turkoglu might even play well if the Raptors got there.

His ability to play well has never really been the issue.

His will to play well has been, however.

Turkoglu shed the face mask he was supposed to wear for the broken nose he suffered on Wednesday and came to the arena with purpose.

"I just wanted to focus and do what I can do to do my best," he said, complaining that the mask otherwise distracted him.

Turkoglu had a career-high 19 rebounds to go along with nine assists, off-setting a woeful 2-of-12 shooting night that netted him just six points.

Effort can make up for a lot.

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The only problem is the hustling, gutty Turkoglu only came out in the Raptors 80th game of the season. He disappeared after about three quarters, so gassed he couldn't lift his arms to properly make a free throw.

The Raptors' season has gone so wrong that even the good thing stands as an indictment.

In the absence of Chris Bosh and with Andrea Bargnani hesitant to shoulder the offensive load - the big Italian had 16 points in the first half and just two in the second - Sonny Weems, the unheralded second year guard who has passed for a bright spot lately tried to lift his team, finishing with 18 points. He scored one basket on a twisting left-hand lay-up late in the second quarter, cutting the Bulls lead to five. But Chicago inbounded quickly and Luol Deng - Weems's man - had a layup at the other end, racing by Turkoglu, who was slow to help, fouled and allowed Deng to make a three-point play.

But there was plenty of lack of focus to go around. In the third quarter as Chicago was pulling away, it was Turkoglu who scored at the rim, only to watch as Deng scored at the other end, this time Amir Johnson waving aimlessly.

The Raptors never led after the two minute-mark of the game, trailed by 10 at half and were being blown out 84-55 heading into the fourth quarter, the boos holding the day.

Raptors head coach Jay Triano was left to explain how a team could turn a standing ovation the 19,515 fans greeted Toronto with before the game could turn into abuse so fast.

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He was as lost anyone on the floor.

"I thought our effort was good," he said. "I thought we played hard."

He should have qualified it by saying "sometimes" or "at certain points."

That's the epitaph of the Raptors' season, playoffs or not, and Turkoglu could be the one to write it.

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