TORONTO - Speaking at an event for season ticket holders before the season began, Masai Ujiri urged Raptors fans - and by extension the team itself - to help make the Air Canada Centre a daunting place for opponents to visit.
"We have to make this place a living hell for [opponents] to come play here," the Raptors' general manager pleaded.
So far it's been anything but.
"We have far more focus on the road than we do at home and that is a concern," coach Dwane Casey said after his team dropped to 4-8 at the ACC, losing another heartbreaker, 104-102 to the Bobcats in overtime Wednesday.
With a record of 5-6 outside of Toronto, the Raptors are one of three Eastern Conference teams with more wins on the road than at home. Wednesday's loss to the Bobcats, a team they've had difficulty with in the past, was an especially bitter pill for them to swallow.
After coughing up a 16-point lead in the third quarter, the Raptors were able to hold it together long enough to force overtime. In the extra frame, DeMar DeRozan - seemingly exhausted after playing over 40 minutes - split a pair of free throws to tie the game up with one second remaining. A second overtime period seemed imminent.
As Josh McRoberts inbounded, Kemba Walker curled off a screen set by Al Jefferson. Freed up for just a moment before Jonas Valanciunas closed out hard on the Bobcats' leading scorer, Walker drained the dagger that handed the Raptors yet another unsettling loss in their own building.
"It hurts," admitted Kyle Lowry, whose three-pointer sent the game into overtime. "Everyone loses a game [to] a buzzer-beater but you'd rather get blown out by 50 than lose on a buzzer-beater."
The building went silent as the buzzer sounded, keeping in mind the noise level rarely exceeded a dull roar on the night. Attendance was listed at a generous 15,201 Wednesday evening, shy of the team's 17,774-season average, 12th best in the association according to ESPN.com. Many of those fans - the one's still rooting for this team to win - left shaking their heads, disappointed but not in the least bit surprised.
It was awfully quiet for most of the game, but it's hard to blame the fans in attendance. They haven't been given much to cheer about.
"We've got great fans, great crowd, warm building, hot building so there's no reason why we can't come out with that type of fire and intensity [we have on the road]," Casey said.
Offensively, the team's numbers are almost identical at home as they are on the road. The drop off, at least statistically, is on the defensive end where the Raptors are allowing 100.4 points per game, 4.1 more than they surrender away from the ACC.
A home-court disadvantage is nothing new. Last season Toronto was one of four teams in the NBA to average more points and shoot a higher field goal percentage on the road than at home. Still, no one can seem to pinpoint what's causing it.
"I have no idea, I really can't explain it," said Lowry, who had 17 points and six assists in the loss. "I think we've just got to figure out a way to turn it around."
"We've got to start to use our home court to our advantage and not feel too comfortable or think we're going to be able to pull it out in late-game situations," added DeRozan after a 30-point performance.
DeRozan, who is fourth in the league in minutes played per contest, appeared to be gassed by the end of the game, going 1-of-4 from the field in overtime and missing a crucial free throw down the stretch. He was quick to dismiss the suggestion of fatigue after the loss.
"No I was good, I was good," he insisted. "I could have played four more overtimes if we had to."
As a team, the Raptors shot just 3-of-11 in the extra period, missing their first six shots. Valanciunas, who had 10 points and six rebounds in 22 minutes, played most of overtime after sitting out the entire fourth quarter. For Casey, it was a decision made with the match-up in mind.
"We were mixing it up, we had to mix it up," Casey said of the team's coverage on Jefferson, the Bobcats' crafty and undersized centre. "Jonas did as much as he could with Jefferson. Jefferson is one of the most potent low-post scorers in the league but for [Valanciunas] to learn those are the guys he's going to have to guard."
"I thought he fought and battled him and used his height as much as he could and I thought Jonas did a good job on the other end, taking it to him in the paint and scoring on him."
Still, Casey maintains that it's a give and take with Valanciunas on the floor in these scenarios. Although you have a theoretical advantage offensively with Valanciunas against the smaller Jefferson, it's understood that you are giving something up on defence. Is one worth the other? Instead, Casey rotated the more experienced, more versatile trio of Amir Johnson, Tyler Hansbrough and Patrick Patterson in the fourth.
For now, the Raptors will have to put their home-court conundrum on hold as they focus on what lies ahead. On Friday they'll begin a challenging four-game road trip in Dallas before visiting Oklahoma City, San Antonio and New York.