Nets catch Raps napping

A rebound gets away from Nets guard Anthony Morrow (left) and Raptors centre Aaron Gray at the...

A rebound gets away from Nets guard Anthony Morrow (left) and Raptors centre Aaron Gray at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., March 14, 2012. (RAY STUBBLEBINE/Reuters)

RYAN WOLSTAT, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:58 PM ET

NEWARK - Dwane Casey was worried about another defensive letdown after the Raptors locked down the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday night.

With good reason, it turned out.

Toronto went from great to ugly at both ends a day later, and it caught up to them in a 98-84 loss to the depleted New Jersey Nets on Wednesday.

“We have to have the same defensive approach that we had the other night. Our defensive intensity, I just didn’t see that at all against Detroit and only spurts against Milwaukee,” Casey said before the game.

The approach went AWOL in the first half as the Raptors allowed 22 points in the paint and 47.4% shooting overall. The number grew to 48.1% by the end of the game.

After hitting shots with ease against the Cavs, reaching even 40% accuracy eluded the Raptors and the Nets — without superstar Deron Williams and standout centre Brook Lopez — shot 57.9% in the third quarter to Toronto’s 26.3% to seize control.

Jerryd Bayless led the way again with 16 points and 10 assists, James Johnson added 16 and Andrea Bargnani and DeMar DeRozan were held to 10 and 12 points respectively, on combined 9-for-28 shooting.

Old pal Kris Humphries clobbered the Raptors for the second time this season — he grabbed 16 rebounds; nine offensive in an earlier Nets win — with a career-high 21 boards, while Gerald Green went off for 26.

Humphries constantly beat the Raptors down the floor early, getting all kinds of easy opportunities down low.

It was 50-48 Raptors when Amir Johnson wrapped him up for a flagrant foul.

The play wasn’t malicious or anything, but the Raptors had been leading the whole game to that point and coincidentally or not, things went sour from there.

The Nets were rested while the Raptors completed a back-to-back, which might explain some of the second half slippage by the visitors.

Memphis and Charlotte await in another back-to-back following a day off.

BIG DISTRACTION

The New Jersey media was a little bit distracted throughout the evening. Something to do with that Dwight Howard fellow who appears content to give his future as much concern as you do choosing which cereal to eat in the morning.

The he will-he won’t? He will? Twists and turns were intriguing for any hoops reporter, but especially so for the Nets group, since Howard has indicated New Jersey is his top choice — well, Brooklyn anyways.

With the Nets the front-runners to land Howard as soon as Thursday, the NBA’s trade deadline day, an appearance by the Raptors got top billing on the marquee only on Wednesday evening.

EXPECTED SURGE

One could see DeRozan’s aggressive start coming after his pass-first performance in Cleveland. DeRozan had as many shot attempts after a quarter (six) as he did in that entire game … Aron Gray was extremely active on the boards. While he didn’t haul in a ton, he tipped a number to teammates … Casey said he was surprised to see Mike D’Antoni and the Knicks part ways and like everyone, seemed to blame the breakup on Carmelo Anthony. “He did a good job with that team they were rolling. With all situations you have chemistry issues and rhythm issues. Mike will bounce back, he’s a good basketball man,” said Casey, who said coaches end up as scapegoats because, “That’s an easy mark.” Green hit a few jump shots in this one and Bayless stopped him before he could throw down his best dunk attempt.

COMING ALONG

Starting point guard Jose Calderon was a no-go again due to his injured ankle, but before the game was seen vigorously riding an exercise bike looking no worse for wear. Calderon said he feels a lot better. The team could get him back either on Friday in Memphis, or Saturday in Charlotte, barring any setbacks … Nets reserve Gerald Green threw down a spectacular in-game alley-oop windmill dunk recently with his head at rim level. When asked whether he could duplicate the feat, DeRozan said, “I wouldn’t even try it. He’s got the most hops in the league.” Casey briefly had Green in Dallas and knows enough that Green, “Will dunk on you if you don’t get back and go in front of you. He’s a very athletic kid, fighting for his life. He can come out and embarrass you if you aren’t ready to play.”


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