Fans licking chops at Bosh's return on Wednesday
In a city that celebrated the return of Vince Carter by donning No. 15 baby bibs, the Raptors know Chris Bosh's visit to Toronto could get ugly.
Toronto hosts the Heat on Wednesday (7 p.m. ET) in Bosh's first appearance at the Air Canada Centre since he signed with Miami after seven seasons with the Raptors.
"I think it will be real crazy, I think it will be a lot of excitement, I think it will be, phew. . . like The Rock coming back to WWE," Raptors forward Reggie Evans said, laughing.
Toronto fans have been spurned before, watching the likes of Damon Stoudamire, Tracy McGrady and Carter hightail it to other teams.
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But the manner of Bosh's departure left fans stinging. He toyed with their hearts, tweeting: "Should I stay or should I go?" He complained that Raptors games weren't on T.V. in the U.S., he griped about Canada's inferior cable T.V. lineup.
"You really can't fault the fans," said Sonny Weems. "I don't get too deep into that because it has nothing to do with me, but the fans think he's a traitor. It would mean a lot to them if we can get this win, and it would mean a lot to our team."
Bosh is prepared for the worst, but the 26-year-old said he has no regrets on how his handled things in Toronto.
"Sometimes there's no good way to separate or move on. You have to put the past behind," Bosh told reporters in Indianapolis on Tuesday before Miami's game versus the Pacers. "At no time did I feel I said anything degrading or bad or acted uncivilized. I'm pretty happy with the way things went."
Miami became the most talked-about team in the league, when Bosh and LeBron James joined Dwyane Wade. The Heat was 39- 15 heading into Tuesday's game and rounding into form as an NBA contender.
The Raptors, who went 40-42 last season, are limping along at 15-40 and have won just two of their past 18 games.
Sense of camraderie
But Evans argues that while it might not show on the scoresheet, there's a better sense of camaraderie on the team in Bosh's absence.
"Once Chris said he was gone, we were so far in the future. We weren't like 'ohhh.' Once he was gone, he was gone," Evans said.
Asked how the team adapted to losing a vocal leader in the locker-room, Evans said: "I didn't know he was in the locker-room."
"No disrespect to Chris, but he doesn't talk. Would he talk on the court? Yeah, he'd talk on the court, but you're speaking of the locker-room. . . he doesn't talk," he added. "Chris wasn't like a person like a Shaq, who just brightens up the day. Chris is a different dude.
"From a personality standpoint, even though we're going through a lot of ups and downs, we're still having fun with each other, we still enjoy each other's company. Personality, we're on a whole other level, comparing personality from last year to this year."
Security will be beefed up for the sold-out game — just the fourth for the Raptors this season — but the police presence will be nowhere near what it was when James returned to the Quicken Loans Arena for the Heat's game against the similarly-spurned Cavs. That night, even the mascot Moondog wore a bullet-proof vest.
Still, the atmosphere will be charged in an arena where fans still boo Carter and even McGrady who hasn't pulled on a Raptors jersey in more than a decade. Carter was serenaded by roaring chants of "V.C. sucks!" upon his return in 2005.
"Whoo... I can't wait," Weems said. "Not only that they're going to be here because of Chris Bosh, you have LeBron and Dwyane Wade on the same team. I'm looking forward to the game, it's going to be great tomorrow."
The Heat have already beaten the Raptors twice this season — 109-100 on Nov. 13 and 120-103 on Jan. 22. Bosh's scoring is down from his 20 points and 10 rebounds he averaged in Toronto to 18.3 points and 8.1 rebounds heading into Tuesday's action.
He's also taken some grief from critics, the latest being Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen, who referred to the Heat's three stars as "two-and-a-half players, since I don't think Chris Bosh is half the player of LeBron James."
Raptors coach Jay Triano said he's approaching the night as another game against a good team.
"We know the atmosphere is going to be great and we're looking forward to that challenge,"Triano said. "This is the third time we've played this team. For you guys it's a big deal, for us, it's the third time we've played them.
"We've seen him before, and we've seen him in a Heat jersey and we all went 'Wow!' the first time. Now it's time to play basketball."
The two teams will complete their season series with a game April 13 in Toronto.