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When the Toronto Raptors (23-35) look back on the 2012-13 season, the autopsy will reveal that most of the damage was done during the disappointingly plodding 4-19 start, but a disproportionate degree of harm was done in this week's losses to Washington and Cleveland, teams armed with a combined 38-76 record. As recently as this past weekend, Toronto sat just 3.5 games shy of the No. 8 spot. With two losses against also-ran opponents, combined with a pair of come-from-behind wins by Milwaukee, put them six back with 24 games to go.
In this latest blow to the Raps' playoff hopes, an early 21-7 lead and the absence of Kyrie Irving still weren't enough to help the once-again-sluggish Dinos pull out what was all but a must-win game. An amped up Dion Waiters (23 points), a huge bench discrepancy (more later) and a 37-point second quarter helped Cleveland topple Toronto 103-92.
For the visitors, the starters certainly weren't the problem. DeMar DeRozan had his best game in months (more in the next paragraph), Kyle Lowry came sneakily close to a triple-double (11 points, eight assists, six rebounds), Jonas Valanciunas was quietly productive (eight rebounds, three blocks and a +14) and Rudy Gay bounced back from an awful outing against Washington to score 24 points and secure eight boards. The bench (eight points on 4-14 shooting and 0-6 from three) was another story entirely.
After Monday night's game, I begrudgingly included DeRozan in the "Good" because, well, someone or something had to be there (what can I say? I'm a slave to format). After Wednesday's game in Cleveland, at least I can say that the 23-year old actually deserves his spot here. That's what happens when you register a game-high 34 points and get to the line 15 times (he made 14). With the club unable to make a three-pointer (a little later, still), DeRozan helped keep the Raps in the mix by excelling from the charity stripe and connecting on 14 of the team's 20 made free throws. By the time Toronto had jumped out to their early 14-point lead, the USC alum already had eight points.
Bricks from Beyond
An 11-point loss may not exactly seem like the type of game in which you can reflect on certain stand-alone moments and opportunities that could have flipped the script, but Toronto still managed to creep within three points on a Gay dunk in the final two minutes. That makes the team's disastrous 2-20 shooting from beyond the arc all the more damaging. I mean, come on: CJ Miles, he of less than 15 minutes of court time, connected on as many treys as the Raps.
Nothing in the Reserves
Plus-minus isn't always a perfect stat, but sometimes it tells a pretty good story of just what went on in a given game. Just look at the Raptors' box score from Wednesday's game: DeRozan, who was ironically the only starter to finish in the minus, was a -3. In contrast, Aaron Gray offered the best plus-minus showing from the bench (solely because damages were mitigated by his meagre 3:33 of floor time) with a -7. Against a game Cavs' bench, the Raptor reserves were outscored 39-8, thanks to the continued ineptness of Andrea Bargnani (no points on 0-4 shooting), lethargic play from Alan Anderson (-27) and an utter lack of any secondary playmaking behind Lowry (John Lucas III was a -14 in just 6:51 on the court, while Sebastian Telfair's debut was shortened by four fouls in just seven minutes).
- Not a good sign for Toronto's playoff hopes: Eric Koreen has already penned a "future of the Raptors' roster" outline. If, as Koreen suggests, the Dwane Casey's future will be up in the air alongside Bryan Colangelo's, you can look back at some questionable rotation choices (Terrence Ross didn't play at all on Wednesday, while fellow rookie Waiters shone) as leading to his downfall.
- The snark in me wonders if this is the most TV time that Mickael Pietrus has gotten in 2013.
Indiana returns on Friday night (7:00pm, TSN) for the final encounter in what have been a series of down-to-the-wire contests this year between the clubs. The Raps own a 2-1 record against the Pacers this year, with each game being decided by two points.
Prediction: Pacers 104, Raps 96 (36-16 this season)