TORONTO -- Under normal circumstances, a visit by the New Jersey Nets would be about as close to guaranteed-win night as possible for any NBA team.
But it’s the Raptors who will play host to the Nets Friday at the Air Canada Centre, and with the manner in which they presented themselves on a two-game trip to Florida, absolutely nothing is solid.
“Jersey is starting to play a lot better,” Raptors coach Jay Triano said. “We are not good enough to look ahead in the schedule and say it is a good game we have coming up. Can’t do that.”
The Raptors, after playing well in a victory at home on Sunday against the Houston Rockets, unravelled on the road. A 19-point loss to the Magic in Orlando on Wednesday came a day after the Raps were ripped by 20 points by the Heat in Miami.
Toronto’s defence was a joke in both games, just one indication that the Raptors, for the most part, could not be bothered to put in a couple of honest nights’ work. The players had yesterday off. Surely it could not have been to rest tired muscles.
The Nets are 2-24, by far the worst record in the NBA, but players such as centre Brook Lopez, who had his sixth consecutive double-double on Wednesday in a game against the Utah Jazz, and guard Devin Harris have the potential to give the Raptors trouble.
It’s not just a lack of effort that has helped the Raps stumble to a 11-17 start. Hedo Turkoglu is taking forever to get accustomed to new teammates and rookie DeMar DeRozan, as most freshmen do, will need time to find his way in pro basketball.
“I talk to him all the time about the fact I want him to continue to be aggressive,” Triano said. “Stuff is going to happen. We can never complain about his approach to the game and the way he plays.”
But the general lack of heart has made it easy for opponents to beat the Raptors. Centre Andrea Bargnani, after the loss in Orlando, was wondering why the defence was so poor. A glance in the mirror might give him a bit of an answer.
Chris Bosh said the Raptors have come to a point where they are taking “two steps forward, three steps back. We’re there some nights and not there some nights.”
Losing to the Nets tonight would represent one giant leap backward, and the pressure on Toronto to play like it cares will be large.
“We have guys who have been around,” backup swingman Antoine Wright said. “We have to have the attitude of taking a challenge, and if we don’t, we’re not going to beat anybody. It does not matter we are playing New Jersey next.
“They play hard, they just don’t have enough talent. If we played as hard as they do on a nightly basis, we would probably have more wins.”