It's official. The dog days of the NBA season have arrived.
That has nothing to do with the return of the Junkyard Dog to the Raptors fold. But as valuable as Jerome Williams will be in his new community relations role, they sure could have used his energy last night on the floor.
We all know about this team's 1-15 start and its 12-9 rebound in the next 21 games. That stretch culminated with the Raptors' most complete game of the season, a 129-103 wipeout of the New York Knicks here a week ago Sunday.
So, what's the reality? Those 1-15 bumblers? Or the high-flyers who embarrassed the Knicks?
Since then, the Raps went 1-4 on a western road swing and came back home last night, drifting through yet another lacklustre loss to the Chicago Bulls. It was hard to recognize in this bunch any signs of those rim-rockers who whipped up on the Knicks.
Ah, the perils of relying on unpredictable youth. The young Raptors have hit the wall. After jumping to an 8-3 lead early, they let the Bulls go on a 25-4 run, digging a hole they never got out of.
"I won't say lack of effort," said coach Sam Mitchell. "We didn't execute well, we didn't shoot the ball well. Simple things. We didn't set hard picks, make hard cuts.
"The strangest thing is we do it every day in practice. We execute the things we have to do. But when we get to 7 o'clock, seems like our guys just get lost."
The Bulls were diving on the floor for loose balls, tenacious on the boards at both ends. They were hungry.
Mitchell's frustration seemed close to boiling over, but he remained calm.
"Only thing I know is we've got to continue to work. At 10:30 (this morning) I already know what's gonna happen: We're gonna fight in the post, we're gonna set those hard picks. The thing we've got to figure out is what we're gonna do on Friday (the Raps' next game.)"
Toronto's trio of rookies -- Jose Calderon, Charlie Villanueva and Joey Graham -- were non-factors. Each is getting less floor time than earlier in the season.
"There are many ways to develop young guys," said Mitchell. "Sometimes you play 'em and sometimes you don't. That's just part of the process. The only (power) the coach has, is minutes. Sometimes you need to make them sit and watch.
SIT AND WATCH
"We show them things on tape, we talk about it, we practise it, but sometimes you just need to sit and watch it. It's as important tool for learning as any. They're rookies. For me as a coach, instead of trying to force it on them, it helps to give it to them in small pieces.
"I have to keep reminding myself it's a process they have to go through. There are nights when they look like they just haven't got it."
They sure didn't have it last night, but the rookies had plenty of company in that regard. Mo Peterson managed just three points in 30 minutes, for example.
Pape Sow, recently returned from the NBA Developmental League, started at centre and gave the team some decent minutes, but it's too soon to say if he has much to offer even this lowly team.
Somewhere, the Raptors have to summon more energy, more intensity and more desire. They did little more than go through the motions in this one.
A playoff spot has always been a long shot for this team but every time they get buried by a beatable team --and the Bulls are eminently beatable -- they take another step toward the basement.
Nobody ever said this season was going to be anything but long and harsh. But it's one thing to intellectualize it and another thing to live it.