Away game a homey stop for Dallas Mavericks' Vince Carter

TORONTO -- The NBA was able to survive in Canada because of Vince Carter.

From 1998-2004, Carter was the pride of Toronto as he led the Raptors to their first three playoff appearances. Carter wowed the crowd with his incredible leaping ability that earned him the nicknames Air Canada, Vinsanity and Half-Man Half-Amazing.

Carter performed his magic while cognizant that Canada is really hockey country. Always has been, always will be.

That's why Carter and his teammates had a difficult time initially selling basketball in a town that's extremely fanatical about the NHL's Toronto Maple Leafs.

"That's what it is and we understood that we were always going to be second fiddle," Carter said. "But why not make the Toronto Raptors basketball team respectable and have people say, 'Hey, go Maple Leafs, but hey, we love our Raptors, too.'

"And I think we created that atmosphere, and it's been there ever since."

While with the Raptors, Carter was the NBA Rookie of the Year, won the Slam Dunk title, and was an All-Star five times. He averaged 20 or more points for four seasons, including a career-high 27.6 in 2000-01.

Carter will be back at his former haunt tonight at 6 when he and the Dallas Mavericks (11-11) face the Raptors (4-19) at the Air Canada Centre.

In the meantime, Carter hopes the folks running the Raptors' front office will recognize what he did for this franchise and put the wheels in motion to retire his jersey once he retires from the game.

"That's a decision that the organization has to make," Carter said. "I'm more than willing to. I'd never say no.

"That's where it started. I had six wonderful years there. There were bumps in the road. That's just the way it goes, but it's nothing like where you first started."

In other words, had Carter not been dazzling crowds at Raptor games, Toronto could have been dealt the same fate as Vancouver, which unceremoniously lost its franchise to Memphis in 2001 after just six seasons in Canada because of declining attendance.

It helped, too, that the Raptors won their first playoff series in 2001 when they bucked tremendous odds and defeated Jeff Van Gundy's New York Knicks.

"It was reinforced because we finally got TV games and we felt people started to respect the Toronto Raptors because of what we accomplished," Carter said. "When you go out there and beat the Knicks, a Jeff Van Gundy basketball team, that was saying something.

"So I think we laid a nice foundation."

That nice foundation is why Toronto is so special to Carter.

"It's like going back home to play," Carter said. "It's like me going back home to Orlando to play in front of my family and friends.

"It's the same thing."

Boston loss lingers

The Mavs are still seething about Wednesday's 117-115 double-overtime loss to the Boston Celtics. Dallas committed a season-high 28 turnovers, but remained neck-and-neck with the Celtics.

"It's amazing that we were still in the game," forward Dahntay Jones said. "But that showed that we have a lot of growth ahead of us and we can be a better basketball team.

"If we just take care of the ball, the sky's the limit for us.''

Guard O.J. Mayo was upset with the nine turnovers he committed and the key free throw he missed that would have given the Mavs a 97-96 lead with 52.1 seconds left in regulation.

"When you've got an opportunity to deliver you've got to deliver, whether it's at the foul line or an isolation at the top, at the rim, wide-open shots, or whatever," Mayo said. "You've got to deliver, man.

"This league is about making plays ... They made more plays down the stretch than we did, and that's why they won the game." Dwain Price, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @DwainPrice

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