DALLAS - Playing for the fourth time in five nights, the Raptors showed heart in battling to the wire against the Mavericks.
Unfortunately, Toronto failed to show up for the first quarter, creating a mountain that was too high to ascend for the comeback.
The final was a 109-104 loss, dropping the Raptors to 1-4.
Andrea Bargnani led the Raptors with 25 points, but couldn’t stop Chris Kaman, who had 22, at the other end. DeMar DeRozan had a strong overall game, dropping 24 points and adding six rebounds and seven assists, but fellow former USC standout O.J. Mayo continued his hot start to the year with 22.
The Raptors were coming off of a 108-88 throttling by the Oklahoma City Thunder and were missing leader and top player Kyle Lowry, who remains day-to-day with a sprained ankle.
Even minus Dirk Nowitzki, Shawn Marion and Elton Brand, the Mavs still jumped on the tired Raptors early, taking a 36-24 lead in the first.
The defence was unacceptable, as an opponent shot 60% from the field against the Raptors for the second night in a row, though the Mavs had come in shooting 61.4% over the previous two games, the best two-game span in franchise history.
Dallas finally cooled in the second quarter, shooting just 33.3%, as the Raptors cut the deficit to 11 and the Raptors duplicated the feat in the third, but couldn’t crack 40% shooting, so only drew within eight.
There have been few cities where Toronto has had less success. Toronto dropped to 3-14 all-time in Dallas, but without the bad start, things could have been different.
Carter had created a buzz this week by going on Toronto radio stations and saying he could see himself returning to Toronto one day. That’s unlikely, but on this night he turned back the clock. Carter was at his acrobatic best on an alley-oop and swooping layup in the first half, though the dunk was waved off because of a foul.
Carter continued his strong play in the second half and nailed a big three to open the fourth just when the Raptors were gaining some momentum. He did the same thing a minute later and near the end of the game, emphatically blocked DeRozan.
Would Casey take Carter on his team? “You’re talking to the wrong man. That’s above my pay grade,” he said.
FIELDS STILL STRUGGLING
The pressure of his new contract seems to be getting to Landry Fields, who is really pressing.
Fields went 1-for-4 from the field in the first half and entered the game shooting 20% for the season.
“He just needs to relax and play basketball. Take what the game is giving him ... Don’t think about it, just play. Just play like he’s on a playground,” Casey said.
“I think he’s overanalyzing things a little bit, overanalyzing his shot ... But he’s doing what we need, he’s cutting, moving without the basketball, defending the players we need him to defend. It will turn for him. He’s too good of a shooter, too good of a basketball player for things not to turn around.”
HOW DOES HE FIT?
The Raptors have picked up the pace and made Lowry (when healthy) a centerpiece of the offence.
That has left Bargnani behind and he needs to find a way to catch up.
Only five teams played at a slower pace than the Raptors last season, when Bargnani led the team with a 19.5 points per game average.
Prior to Wednesday’s game against Dallas, Toronto had jumped to 10th in the league in pace, thanks largely to Lowry.
Bargnani, no longer the top option, has found it difficult to find his role in the offence and to locate quality shot attempts since the team’s point guards are no longer focusing on setting him up.
Dwane Casey talked earlier in the week about the adjustment and about how he had given Lowry the freedom to make calls on offence on the break (pre-injury of course).
Instead of letting Bargnani take his man one-on-one, the Raptors generally have been looking for other options on the run first, before settling for Bargnani attempts starting above the three point line.
“Guys will have to learn and it will take Andrea a little while to figure out where the offence is going to come from, where the shots are coming, where the opportunities are. “A lot of our stuff is built around Dre, he’s a talented guy. It’s not like he’s done anything extremely wrong, but we need him to get in that mix with Kyle and DeMar (DeRozan) and get those three clicking at the same time. We don’t want to get out of rhythm trying to get one guy going (though). We want them to kind of evolve into it and flow into it moreso than let’s stop it, get him the ball and that type of thing.”
Bargnani shot just 33% from the field through the first three games of the year, but, interestingly, was a spectacular 46.7% from three after shooting just 29.6% from outside last season, the third year in a row he had declined. But that’s largely because most of his threes had been open looks, the result of him standing unguarded while opponents focused.