When you start as poorly as the Raptors did, the outcome becomes almost predictable.
When you allow an opponent to lead by as many as 22 points, any comeback bid, no matter how inspired the run looked, would be doomed to fail.
If this game had more meaning other than ping pong balls in a draft lottery, the alarm balls would be sounding, calls for heads to roll intensifying.
But losses at this stage of a lost season are actually good, even when the Raptors play as though they don’t care, which was the case for one half.
When they picked up their defensive intensity, it was too late.
And when you can’t make free throws, you deserve to lose, this time a 104-96 setback to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The intensity picked up when James Johnson and ex-Raptor swingman Joey Graham nearly came to blows with 1:01 left in the third quarter.
Johnson denied Graham a layup on a play that appeared to be a hard foul.
After conferring at midcourt, the officials ruled it a flagrant foul.
A step slow and a few bodies short, the Raptors began the night pretty much the way they began Tuesday night’s date in Gotham, where the Knicks torched their visitors from beyond the three-point arc and scored from virtually every spot on the floor.
The Cavs aren’t as talented as New York because there’s no one even remotely close to being in the same talent level as Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire.
The closest Cleveland has to an established name is Baron Davis, who can be as good as any point guard in the league and just as bad as the game’s least accomplished when he’s not mentally engaged.
Since his move from Los Angeles, where he threw lobs for Blake Griffin, Davis has bought into head coach Byron Scott’s system.
With Davis getting his teammates involved, the Cavs were clinical on offence, unselfish and didn’t look the part of a team heading for the lottery in the first year of the post-LeBron James era.
On one possession, Davis completed a hook pass that Ryan Hollins converted into an easy deuce.
A hook pass in today’s above-the-rim era is as common as a drop step or an entry pass that doesn’t end up in a courtside seat.
Whether it was a sequence initiated by Davis, whether it came off the dribble, spotting up or pulling up, the Raptors provided no resistance on defence, yielding points that came fast and easy.
At times, it looked as though a layup drill was being conducted.
It got ugly and the fans who bothered to show up finally saw enough early in the second quarter when the homeside trailed by double digits.
There was no communication, no sense of accountability and no pride for far too long a stretch, characteristics that were not in supply when the Raptors played hard in back to back games against Chicago and Orlando.
Since those two tips, the Raptors looked terrible in the opening periods to New York and Cleveland, trailing each night and looking disengaged and disjointed.
Jose Calderon was able to play on Wednesday nursing his strained hamstring, but Andrea Bargnani’s calf injury prevented the team’s starting centre and leading scorer from suiting up.
To add to Toronto’s woes was the unavailability of Amir Johnson, who took part in Wednesday’s warmups, but would later inform the team’s media relations staff that his troublesome left ankle sprain flared up.
With all due respect to the aforementioned trio, there’s a chance neither will be playing in the NBA next season, if and when the NBA and its players’ union come up with a new labour deal.
The buzz Wednesday night was not whether the league will lock out its players on July 1, but for how long.
In 1998, the last time the NBA had a work stoppage, the NBA didn’t resume operations until January, playing a truncated 50-game schedule that may yet happen again.
The way the Raptors played in the first half against Cleveland, they should be locked out forever.
To say the Raptors were putrid would be to state the obvious.
To say the Raptors cared would be lying.
To say the Raptors defended would be ludicrous.