Raptors' Double D has arrived

Toronto Raptors' DeMar DeRozan (R) looks to pass as Los Angeles Lakers' Ron Artest defends during...

Toronto Raptors' DeMar DeRozan (R) looks to pass as Los Angeles Lakers' Ron Artest defends during the first quarter of their NBA basketball game in Los Angeles, California November 5, 2010. (REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson)

UMAR ALI, Sports Network

, Last Updated: 10:24 AM ET

TORONTO -- The Toronto Raptors were on the verge of collapse after dropping two contests at home upon returning from a disastrous west coast swing.

Awarded a trip to South Florida to face two former franchise cornerstones on back-to-back nights, the Raps were faced with the grave reality that they could finish their first 10 games with only a single win. Perhaps the fear of such a dismal start drove Toronto to its best showing of the season and one player in particular - DeMar DeRozan.

Against the Orlando Magic, the former USC Trojan put in the best game of his young career scoring a career-high 26 points while grabbing seven boards. Yet, it wasn't just the number of points the sophomore scored that was so impressive, but rather the timing of each bucket.

Late in the game, as Orlando began making its push, there was DeRozan responding with an elbow jumper or an aggressive drive to the basket resulting in free throws. It was clear who the best player in black and red on the floor was.

With such a taxing win, it was safe to assume Toronto would be trounced the next night in Miami.

In the first quarter against the Heat, it appeared that was exactly the kind of game fans were in for as the fatigue seemed evident in the early going. Allowing Miami to jump out to a 63-50 lead by halftime, the Raps looked like they were due for a blowout loss.

It should come as no surprise Toronto clawed its way back into the game, given Miami's reputation for becoming complacent once ahead, but the effort they showed had to be encouraging.

The Raptors brought the game within four points with six minutes to play, but a rash of injuries and their triumph a night prior finally caught up to them as they fell short. Leading the way once again was DeRozan, who efficiently got to 21 points and fittingly found his wings in front of the franchise's previous two saviors.

AND THE OTHER HALF

For all the growth and positivity the Raptors ended the week on, they began in a way they undoubtedly would soon like to forget.

Returning from an abysmal road trip, home was supposed to be a welcoming sight. In the first game back, Toronto's starters showed they had either not recovered from the rigors of travel or had mailed in the first half, as Golden State - in the second game of a back-to-back - jumped out to a 14-point edge.

Turning to the reserves for the majority of the second half, the Raps got good energy from the second unit but couldn't handle the dynamic back-court duo of Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis. Benching starters, namely Andrea Bargnani, Toronto made one thing clear - to play for this team you have to compete on both ends of the floor.

In an attempt to not sound like a broken record, the inability to defend has plagued the Raptors all season and there's no better example of this than Wednesday's game against Charlotte.

Something to keep in mind: Entering the game, the Bobcats were averaging only 89.8 ppg. By the end of the night, Charlotte walked out the Air Canada Centre with a "W" - scoring over 100 points.

Despite the defensive atrocities, the Raps found themselves in the game late, down only three points. But in a scene that has become all too familiar with Raptor fans, the last attempt was far from memorable - it's safe to say it was downright forgettable.

For the third time this season, Toronto failed to convert down the stretch causing many observers to wonder if head coach Jay Triano is in over his head. Some might say, the Raptors' trip to the "Sunshine State" was, potentially, going to be Triano's ride into the sunset.

But the job the second-year coach put out in both games in Florida has to be commended. With a roster suddenly riddled with injuries to Leandro Barbosa, Linas Kleiza and most recently Reggie Evans, the Raps competed and played admirably in their absence.

Regardless, Toronto has to show it can bring the same intensity and focus it has against some of the best in the NBA, as well as the worst.

Until then, the Raptors will remain the best two-win team in the league.


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