The Last Word

Ken Fidlin -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:42 AM ET

A cynic might suggest that the bloom has gone off the Rose. Yet, in fairness to Jalen Rose, he was just the most notable of the malingerers in Raptor duds who cluttered the Air Canada Centre court last night. His ineptitude was nearly matched by a half-dozen of his teammates. When the Raptors stumbled off the floor at the end of a totally embarrassing 86-74 whipping at the hands of the New Orleans Hornets, they were roundly booed by a capacity crowd of 19,800.

Harsh criticism from the home fans?

"Totally deserved," head coach Kevin O'Neill said.

In truth, it was an effort that bordered on gutless. Yet, as presently constituted, the Raptors are going to be over-matched physically on occasion. Their starting centre is a gangly 19-year-old who, in a perfect world, would be in his sophomore year at Georgia Tech.

That said, there was not a shred of intensity in the Toronto effort, especially in the first half. It bordered on unprofessional. Granted, the Hornets had a size advantage but none of the Raptors showed the least bit of grit inside. They were outrebounded 51-32 overall, but it's even worse than that. Only four of Toronto's rebounds were achieved on the offensive boards. It looked like a Hornet-controlled no-fly zone.

"Size, we can't control," O'Neill said. "Intensity, we can. We just got knocked right out of the game in the first half."

Teams with a solid frontcourt are always going to go right after Toronto's lack of size and experience in the paint.

Last night, Hornets centre Jamaal Magloire and power forward P.J. Brown manhandled the Raps, especially early. They combined for 15 of New Orleans' first 19 points, giving the Hornets a double-digit lead by the time the game was only seven minutes old.

By halftime, that lead had grown to 24 points. Eventually, New Orleans owned a 28-point lead partway through the third quarter before they lost interest. The final margin of a dozen bore little reflection on the level of dominance that existed in this game.

As far as Rose was concerned, this was a writeoff. He set the tone for his and his team's effort by tossing up airballs on his first two shots of the game and went 0-for-7 before he finally scored with about four minutes left on a fast-break lay-in.

"I went 1-for-8," Rose said. "You can look at it that any time you lose, things go that way and you've got to get ready for (tomorrow). And that's how I'm going to approach it."

"It wasn't one of his better games," said O'Neill, but he wasn't about to single out Rose among the other thorns. For example, Donyell Marshall didn't even take a shot until 17 minutes into the game. And the five starters only went to the free-throw line twice in the first half and 10 times overall. Which speaks volumes about their unwillingness to take the ball to the hoop. Vince Carter got himself into early foul trouble and was essentially invisible the rest of the game.

"We've got to do a better job of fighting hard early," O'Neill said. "(The Hornets) knew where we were a little bit thin and went right after us there. They did what every team should do when they play us."

At some point, it's obvious that general manager Glen Grunwald is going to have to swallow hard and pay the price for a serviceable big man, if only to keep other teams honest. When the team shows up with will and pride, they have a chance of competing. When the effort is less than average, as it was last night against a very good, determined team, it's going to be very ugly, indeed.

It's hard to imagine anything uglier than this one but just be aware that there are other front-court giants in this league who are rubbing their hands in anticipation of arriving on the Raptors' doorstep. 


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