Raptors wrecked on road

STEVE BUFFERY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:02 AM ET

DALLAS -- The Raptors lost it somewhere between Oklahoma City and Dallas.

Not their luggage, their ability to play sound defence.

On Tuesday night, the Raptors put together arguably their strongest defensive effort of the season, holding the Oklahoma City Hornets to 77 points.

But instead of carrying that over against the Dallas Mavericks last night, the Raptors imploded on defence, losing to the red-hot Mavs 117-98.

Head coach Sam Mitchell, in fact, called it before last night's contest at the American Airlines Arena.

"The thing about the Mavericks is, they try to put you out with a knockout punch in the first quarter," Mitchell said. "You have to weather the storm."

They didn't. Midway through the first quarter, the Mavericks jumped ahead 26-6, on the strength of 10-for-14 shooting from the field. The Raptors, on the other hand, sunk only three of their first 15 shots. After 12 minutes, the Mavs led 38-23, their highest total in any quarter this season.

The one highlight for Toronto in the dismal first quarter was when Jose Calderon stole the ball and fed a nice pass to Joey Graham on the fast-break. The Graham dunk brought the Raptors to within 14 and then Toronto went on a 10-0 run late in the first half and trailed 59-49 at the half.

DIRK GOES DOWN

That run, not surprisingly, coincided with the Mavericks' all-star power forward Dirk Nowitzki leaving the game because of blurred vision. He did not return and that slowed the vaunted Mavericks offence ... somewhat.

With Nowitzki out, the Raps continued to roll in the third quarter, clawing back to within five at one point before falling behind 89-74 with one quarter remaining.

The Mavs shot 54% from the field overall.

"They're one of the best teams in the league," said Raptors' guard T.J. Ford, who sported three deep scratches around his left eye after crashing out of bounds. "They came out and showcased, and they made shots."

Darrick Martin hit a three-pointer at the buzzer to keep Toronto's streak of consecutive three-pointers intact. The Martin trey increased Toronto's NBA record to 629 games.

Josh Howard played well with his frontcourt partner out, scoring 26, while backup guard Jerry Stackhouse was big off the bench, scoring 23. Centre Erick Dampier had a double-double with 13 points and 14 boards.

The last time the two teams met, Toronto's Chris Bosh was spectacular in front of his friends and family, picking up 29 points and 13 rebounds in a 115-113 loss. The Dallas native was solid again last night, scoring 18 with 11 rebounds before being shut down in the fourth -- a good move considering he has been plagued with a sore right knee.

T.J. Ford rebounded with a good game, scoring 18 with two assists and five rebounds.

Rookie forward Andrea Bargnani continued his fine play of late, picking up five rebounds and 12 points and silencing the crowd with an impressive reverse layup in the third quarter.

The Mavericks improved to 11-4, now having won 11 straight. Toronto hosts the Boston Celtics tomorrow before travelling to New York on Saturday.


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