This could be a sad sign of things to come

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:41 AM ET

The scary thing isn't that the Raptors had a horrible night. Stuff happens.

The scary thing isn't that they were thoroughly embarrassed by a good New Jersey Nets team that, in all honesty, wasn't very impressive.

The scary thing is that, as far as the Raptors go, this might be par for the course.

Fall way behind early, rally late, fall short. Sounds like a game plan.

After Wednesday's season-opening, last-minute loss to Washington, there were a lot of positive aspects to Toronto's performance. The prevailing sentiment was that, as long as the effort is there, as long as the rookies keep improving, losing, while not much fun as a steady diet, could be palatable.

But what was there to say after last night's debacle?

It is one thing to talk theoretically about trying to maintain interest in a team that is obviously not going to be a serious contender in the NBA East.

It's quite another thing to sit through a reality check like this mess and realize that the moon and the stars and the rest of the universe have to be lined up perfectly for the Raps just to have a chance to win. This was not one of those nights. And it makes you wonder seriously if it's going to be an entire season of those nights.

"This is the NBA," coach Sam Mitchell said. "There is no mercy. We go to Detroit and play those guys (tonight). Then we come home and play Cleveland.

"Some nights it's just gonna be tough. You look at our schedule: We've got 21 back-to-backs. (Tonight) is going to be another eye-opening experience. If they think New Jersey is tough, and now we walk into Detroit. You come across the lane and there is Ben Wallace. And they come off the bench with (Antonio) McDyess and Rasheed (Wallace). We have just got to keep finding a way.

"There are going to be some nights when these guys struggle. There's just no way around it."

By halftime, New Jersey had a 17-point lead more or less by default. Toronto was shooting a putrid 27% from the floor. The Raps had been outrebounded 31-14. Even though New Jersey had turned over the ball 15 times, the Raptors had scored just five points off those turnovers.

In the first half, Toronto had three offensive rebounds: two by Morris Peterson and one by Jose Calderon. None by anyone in the Toronto front court. Brutal.

"It was disappointing the way we started the game," said Mitchell. "Hopefully all our guys learn from it. We shot 27% in the first half. It's tough when you do that because everybody then is trying to make that one shot to get you back in it.

"Our young guys have got to understand that to remain in the game, they've got to play with a lot of energy. That's the only way they're going to make up for their lack of experience."

Until five minutes into the third quarter when Mike James knocked down a three-ball, New Jersey had more rebounds (37) than Toronto had points (35).

Once the Nets had the game in the bag, leading by 24 at one point in the third quarter, the Raptors put on a fourth-quarter spurt, got the difference down to less than 10 a couple of times, then melted down the stretch to lose 102-92, a score that flattered Toronto.

"Every time we needed a stop and we forced an outside shot, one of their big guys knocked it down. Jefferson makes a three; Vince makes a three; Jason Kidd makes a play.

"That's what great players do. That's why those guys are all-stars."

The unspoken punchline is that the Raptors are not all-stars. There may be a few all-stars in the making, but none who can step up and win a game right now.

To win, this team has to work its collective tail off, night after night and play for each other the way rookie Jose Calderon does. And even then, they're going to come up short all too often.

And on nights like last night? It's not going to be pretty.


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