Lewenberg: Travel woes weigh on Raptors in loss to Pacers

Josh Lewenberg

1/8/2014 2:09:57 AM

INDIANAPOLIS - It was just before 2pm local time when the Raptors landed on game-day, five hours prior to tipoff and 38 hours after they were originally scheduled to touchdown in Indianapolis.

Creatures of habit, the Raptors were expecting to fly out after their previous game - a hard-fought loss in Miami on Sunday - practice on Monday and shoot around ahead of an already daunting match-up with the league-best Pacers, a team they had defeated at home a week earlier.

Instead, Mother Nature threw them a curveball and they had no choice but to adjust. A major snowstorm and frigid temperatures in Indianapolis resulted in the altered itinerary, a reasonable excuse for a team that has vowed to stop making excuses, and to their credit they refused to take the bait.

"We can have all the excuses in the world, but in a game like this you have to man up and bring it," Dwane Casey said after his road-weary club dropped Tuesday's sluggish rematch with the Pacers 86-79 in snow-covered Indianapolis. 

"It's a man's league. I expected us to have a little bit of a hangover with the bullcrap with the travel but I thought we put ourselves in a position to win. Now we've got to close the deal."

Not one Raptor player would use the team's travel nightmare as justification for the loss; they would barely even acknowledge it in the visitor's locker room post-game. It was the type of easy out they used to fall back on, almost routinely. This time they did what winning teams do. They owned it.

"[We] had the opportunity, but didn't make shots," said Kyle Lowry, who had 16 points to go along with just two dimes, his lowest assist total since November 11th. "They beat us. We were a little bit off, schedule off, routine, but still had a chance to win, so can't really say it messed us up too much."

The loss was just their fifth in 15 games since the trade, dropping a game below the .500 mark.

"We came out a little sluggish, had a couple turnovers at the beginning, shots weren't falling for us and we got out-rebounded," said Amir Johnson, coming off his worst outing of the season. "There's your ball game."

More often than not, the Raptors were a step slow against a team that prides itself on pounding opponents into submission, especially at home, where they've suffered just one loss. Toronto was out of sync, looking nothing like the club that stunned the Pacers at the Air Canada Centre last week.

The Raptors managed just 18 assists, failing to reach 20 dimes for only the fourth time in the last 15 games. They were out-rebounded by 17 and bested by 14 in the paint, 11 in second-chance points. True to character they nearly made something out of nothing, cutting their deficit - once as big as 17 - to six down the stretch before eventually succumbing to the home team's punishing brand of basketball.

"Guys were just a little bit off from their rhythm," Lowry said. "Not making shots, just the timing of everything was just a little off tonight."

DeMar DeRozan scored the team's final 17 of the third quarter and finished with 28 and Patrick Patterson - playing in place of Johnson - had 11 of his 20 points in the fourth. 

Johnson was not himself, finishing scoreless on five attempts in just over 20 minutes of action. Battling a cold on top of the travel snafus, the Raptors' forward struggled through fatigue, looking out of breath on a couple of occasions in the first half. With Patterson playing well, Casey opted to ride the hot hand and sit Johnson in the fourth. Jonas Valanciunas also had an off night, held to just four points in 32 minutes and outplayed by Pacers' centre Roy Hibbert on both ends of the floor.

The team checked in and out of its Miami hotel three times before eventually taking off for Indianapolis at 11:30am Tuesday morning. There, they spent less than an hour at the hotel before boarding three busses to Bankers Life Fieldhouse, skipping shoot around and putting a dent into most of their game-day routine.

"You've just got to get your body going," Johnson said before the game. "After sitting down for a couple of hours, you've got to [stay active]."

"Adversity sometimes comes in different ways," Casey said. "It's a good character builder for us. You hate to be against the best team in the conference but it is what it is."