Tip-In: Ugly. Raptors Crushed by Howard and Magic 112 to 72

Did the Raptors send their D League team to play in their stead last night?  The HQ breaks down the loss and looks at tonight's match against the Heat.

The last time that the Toronto Raptors set foot into the Amway centre, they shocked the basketball world with a surprise 110-106 victory over the then 5-3 Orlando Magic.

Two months and 10 days later, the Dinos found themselves back in Orlando to face a new-look Magic squad and the result was a 40 point spanking at the hands of Dwight Howard and Ryan Anderson who combined for 52 of the Magic's 112 points in their 112 to 72 demolition of the Raps.

While the Raptors did manage to keep it close for most of the game (they were only down by six points at halftime), the Magic led 73-57 after the third quarter and blew the game wide-open in the fourth as they outscored the Dinos 39-15 in the frame.

While they only shot 35 per cent from the field and were outrebounded 60-44, the most telling last night's most telling statistic was the fact that Dwight Howard, who finished the game with 31 points, 19 rebounds and a block, scored as many points as the Raptors' entire starting line-up.

Although there is no doubt that last night was one of the lowest points of the season for the 13-30 Raptors, who now find themselves fighting  with the New Jersey Nets in a sad attempt to stay out of the cellar of the Atlantic Division, the Raptors played way worse than they actually are.

If there are two things that we know about the 2010-2011 Raptors, it's that they cannot rebound or play defence. Because of this, the Dinos are forced to rely on their offense to make up for their defensive incompetence.

And until tonight, they have managed to do this for most of the season.

Coming into tonight's game, the Raptors were 12th in the league in offense, scoring an average of 100 points per game and averaging exactly 22 assists per game.

Tonight, they only managed to score 72 points and rack up 15 assists.

Here's where their problems were.

The starting line-up, which consisted of Linas Kleiza, Joey Dorsey, DeMar DeRozan, Jose Calderon and Andrea Bargnani, only managed to shoot 23 per cent from the field and score an embarrassing 31 points. Calderon went 0-6 from the field while Kleiza's month long struggles continued as he only managed to score four points.

But the most troubling thing was that Bargs did not have a single point after halftime.

Now I know that a lot of Raptors fans are divided on whether or not they should accept Andrea Bargnani as Toronto's best player or as their most overrated big man, but after tonight's game I have come to somewhat of a conclusion.

It kills me to say this because I am a Bargnani believer, but unless he is scoring 20+ points night in and night out, Bargs is an extremely ineffective player.

Yes, Bargnani may have scored 11 points tonight, but his 3-14 shooting percentage and his inability to consistently rebound and play defence proved to be costly in the long run and that is what frustrates me the most about the seven foot Italian centre because he is usually the biggest body on the court. It's one thing to be having a bad night offensively, but good players find other ways to help their teams win in big games; especially when you are considered to be the "star" of the team.

Bargnani will have to prove that he can do more than just score points, if he ever hopes to be a leader on the Raptors.

With all that being said, the Raptors are a better team than they showed us tonight, and with a tough matchup against the Miami Heat tomorrow, head coach Jay Triano is going to have to find a way to make his players forget about last night's 40 point thrashing and have them start thinking about how in the hell they hope to stop LeBron James and Dwayne Wade. 

Which brings me to tonight's game.

At the end of December, Raptors fans were talking about the very real possibility of their team potentially squeezing into the playoffs, but recently those talks have all but vanished as the Dinos have compiled an unimpressive 2-9 record in the month of January.

Fans seem more and more disheartened with every loss that their beloved team suffers, and after last night's 40 point thrashing at the hands of Dwight Howard and the red hot Orlando Magic, who can blame them.

Sure they were a few minutes away from beating the Atlanta Hawks last week and yes they were close to beating the Washington Wizards and the New Orleans Hornets earlier this week, but all of those close games garnered the same result.

A big L.

However, I truly believe that the Raptors have a good chance at snapping their six game losing streak against the Boshless Miami Heat.

Now before everyone starts commenting on how ridiculous this statement is, just hear me out.

First off, the Heat are currently riding a four game losing streak after winning 21 of their last 22.

Second of all, the Heat are an unimpressive 1-4 when one of their three megastars doesn't play.

Thirdly, nothing is more dangerous than a team that has just been humiliated and has nothing left to lose.

No matter how bad a team plays or how humiliating a team's loss is, professional athletes do not like to have their pride and dignity taken away from them.

And that is exactly why the Raptors will be playing for more than just another W; they will be playing to earn back their pride and dignity against the second best team in the Eastern Conference.

 The fact that nobody will give the Raptors any kind of respect can play to their advantage and after last night's blowout loss; it's fair to say that the Dinos have become one of the laughing stocks of the NBA.

With all that being said, here are tonight's keys to the game.

1)      Aggressive Play: Because the Heat average 101 points per game, the Raptors will have to do something that they have been unable to do for most of the season...play smart defence. Whether you double, triple or quadruple cover LeBron James and/or Dwayne Wade, you know that they will somehow find a way to get the ball into the basket. For the Raptors to win this game, they will have to shut down the rest of the Heat squad. That means not letting Eddie House and Carlos Arroyo take uncontested shots, and that definitely means not giving up any offensive rebounds. The Raptors can't hope to shut down James and Wade, but they can help themselves by not letting anyone else get to the net.

On the offensive side, the Raptors have to make smart decisions when they have the ball. They have to take the time to set up plays and avoid taking quick shots. I know that this is easier said than done, but the more time that the Raptors take on their possessions, the less time James and Wade have to score.

2)      Take High Percentage Shots: Too many times this season have I seen the Raptors take some ridiculous shots. Whether it's Bargnani driving to the basket then at the last minute deciding to pull up and take a fade-away or DeRozan deciding that he is going to attempt to score on a contested runner, the Raptors' shot selection needs to improve. They have to cherish every possession and make the most of it. If they can stay patient, make the extra pass and find an open man, then this game will be a lot closer than many expect it to be. Oh yeah, they also have to start hitting some three-balls 

3)      Andrea Bargnani: Whether you love him or you hate him, the fact of the matter remains that he is the team's best pure scorer and the Dinos cannot win unless he manages to score 20+ points. It's as simple as that. Bargnani is at his best when he uses a combination of both inside and outside shots to confuse the opposing team's front court. The Raptors will have to hope that Bargnani can forget about last night's horrific performance and step up against the Heat if they hope to leave South Beach with a win.

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