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    Mar 2009


    Default Red-hot Raptors in Philadelphia Friday

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    The Toronto Raptors are seeing dividends after reworking their roster in the offseason. The Philadelphia 76ers, meanwhile, are hopeful their latest addition can begin to produce consistently.

    In the first meeting this season between the Atlantic Division rivals, the Raptors will attempt to move above .500 for the first time in nearly two months with their eighth win in nine games Friday night at Philadelphia.

    Only four players remain from the Raptors' roster in the 2008-09 season finale, with Hedo Turkoglu and Jarrett Jack the team's most noticeable additions. That revamped lineup has finally seemed to jell over the past three weeks with a 7-1 mark since Dec. 18.

    Toronto (18-18) has improved defensively in that span, allowing 92.6 points per game. In their first 28 games, the Raptors gave up an average of 108.6 points.

    "I think we are just figuring out how to play together," forward Chris Bosh said. "We are finally getting it on defense and rebounding a lot better. Everything right now is clicking for us. We just have to keep it rolling."

    Toronto has also limited past two opponents to less than 42.0 percent shooting while recording back-to-back wins and needed every bit of that defense to hold off Orlando for a 108-103 road victory Wednesday night.

    The Raptors nearly blew an 18-point lead in the fourth quarter but tightened up late. Bosh and Marco Belinelli made the team's final four free throw attempts to put away the game.

    As expected, Bosh has aided the Raptors during their recent run by averaging 24.6 points on 54.1 percent shooting over the past five games. The All-Star forward has also made 58.8 percent of his attempts over the past 12 contests, and is averaging 23.6 points and 11.3 rebounds while shooting 51.8 percent this season - all career highs.

    He'll try to help the Raptors move above .500 for the first time since they were 5-4 on Nov. 13, but will face a 76ers team that's shown signs of improvement.

    Philadelphia (10-24) won three of its final four on a recent six-game road trip with notable victories over Portland and Denver. The 76ers, however, didn't have a happy return home as they blew an 18-point lead Tuesday night in a 104-97 loss to Washington.

    "We just gave it away," guard Allen Iverson said. "It was like a late Christmas present to them."

    Samuel Dalembert had season highs of 20 points and 20 rebounds, but Iverson totaled four points and five assists in 34 minutes.

    After sitting out four games with arthritis in his left knee, Iverson had scored 17 or more points in the team's previous three wins. He's also been held to a combined 11 points in the past two losses.

    Despite that recent inconsistency, the Sixers showed enough faith in Iverson to guarantee his contract, which he signed Dec. 3, for the rest of the season before Tuesday's defeat. Philadelphia has won four of 10 games when he's in the lineup.

    The 76ers have also won three of the last five meetings with the Raptors, including a 115-106 home win March 11, but they fell 111-104 in Toronto on April 12.



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