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Canada's hoop dreams

This used to be little more than a basketball backwater, a frozen wasteland of puckheads that once every decade or so would produce a hoopster of some renown by little more than happenstance or a quirk of breeding.

But as we evolve from a society where young Frank Mahovlich-wannabes would nestle on to the couch next to dear, old dad each Saturday night to await the dulcet tones of Ward Cornell or Foster Hewitt to thrill them, so too has changed our dependence on hockey as our sole winter sports pursuit.

We may still want to be more like Mario than Mike and The Big O is more recognizable as a decrepit stadium in Montreal or an overweight ex-Raptor than one of basketball's greatest players of all time, but times are indeed changing.

Raptors get a SuperSonic lesson in smart basketball

It was the perfect time for a little ugliness, a little hack-and-whack and walk-it-up, pound-it-inside, shoot-free-throws-all-night kind of ugliness that can turn a basketball game into something akin to mud wrestling.

But nooooo, the weary Toronto Raptors would have none of that, they wouldn't realize that strategy was so necessary here Saturday night.

They'd go on jacking up three-pointers, launching jumpers with about 18 seconds left on the shot clock and then watching the well-rested Seattle SuperSonics run past them like quarterhorses chasing Clydesdales.

And in a not-so-shocking turn of events, the Raptors had their heads handed to them at the Key Arena, dropping a 101-75 decision that really wasn't even as close as that.

Raptors ready for some Childs play

The Raptors need a Childs to lead them.

The injury-riddled Raptors should have veteran guard Chris Childs back on Wednesday. To say they've missed him would be a vast understatement.

"I guess it's my decision," Childs said when asked if he would be ready for the Raptors' next game, Wednesday in Portland against the Trail Blazers. Childs has been on the injured list since Dec. 20 because of soreness in his right ankle and Achilles tendon, but he has sat out the mandatory five games and is eligible to rejoin the active roster.

"We have a few more days of practice and it hasn't caused me a lot of problems (recently)," Childs said. "If it's healthy enough, I'll sit down with my trainer and coach and see what we can come up with. It's getting better because the swelling doesn't come back. I'm looking at Portland, but we'll wait and see."

The Raptors are in dire need of the attitude, defence and minutes that Childs can provide.

Pistons end 7-game slide

When the Pistons shot 72 percent in the first quarter Sunday, you had a feeling maybe the tide was turning.
  When Jon Barry was knocked to the court by Kendall Gill in the second quarter and still managed, while falling, to swish a 22-footer, you had a feeling two weeks of bad bounces and tough luck might be over.
  When the Pistons' defense forced six turnovers in the third quarter and limited the Miami Heat to 13 points, you thought maybe this losing streak was coming to an end.
  And, despite a little scare late, it did. The Pistons hung on and beat the floundering Heat, 86-80, at The Palace, ending a seven-game losing streak and winning a for the first time in 17 days.

Players hope tide has turned

After 17 days, the Pistons exhaled.
  After seven straight losses, the Pistons got a victory Sunday in their final game of the 2001 calendar year, 86-80 over the Miami Heat
  "It's really a burden when you start out so well and then hit the skids," Coach Rick Carlisle said. "It's hard to quantify everything that goes wrong during a bad streak. But we knew we were going to have some tough times and we said we would not overreact."
  Accordingly, the Pistons did not overreact to breaking the streak, either.
  "It was a good win, because Miami is a better team than their record indicates," Cliff Robinson said. "Teams that understand the nature of an NBA season, and understand the ups and downs that go with it, they can deal with it and come through it better. It's just a matter of maintaining belief."
  The Pistons actually felt things shift in the second half of their loss at Orlando on Friday night.

Year brings Carlisle, promise for future

The New Year started with a typical headline: Pistons blown out.
  Detroit closed out 2000 with a 110-96 loss to Washington. However, good things -- at least the hope of good things -- lay ahead for the Pistons in 2001. It was a year of ups and downs and lots of change. Here's a look back:

Carlisle to Stack: stay aggressive

Rick Carlisle wants Jerry Stackhouse, first and foremost, to stay aggressive on offense.

Setting up teammates is fine, "but we still want Jerry to be Jerry," Carlisle said Sunday before the Pistons' 86-80 victory over Miami at the Palace.

Before scoring 24 points against Miami, Stackhouse had scored fewer than 20 points in the past three games, although he had 18 against Seattle on Dec. 22 before he was ejected in the second quarter. He was just 10-for-35 from the field against New Jersey and Orlando. He made eight of 16 shots against the Heat.

The theme is to keep looking for scoring opportunities.

Garnett, Szczerbiak score 27 points each in a hard-fought victory.

Maybe Timberwolves guard Wally Szczerbiak thought the crowd at Rose Garden needed one more treat. Maybe the tight-as-Spandex game that included 17 lead changes, 12 ties and four double-doubles wasn't enough.
So after Trail Blazers forward Rasheed Wallace missed the final shot of the game, giving Minnesota a 95-93 victory and extending Portland's losing streak to four games, Szczerbiak grabbed the ball from teammate Kevin Garnett, roared and threw the ball toward the top of the lower deck.

It was that type of game: energetic, fun, loud, bruising and full of excitement. And it put an exclamation point on the Wolves' best December in franchise history, 10-5 for the month and an overall mark of 20-9.

Nesterovic improves

Many Timberwolves fans have noticed center Rasho Nesterovic's improvement on offense. His numbers are up across the board -- he averaged 9.7 points and 6.3 rebounds while shooting 51.8 percent before Sunday's game at Portland, compared with 4.5 points, 3.9 rebounds and 46.1 percent shooting last season. He is visibly more aggressive, and his teammates are far quicker to get him the ball.

Nesterovic made equally impressive strides on defense, though, in ways not readily apparent. He already has blocked 43 shots, compared with 63 last season, and the coaches have praised him for his enhanced grasp of both man-to-man and zone schemes.

"The rule changes helped him, and he's helped us," coach Flip Saunders said. "Right now, he is one of our best team, off-the-ball defenders at helping out, recovering, doing things like that."

Anderson is new iron man

With Michael Finley and Ray Allen having missed games because of injuries, the NBA's longest consecutive-games streak now belongs to Shandon Anderson of the New York Knicks.

Anderson extended his streak to 365 games Sunday night as the Knicks played the Orlando Magic.

Finley's streak of 490 games ended Saturday when he was held out of Dallas' game against the Atlanta Hawks because of a sore left hamstring. A knee injury ended Allen's streak of 388 games earlier this month.

'Dog' becomes a horse

The dog is barking

Is Evans In Quicksand?

Zone Makes for Better Game

Kings Cruise to Win at Home

Cartwright Is Best News Bulls Have Had All Year

Iron Mike

Riley's A Man Out of Time

Nelson Wins 1,000th Game

Pierce is Magic's Pride and Joy

Rough Road for Celtics

A Little Webber Can Go a Long Way

Kings Win and Entertain

Rogers: Riley Must See Reality

San Antonio-Memphis Recap

Another Day, Another Injury

Houston-Lakers Recap

Murphy gets valuable lessons

Warrior Fortson rebounds after 2 years of injury

Trail Blazers facing fan revolt over Wells' media statements

MURRAY LIKELY TO START

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