The Toronto Raptors emerged from obscurity last season to win their first division title in 12 seasons of existence. A second division crown out of reach this season, though, and the Raptors are trying to avoid a return to mediocrity.
After exceeding last season’s total with their 36th loss, the playoff-hopeful Raptors look to avoid falling back to .500 on Monday when they visit the Charlotte Bobcats for the first of two meetings in five days.
On the heels of four straight losing seasons, Toronto matched a franchise record with 47 wins in 2006-07, finishing with the best record in the Atlantic Division and making the playoffs for the first time since 2001-02.
While the Raptors (37-36) are counting on a return trip to the postseason, they’ve been inconsistent in their attempts to secure one. They’ve won more than three consecutive games just once - a four-game run from Dec. 9-14 - and are just 5-12 in their last 17 contests.
That stretch has dropped Toronto to sixth in the East, just one-half game ahead of seventh-place Philadelphia. They still have a four-game edge over eighth-place Atlanta.
However, any momentum Toronto had gained from winning consecutive games for the first time this month was lost with Sunday’s 118-111 defeat against New Orleans.
“The effort was there, we just couldn’t stop anything,” Raptors coach Sam Mitchell said.
While Sunday’s loss came at home, Toronto has lost its last seven road games to fall to 15-21 away from Air Canada Centre. The Raptors haven’t had a longer road losing streak since they dropped their last seven road games of 2005-06 and their first seven of 2006-07.
Two meetings with Charlotte (28-45) could help Toronto get back on track, but the Raptors may have caught the Bobcats at the wrong time.
The Bobcats have won three straight and four of five after a five-game losing streak to maintain their slim hopes of making the franchise’s first playoff appearance. Charlotte would have to pass four teams in its final nine games.
“It’s not over yet,” point guard Raymond Felton told the Bobcats’ official Web site. “We have to keep winning these games and see what happens at the end.”
Felton had 18 points and nine assists as Charlotte beat Portland 93-85 on Saturday night. After giving up 109.6 points per game during their 1-11 February, the Bobcats have held opponents to an average of 98.3 points while going 9-6 in March.
“We are playing well right now, especially on the defensive end,” Charlotte guard Jason Richardson said. “We are helping each other out. We are doing a great job of stopping other teams’ hot players and making it tough for them to score. We’re not giving up on the season yet. We are going to play hard until the last game of the season.”
After dropping their first game against the Raptors this season, the Bobcats snapped a four-game losing streak in the series with a 110-98 home victory on March 2.
The Raptors, though, played both of those games without All-Star forward Chris Bosh, who’s averaging 23.2 points, 9.4 rebounds and 2.2 blocked shots while shooting 51.7 percent from the field in nine career games against Charlotte. Toronto is 8-1 in those contests.
These teams close the season series Friday in Toronto.