Lewenberg: Raptors experience setback in loss to Wizards

Josh Lewenberg
2/26/2013 2:02:39 AM
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TORONTO – The Raptors locker room was dead silent. The feeling of disappointment and frustration was displayed on each face as the team dressed and filed out of the Air Canada Centre hoping to put Monday's lackluster effort behind them.

The vibe was powerful and hardly surprising following an unexpected loss, 90-84, to the lowly albeit streaking Washington Wizards (18-37).

They have experienced defeat before – now 34 times this season, to be exact – but this one was different and so was the post-game vibe.

Previously, members of the Raptors (23-34) would hang their heads. Defeated and discouraged by each loss they would make excuses as to why they inevitably fell just short. The old incarnation didn't necessarily accept defeat but in many ways they seemed to expect it.

With the acquisition of Rudy Gay, things have changed drastically both on the court and in the locker room. A new roster has brought on a new culture in Toronto. Now they're better than losses like this – they've played like it and they wholeheartedly believe it.

“It was a stinker,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “They whipped us, they out-worked us. We tried to turn it on [and] turn it off but it was one of those games [where] we just couldn't get it going.”

“Why we wouldn't have that [sense of urgency] at this time of the year – and for what we're fighting for, scratching for, and what we've been through – is shocking to me.”

Speaking passionately after the loss, a spirited Casey was visibly upset with his team, who had come into Monday's contest having won seven of their last 10 games. His message was clear – this was unacceptable – and it seemed to resonate with his soldiers. This time there were no excuses, just accountability.

“I can't say they did anything different,” Gay said. “I've been double-teamed before. It's just me, it's something I have to work on and something [where] I have to come in with a different mindset.

Coming off a season-best 32-point performance in Friday's win over the Knicks, Gay was a non-factor against his hometown team Monday. The Baltimore-native was blanketed by active defenders early and often as the Wizards forced him to be a play-maker and hit tough shots. His first and only field goal came one minute into the fourth quarter en route to a 1-for-11 night at the office. The Raptors' leading scorer finished with just seven points and five turnovers, routinely looking flustered and out of place on both ends of the court.

Nothing was falling for Gay or the Raptors, who shot 37 per cent on the night. Makeable shots were rimming out, the ball was not moving – at least not in the right direction, the Raptors had 14 turnovers to 13 assists – and they couldn't seem to get a stop when they needed it most. Perhaps they underestimated the Wizards, an improved team that they defeated, 96-88 on the road last Tuesday. Regardless, this did not look like a squad with aspirations of making a late-season playoff push.

“DeMar [DeRozan] played well,” Gay said. But it takes more than one person. We have to be a full team, especially to meet the goals that we have as far as getting to the playoffs.”

“It's not even really about getting to the playoffs, just being as good as we could possibly be. We're a lot better than we played today.”

Offensively DeRozan was a one-man show, scoring 16 of his game-high 25 in the second half. The Raptors' guard was assertive and decisive during a late-game run that had the team in striking range up until the final moments. With nine trips to the line, DeRozan has now attempted six or more free throws in six straight outings.

As Casey pointed out after the game, the tone was set early during a sloppy first half for both teams. Toronto committed eight first-quarter turnovers, 12 in the opening half, and matched a season-low with 32 points entering the intermission.

“We just came out with a lack of energy on both ends,” DeRozan said. “We allowed them to jump out on us and we dug ourselves a hole.”

Toronto limited its miscues after the break and briefly tied the score at 49 in the third quarter but could not get the stops needed and never led in the second half

The Raptors didn't have an answer for rookie guard Bradley Beal, who scored 11 of his team-high 20 points in the second half.

Like the Raptors, Washington is playing catch-up after a miserable start to the campaign. The Wizards have now won seven of their last nine and 13 of 22 since John Wall returned from his knee injury. Wall struggled offensively for the second time in less than a week against Toronto, shooting 3-of-11 for 10 points and seven assists. Although his jump shot, or lack thereof, remains a significant weakness in his otherwise intriguing bag of tricks he's dynamic enough to make an impact with his speed and quickness.

Ultimately Washington displayed the sense of urgency Toronto was missing and desperately needed as their once lost season draws to a close. Outplayed in nearly ever facet of the game Monday, the Raptors have only 25 games to make up some of the ground they lost and make a run at the eighth-seeded Milwaukee Bucks, who sit four and a half games ahead of them.

Better Night for Bargnani

After playing 34 minutes of scoreless basketball over the previous two games, Andrea Bargnani got on the board with a tricky nine-foot fade away late in the first quarter. Although the Raptors' forward – 4-of-11 for eight points in 21 minutes off the bench – missed a number of good looks, he seemed far more engaged on both ends of the floor, even drawing a charge on Emeka Okafor in the third.

The sparse Monday night ACC crowd seemed to heed Casey's plea to support Bargnani. The often-critiqued human lightning rod has been on the receiving end of some boos from the home fans since his return from injury, much to the dismay of his coach and teammates. He was greeted with a more positive reception when he entered the game and the atmosphere was significantly less hostile towards him, apart from the occasional jeer directed his way.

Bassy on Board

Recently acquired guard Sebastian Telfair dressed and was available for the Raptors after missing what would have been his first practice with the team on Sunday. Telfair – who came over in a trade from Phoenix on Thursday – did not see the floor on Monday and will have to work his way into the rotation as the third point guard on the depth chart behind Kyle Lowry and John Lucas III.

Lowry had 18 points despite a rough night from the field while Lucas played well, scoring nine on 4-of-5 shooting in 16 minutes off the pine.

To make room for Telfair, Mikael Pietrus – who has been battling knee tendinitis and hasn't played since January 9th – was inactive.

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