Just when you thought the Raptors had reached rock bottom, the night the Houston Rockets snapped a 20-game losing streak at their expense, the misery and losing continue with no apparent end in sight.
Given the state of this unit, no game, regardless of record, must be viewed as winnable when so many sure bets have turned into lost opportunities.
The Golden State Warriors come to Tampa on Friday night, forced to play the back end of a back-to-back, the kind of scenario that should favour the Raptors.
The Raptors should have beaten the OKC Thunder on Wednesday night, but lost because they couldn’t rebound and their offence took a nose-dive in the second half, 24 minutes of inefficiency that would see Toronto score 36 points, just 14 in the fourth quarter.
The Raptors made only 27% of their shots in the second half after leading 67-59 at intermission.
Losers of nine of their past 10, including four straight, the Raptors have dropped 13 of 14 and closed out the month of March with one win.
Toronto enters Friday’s tip sitting in 11th place at 18-30 with 24 games remaining.
The lineup OKC threw at the Raptors was young and inexperienced, but the Thunder played hard, was able to sustain its level much longer as the Raptors seemed incapable to match up athletically and physically, wearing down as the night unfolded.
“I don’t think we’re at the point where we’re pointing fingers or blaming (each other),’’ said Fred VanVleet post-game. “I think we passed that point a long time ago. We’re pretty cohesive and together, we’re just not playing well.”
There’s a myriad of reasons why so much has gone so wrong, the culprits as long as the excuses many of the team’s apologists would want you to believe.
Bench-wise and size-wise, the Raptors are too thin. Even thinner is their margin for error.
It’s never a good sign when you’re outrebounded 14 games in a row, a deficiency that allows opponents to feast on second-chance opportunities.
Aron Baynes has gone from a guy who appeared to be a serviceable big to someone who provides very little. He even got teed up in Oklahoma City.
One of these days, the Raptors must take a page from the Thunder and simply showcase their young group.
OKC has shut down veteran Al Horford and the day is growing closer when the Raptors will have to make a similar decision on Kyle Lowry, whose foot woes will sideline him for at least one week.
By the time he’s ready to return, the Raptors might be deeper in the muck.
There’s even an argument to be made that VanVleet’s minutes should be cut back.
Pascal Siakam basically disappeared in Wednesday’s second half.
Gary Trent Jr. came out aggressively and confidently against the Thunder, scoring 10 first-quarter points en route to a 20-point half. He ended the night by posting a career-high 31. More sets were being drawn up for Trent and more awaits as he settles into his role with the team.
Rookie Malachi Flynn needs to be playing more, ideally in a backcourt with Trent. Flynn has played in eight straight games, his longest stretch of the season. On Wednesday night, he was on the floor for 19 minutes and 32 seconds, the most he’s played. There’s no reason why his minutes shouldn’t be increased.
The Raptors find themselves in a very delicate stage. They haven’t raised the white flag the way OKC has, but there are plenty of red flags surrounding them that aren’t going away anytime soon. Truth be told, these red flags have been obvious for a while.
Toronto isn’t big, has no depth, can’t sustain its level of play and time is beginning to run out, if it hasn’t already. Even if the Raptors do make some kind of late-season run, only the most delusional believes this unit can actually make any noise in the post-season.
VanVleet’s streak of making at least one three-pointer extended to 75 games in a row. In his past three games, he has taken a combined 30 shots from distance, making nine. He has taken a total of 56 shots during that span, which reinforces how the Raptors are too reliant on the three-point shot. During the past five games, Siakam has gone 6-for-22 from distance. He made 10 trips to the line Wednesday, all in the first half, the third time in the past four games he has attempted double-digit free throw attempts.
BAYNES OF THEIR EXISTENCE
Not to pick on Baynes, but the big man, who doesn’t exactly play big, hauled down nine boards, including six defensive, in a loss to the host Cavs. But in the six games since that March 22 night, he has produced nine rebounds, including five defensive. Against the Thunder, Baynes had two rebounds in 21 minutes, zero points and three fouls.
Warriors vs. Raptors
7 p.m. at Amalie Arena in Tampa
Andrew Wiggins vs. Gary Trent Jr.
Wiggins has finally found his niche, a two-way player who isn’t being asked to win games for the Warriors. He played well during the month of March, a stretch that saw Wiggins average 21.3 points on 50.5% shooting. For the season, the wing is averaging 18.2 points, 4.7 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 0.9 steals and 0.9 blocks, while shooting a career-high 47.4% overall and a career-high 39.7% from beyond the arc; Wiggins has played in all 47 games this season heading into Friday night’s tip in Miami; “His on-ball defence has been really good,” said Golden State head coach Steve Kerr. “He’s shooting the ball very efficiently. All in all, he’s having an excellent year. He’s getting more and more comfortable playing alongside Steph (Curry) and Draymond (Green). As we go forward, it’s just great that he’s not only playing well, but feeling good about his surroundings, his teammates, the style of play (and) everything else.”
Golden State ended a four-game losing streak by beating the Chicago Bulls, marking the return of Curry, whose bruised tailbone forced the sharpshooter to miss five in a row; Curry poured in 32 points by connecting on six from distance. “It wasn’t fun but got through it,” Curry said of the discomfort. “I was able to keep warm and deal with the pain and just play. It will be something to manage in the near future but it will continue to heal as I get some more time.” Curry drilled three quick three-pointers and had 13 points in the opening quarter. Curry landed hard on his backside late in the period and spent the second quarter with a wrap; “He’s the heart and soul of everything we do,” said Kerr. “The last few games it’s been tough without that dynamic; Curry admits there’s not much more he can do when it comes to his rehab; “It’s not much when you’re dealing with bone like that. It’s a lot of ice, a lot of finding the most comfortable chairs and sofas in the house and just letting the body do its thing no matter how long that takes and having some fun with it. I think I’ve run out of tailbone and (butt) jokes. It’s kind of just one of those situations, kind of uncomfortable all the way around.”
DID YOU KNOW
Second overall pick James Wiseman turned 20 on March 31; “We want to continue to run plenty of pick and roll,’’ said Kerr of the young big man who is very raw. “I think James is starting to get comfortable with the timing. That’s the growth we’ve been looking for. I just feel like James has to run his race and he can’t run anyone else’s race. We can’t force his development.” … OG Anunoby has scored at least 10 points in 22 consecutive games … Chris Boucher has gone 4-for-22 in his past seven games from three-point range.