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Fourth Quarter Collapse Sinks Raptors Against Bulls

The Toronto Raptors' loss at the hands of the Chicago Bulls last night was their 32nd of the season--a mark that has become relatively insignificant for a team that has grown accustomed to losing this season. However, for a couple of players on that Raptor club, the loss marks the beginning of a very important stretch of games for their future with the team.

On a night where the Toronto Raptors wore camouflage colored uniforms to celebrate the Canadian Military, it was rather fitting that they were utterly invisible in the fourth quarter.

The Dinos played a very strong first half, committing just three turnovers while forcing 10 out of the Bulls on their way to an eight point first half advantage. The Dinos carried their success over to the third, but in the fourth, things took a turn for the worst.

The Bulls opened the fourth quarter on a 16-2 run and never relented, resulting in a 31-12 advantage in the quarter and a 94-82 victory. Both John Lucas and Kyle Korver were huge for the Derrick Roseless Chicago Bulls, scoring 13 and 10 in the fourth quarter respectively.

A loss like this raises a few, rather large, concerns for this Raptor club. The first of which, and perhaps the greatest, is the play of Andrea Bargnani. Bargnani was lauded for his high caliber of play over the course of the first 13 games of this season, causing many to believe that he had finally turned the corner and was, for the first time, beginning to earn the distinction that comes along with being a former number one overall pick.

This opinion however has quickly dissipated of late and has been replaced with growing concern that those 13 games were more of an aberration than a sign that stability and All-Star worthy play was on the horizon.

Over the course of his last seven games following his return to the lineup after missing 20 games with a calf injury, Bargnani is averaging just 13 points per game on 35% percent shooting, compared to his 23.5 points per game and 48% shooting in the first 13. The obvious response to this large of a drop-off is, and has been for many around the team, that Bargs continues to struggle with his timing and rhythm and once he gets those things back, he will return to his early season form.

At this point it is tough to tell whether or not this is true, but it has been pretty clear that things are not quite right with the seven-foot Italian. All things considered, this does raise another major question, and that is: how long do we go on giving Bargnani the benefit of the doubt before his play becomes a legitimate red flag?

The answer is one that Raptor fans have been pondering since Bargnani was drafted in 2006. After being essentially written off by many fans and people that follow the team prior to the season, Bargnani had that 13 game outburst which changed a number of opinions—including mine—about his play. But again, his poor defense and rebounding have reared their ugly head and we are left awaiting his return to that All-Star caliber of play.

Just when we thought we had him figured out, Bargnani remains every bit the enigma he has been during his previous five years in the NBA.

Another facet to this concern is how the play of Andrea Bargnani has affected that of DeMar DeRozan. Although DeMar was able to have a solid game last night—finishing with a team high 23 points and six rebounds—he has struggled to coexist with Bargnani after having a promising stretch of games prior to Bargnani’s return.

This is obviously a huge issue for the Dinos, who have committed it seems, to rebuilding with these two players as their cornerstones. Again, the question remains: how long do we give these players the benefit of the doubt that they can coexist before a change becomes necessary?

This is another question that is tough to answer, but judging by the responses of some of the readers in last night’s game thread, patience is running thin. With Jonas Valanciunas and another lottery pick coming in next season, in addition to what Colangelo and Co. can bring in with their cap space, there may not be room for both Bargnani and DeRozan on this team come next season.

What does this mean for the rest of the season? Well, it means that we are looking at a 19-game tryout for DeRozan and Bargnani to prove that they belong both individually, and collectively.

On a team currently sitting 5th worst in the NBA, you would figure that the final 19 games would be rather meaningless; however with potentially drastic change on the horizon, those 19 games can mean the difference between playing for the Raptors next season or being traded for guys like DeRozan and Bargnani.

At the very least, this should add a little bit of intrigue to a season that has been largely devoid of such interest for Raptor fans.