By MATT BEARDMORE
Posted Mar 31 2010 12:31AM
A favorable upcoming schedule could help the Toronto Raptors pad their slim lead for the Eastern Conference's final playoff spot. First, the Raptors merely need to show they can win a home game.
Toronto tries to avoid its first four-game home losing streak in 15 months Wednesday when it faces the Los Angeles Clippers, who have dropped 14 of 17.
The Raptors (36-37) moved 1 1/2 games ahead of Chicago for the eighth seed in the East on Tuesday after the Bulls lost 111-105 loss to Phoenix. Making the most of a relatively soft upcoming schedule with games versus the Clippers, Philadelphia and Golden State could prove vital. Toronto follows that stretch with matchups against Cleveland, Boston, Atlanta and Chicago.
"We're going to keep playing hard no matter what happens," Chris Bosh said Monday after the Raptors snapped a three-game slide with a 103-101 victory in Charlotte. "If we keep playing hard, keep fighting, we can pull out some games. The schedule is not going to get any easier for us, so we're going to have to have that same intensity."
It's uncertain whether coach Jay Triano will return Hedo Turkoglu to the starting lineup as Toronto looks to avoid its first four-game skid at Air Canada Centre since Dec. 14-31, 2008.
Turkoglu was benched for the entirety of Sunday's 97-94 loss in Miami following reports he was out on the town after missing Friday night's loss to Denver with a stomach virus. The first-year Raptor came off the bench for the first time this season Monday, when his replacement Antoine Wright scored 15 points.
"If I'm going to start off on the bench, it doesn't matter for me,'' said Turkoglu, whose 11 points against the Bobcats included a go-ahead 3-pointer with 4:24 left. "Whenever I get a chance, I'm just going to try to do my job and help the team get a W."
Whether Turkoglu starts might not matter against the slumping Clippers (27-47).
Looking for two straight road wins for the first time since mid-December, Los Angeles shot 36.8 percent from the field and opened its three-game trip Tuesday with a 107-89 loss to Milwaukee.
The Clippers, who have dropped 24 of 27 on the road, lost 100-76 in their last visit to Toronto on March 22, 2009.
With a 22-point first-half lead over the visiting Raptors on Nov. 13, Los Angeles was well on its way toward snapping a three-game home losing streak in this series. The Clippers, however, were outscored 16-0 in the final 4:50 of that matchup and lost 104-89.
Baron Davis, who had 17 points and seven assists in that loss, will miss his second straight game Wednesday due to back spasms.
On the bright side, the Clippers are getting strong performances from their frontcourt. All-Star center Chris Kaman had 17 points and 10 rebounds Tuesday, while DeAndre Jordan posted his second straight double-double off the bench with 11 points and a season high-tying 13 rebounds. Drew Gooden is averaging 19.8 points and 14.3 boards over his last four games.