Raps coming up small

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:09 AM ET

Given that the Raptors have won only 348 of the 890 contests they have played in their history, there are many, many candidates for "worst-ever" game.

It's enough to say that this 93-83 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers, yesterday at the Air Canada Centre, is in the conversation.

It was always acknowledged that even the modestly talented Trail Blazers were going to be a handful for the Raptors, especially since their heart and soul, Chris Bosh, would be watching in street clothes with a bruised knee. But Bosh is no more important to his team than Zach Randolph is to Portland and it looked as if Toronto had lucked out when Randolph was suspended by the NBA for making an obscene gesture to fans after losing at Indianapolis on Friday night.

Bosh is averaging 21 points and 12 rebounds a game. Randolph is averaging 25 points and 10 rebounds a game. Sounds like a saw-off. Perhaps in theory, but not in reality.

The reality was a dismal effort by the Raptors who failed to respond at all to the absence of their star player. They were embarrassed on the glass, outrebounded 56-34 on the game and delivered an effort so lacking in energy that the Raptors faithful booed them off the court at various points during the game, but especially at the end.

"The fans deserve for us to play hard and get some wins," said Morris Peterson, who came off the bench to lead the Raptors in scoring with 23 points. "They're anxious and we had a lot of excitement before the season and they want to see that on the floor. We can't get mad that they are disappointed. We're all disappointed."

It didn't much show, however, on the floor. In Bosh's absence, the Raptors, or at least one or two of them, needed to step up and try to fill the gap. Instead, they appeared just confused and dazed.

"We did some good things defensively but 56-34 on the boards?" head coach Sam Mitchell commented. "We can get the stop, but if you don't get the rebound, it doesn't matter what defence you're playing.

"When the ball goes up, it says something about our team when our 5-foot-10 point guard is our second-leading rebounder. There's really nothing left to say."

That would be tiny T.J. Ford, who had six rebounds, one fewer than Jorge Garbajosa, the team leader this day. Ford also had 19 points.

"It's a game we should have won," said Ford. "We should have had more energy. (Portland) came out real aggressive and determined. They just outplayed us, outworked us."

It's true that the offence takes a big hit when Bosh is not involved. He is the only Toronto player who commands a double-team and when he draws a crowd, somebody else is always open and Bosh is excellent at finding the open man. Yesterday, the Blazers had little need to double anyone.

Mitchell was strangely philosophical about the lack of energy exhibited by the rest of the team in Bosh's absence.

"Everybody has to take their game to the next level," he said. "But maybe you're asking some guys to do something that's out of their character. When you ask guys to be more assertive offensively, it may not be in their nature to do that. You've got to try to push them and get them to do it, but if it's not who and what you are, how difficult is that for that person to do?"

CONFIDENCE CRISIS

That may be true, but if you're planning a long career as a player in the NBA, such a crisis of confidence does not bode well.

"We've got people who are not 1-on-1 basketball players," conceded Mitchell. "How do we normally get our shots? We take the ball inside to Chris Bosh, he gets doubled, then moves the ball, creating gaps and openings. Without him, we have to adjust, but we didn't do it today."

You have to wonder what kind of a blowout might have ensued had Portland not turned the ball over 20 times to Toronto's five. But the Raps simply didn't take advantage of that discrepancy, shooting only 35% to Portland's 42.5%. Without Randolph in the lineup, plenty of his teammates stepped up.

"That's absolutely true," said Peterson. "We knew that Zach wasn't going to play but those guys came in and did it together, creating a lot of problems for us on the boards. They did a good job and we didn't. We didn't respond. We knew Chris was out before the game and we didn't step up."

REPORT CARD

C Offence: The Raps shot 35% from the field, the lowest by the team this season, and went a dismal 6-for-23 from the three-point line.

C+ Defence: Forced the Trail Blazers into 20 turnovers but were out-rebounded, 56-34, their largest difference allowed this year.


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