Mired in slump, Toronto Raptors unable to shake free vs. short-handed San Antonio Spurs

TORONTO – And then came Tuesday night and the 108-106 loss to the Spurs in Air Canada Centre, although not really the Spurs so much as a distant cousin without Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker and Pau Gasol and playing Dejounte Murray, Bryn Forbes and Davis Bertans more minutes in a close fourth quarter than Manu Ginobili.

The Raptors didn’t even bring a great effort to start. That’s the thing. Now the Raptors have lost four in a row. The last loss was against an opponent resting, injured and serving itself up while playing a third road game in four nights while Toronto opened in cruise mode. Sixty-one points it allowed in the first half to a team that came in averaging 107.7, and that’s mostly with Leonard and a lot with Parker.

There are ordinarily no real statements to be made in January, except that this was no ordinary situation. This, more specifically, was the Raptors talking a lot about pride and being angry at themselves over the recent play, getting the chance to turn words into action, and then dribbling off their foot out of bounds.

It’s not just four losses in a row either. It’s four losses in a row against the 76ers while scoring 89 points, the Hornets while grinding gears to 78, the Suns while managing 103 but allowing 115, and the Spurs relying on three rookies in the fourth quarter. Phoenix and Philadelphia are tracking to the lottery just past midseason and Tuesday’s opponent was a stand-in, a bunch of reserves thrust into real minutes as what could have been a marquee matchup of No. 2 in the East against No. 2 in the West never came close to materializing.

The Raptors had their own gaping hole, of course, with DeMar DeRozan sidelined by the sprained right ankle suffered when he landed on the foot of teammate Jonas Valencuinas in the same building Sunday against Phoenix. DeRozan is also scheduled to sit out Wednesday at Memphis, with the possibility of a return Friday back here against the Bucks, an absence that obviously hurts. But personality was the problem, not the absence of the shooting guard.

“I think it’s just a slump,” Patrick Patterson said after returning to the Toronto lineup following six games missed with a sore left knee. “We’re dealing with injuries, guys being hurt, lack of effort in a couple games. Lack of effort defensively, and communication. There was a game where we were missing shots we normally make. But I don’t think there’s any concern. It’s still early. We’re at the hallway point. We still need to get everybody back healthy and focus a lot more on defense. But we’ll be fine. We’ll be good.”

This was the game worth setting a wake-up call for – the rarity of three consecutive losses, needing energy to compensate for DeRozan’s absence, a title contender stepping into their house, or at least a title contender on a lot of other nights – and the Raptors couldn’t even be bothered to come out with the proper intensity. That arrived in the second half.

And now they go into Memphis’ Grindhouse, where the home team most assuredly will bring effort Wednesday night as the newer, tougher test for the Raps: No DeRozan, on the road, second night of a back-to-back, against an opponent needing every win in the competitive standings around the middle of the West playoff pack. Point guard Kyle Lowry already played 42 minutes Tuesday, and maybe not for the last time as long as DeRozan is missing from the backcourt.

“I’m just going out there doing whatever my job is and right now it’s to just go out there and try to win games and unfortunately I’m not doing a good job of that right now,” Lowry said. “I’ve got to figure it out. Just got to figure it out no matter what.”

There is only forever to go in the regular season so this is far from a panic situation, but the inability to at least play hard the entire night Tuesday, to dig deep with a statement, was impossible to miss. The Raptors didn’t bring the proper energy, didn’t stand up to the SortaSpurs and didn’t break the losing streak. But at least they can talk about pride.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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