HOUSTON ó Basketball life without Chris Bosh has been difficult for the Raptors, a team that gets exposed and, at times, abused minus its anchor.
When a franchise player is unavailable, good teams look to their supporting cast to shoulder the burden, to demand the ball on offence when a play needs to be made or get on teammates on defence when rotations arenít tight and decisive.
As they prepared to play the host Rockets on Monday night, the Raptors still were searching for a way to play a decent team without Bosh, who remained in Toronto nursing a sore ankle.
Three straight losses followed the Raptors into Texas, but itís the long-term that should worry followers of the team.
As if anyone needed to be reminded, Bosh has the option to exercise an out-clause in his contract this summer and explore free agency, a negotiated right he earned and will pursue.
Bosh has opened the door to staying because he hasnít said that he was leaving.
An open-minded individual, Bosh will explore all options, which is what he should and must do.
As he watches his team, Bosh canít be pleased with what he sees.
He sat on the bench as the Raptors simply got over-matched by Portland and then watched as the Raptors self-destructed against Cleveland in crunch time.
There are those who will have you believe that the players havenít been able to step up because theyíve been playing in Boshís shadow.
With so much of the offence running through Bosh, so much is expected and demanded of him.
About the only player one hears instructing players where to go on defence and when screens are coming is Bosh.
If no one is capable of elevating their game without Bosh against an opponent of any quality, then the Raptors have very worrisome problems.
Even on those rare nights when Bosh had a sub-par game, there was someone who stepped up, a core piece who made a shot a second-unit player who provided energy and a lift.
Mind you, three games donít provide a lot of evidence, but itís a snapshot and a glimpse of life without Bosh, a snapshot that has proven to be very revealing.
The most telling moment against Cleveland arrived when Hedo Turkoglu had the ball in his hands with a chance to win the game in regulation.
He was indecisive, looking to the bench after the team had just called a timeout, and then heaved a three-pointer when he should have put pressure on the defence.
In overtime, the Raptors were completely lost, especially on defence.
In three straight losses, the Raptors have yielded 30 or more points in each first quarter.
In three straight losses, the Raptors have turned the ball over 44 times, including 18 turnovers Sunday in Oklahoma City when the Thunder scored 29 points off Torontoís miscues.
The Raptors arenít getting to the line and even though he admits he has to be more aggressive, Turkoglu continues to rely too much on his three-point shot.
Andrea Bargnani isnít at his best when heís in the post because he prefers facing the basket, but he, too, has to be better at drawing fouls.
It begins by attacking the rim, which is what was Bosh has done.
The Raptors arenít getting much from their wing players and their backcourt now has been outplayed in three straight games.
ďIím one of the leaders on this team and I definitely need to lead by example because people follow my lead,íí starting point guard Jarrett Jack said.
ďI need to do a better job and everyone else will follow suit.Ē
At least Jack is accountable and one night after he had his hands full trying to contain a physical presence in Russell Westbrook of the Thunder, Mondayís assignment was containing a lightning-quick Rockets point guard in Aaron Brooks.
ďWhen (Bosh) comes back, weíre going to be much stronger," Turkoglu said.