There’s no gentle way to describe what happened in Orlando on Friday night. It was a kick to the teeth of a fanbase already teetering on the edge of full-blown panic. The Raptors got outclassed for the second time in five days by the Orlando freaking Magic, a team comprised of ill-fitting dudes that could be scattered around the league three weeks from now.
For those who have been attempting to remain measured throughout the last month of ugly Raptors basketball, Friday might be the turning point where your grip on optimism was lost, plunging you into a state of worry and frustration. That would be totally justified.
Kyle Lowry picked an untimely juncture to turn in one of his worst performances of the season. After carrying the Raptors on his back with DeMar DeRozan sidelined, the load was evidently too heavy on Friday. He followed up four-straight games of 30+ points and blistering long distance shooting with a line of 18 points, seven assists and five boards on an April 2016-like 5-of-20 from the field (2-of-11 from three). Among the host of things that went wrong in the game for the now tied-for-4th Raptors, Lowry stood out as the biggest reason for the loss.
Lowry’s body of work is such that you can probably just chalk this up as a one-game anomaly. Some other elements of what’s going on with the Raptors are less easy to shrug off.
DeMarre Carroll probably needs to sit down for a bit. His shot has been broken for two-plus weeks since reportedly sustaining an injury on his shooting hand in a game against the Sixers. After another 0-for shooting night, it’s apparent his body can’t perform the way his brain would like to. Problem is: without DeRozan, Carroll is needed to simply absorb minutes on the wing. As Lowry was sure to point out earlier in the week, Carroll’s still offering the intangible benefits he’s always been lauded for. But when you can’t sink a shot, grit and tenacity can only take you so far.
It seemed early on like Cory Joseph wouldn’t even get the opportunity to extend his own run of ineffective play. Fred VanVleet was the first point guard called off the bench by Dwane Casey, an opportunity he turned into one of the few bright spots for the Raptors on the night. VanVleet dropped 15 points on 12 shots while adding in three boards, three dimes and some heady control of the offense.
It wasn’t until desperation time in the fourth quarter that Joseph was allowed entry into the game. The result: one missed shot, two rebounds, an assist an a -9 in seven minutes. It’s probably not a backup point guard controversy ... yet.
And of course, there was the most concerning development of the Raptors’ eighth loss in 10 games. Just seven minutes in, Patrick Patterson exited with the same left knee injury that initiated the Raptors’ slide in the first place. Toronto’s front court rotation is once again in flux. Patterson is the pillar that props up each of the lineups he’s part of. If he returns to the shelf, so might the Raptors’ hopes of crawling out of the tar pit they find themselves stuck in.
There are still reasons for those reluctant to overreact to stay calm. If Lowry played as well against the Magic as he had over the last handful of games, the Raptors probably would have had enough juice to win. DeMar DeRozan’s return date, while unclear, is going to come sooner than later. With that will come some much-needed offensive punch and a slide back down the role ladder for the rest of the Raptors’ wing corps.
We won’t be able to detect the true root of the Raptors’ recent swoon until health can be regained. Injuries — and the resultant out-of-sync rotations — still remain the most obvious explainer of what’s gone wrong with the Raptors since the New Year. But with each passing loss it gets trickier to maintain a level-headed outlook.
What did you think of tonight’s loss?