Stinker!

FRANK ZICARELLI -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:37 AM ET

They were hoping to begin the new year with a bang. Instead, the Raptors ushered in 2004 with a whimper, reduced to wimps for most of the night by the visiting New Orleans Hornets, whose strength inside exposed the many flaws inherent with these Raptors.

Not big enough to bang in the post, not smart enough to attack a zone defence, the Hornets manhandled the Raptors early, led by as many as 28 points and ultimately won 86-74 to end Toronto's modest two-game win streak.

With the Raptors tipping off a five-game homestand, the team's longest of the season, the odds were long in trying to upset the Hornets, who are big inside and feature perimeter players who can take over games with their offence.

What was so galling about the Raptors' play was how feeble they defended the post to begin the game, how little discretion they exercised in taking shots and how unwilling they were in attacking the rim.

The score actually flattered the home side. At one point during the third quarter, New Orleans led 65-37. Toronto ended the period by going on a 17-5 run to make the game somewhat competitive. Toronto trailed 59-35 at halftime.

"We didn't play good basketball,'' Raptors coach Kevin O'Neill said. "We didn't play hard enough in the first half."

Toronto did compete in the second half and did some decent things but could not overcome its first-half embarrassment.

"Give New Orleans credit because they kept us on our heels,'' O'Neill said. "We played well in the second but it was too little. When you get down like we did, it's a near impossible task."

The Hornets outrebounded the Raptors 51-32. Jamaal Magloire (13 points, 11 rebounds) and P.J. Brown (14 and 10) each posted double-doubles.

Outside of Alvin Williams, no Toronto starter was able to establish any kind of offensive rhythm.

Jalen Rose heaved ugly airballs on back-to-back touches and didn't record his first basket until the fourth quarter. After he scored his first two points in 33 minutes, Rose was subbed in, capping off by far his worst outing as a Raptor.

Vince Carter was nowhere to be found for the second consecutive home game and the Raptors looked completely befuddled when the Hornets went with a zone. Carter led the Raptors with 22 points but scored only six in the openiing half when he was plagued by foul problems and settled for too many jump shots.

Toronto started by making only two of its first 12 shots. The one-two punch of Magloire and Brown abused the Raptors' undersized frontcourt in setting the game's tempo.

With the loss, the Raptors dropped to 16-15, while New Orleans improved to 21-12.

As good as the Hornets looked and are capable of playing, the Raptors were simply horrific.

In the half court, the Raptors didn't use their dribble to create, didn't take good shots and showed no inclination to attack the paint.

One possession best summed up the team's offensive woes when Milt Palacio drove the lane and his dish to the perimeter landed in the hands of an official.

It proved to be that kind of evening for the Raptors, who should be able to take charge of tomorrow's opponent, the Phoenix Suns. Then again, the Raptors should have showed more fight last night.


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