Sports

Despite DeMar DeRozan's return, Raptors lose to Magic

By Mike Ganter, Toronto Sun

Raptors' Cory Joseph looks for a shot around Nikola Vucevic of the Magic during NBA action at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto on Sunday, Jan. 29, 2017. (Dave Abel/Toronto Sun)

Raptors' Cory Joseph looks for a shot around Nikola Vucevic of the Magic during NBA action at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto on Sunday, Jan. 29, 2017. (Dave Abel/Toronto Sun)

TORONTO - 

The Raptors were back to full health Sunday night but also back (they really never left) were the defensive woes that have left Dwane Casey and to a lesser extent his team frustrated for much of the year.

If there is a good thing about a 114-113 loss to an Orlando Magic team that came in having lost 10 of it’s past 12 it might be that it got the players sounding as genuinely frustrated with their defence as their coach has been for a couple of months now.

Everyone seems to be on the same page where defence is concerned these days.

“We have to find five men that’s going to go out there and defend,” Casey said of what it’s going to fix the problem. “You can go right down the roster and everybody had a defensive mistake. It’s accountability, we’re bringing guys in off the bench and they’re making mistakes. It’s everybody and that’s what I told the team, everybody is involved.”

And Casey pointed the finger at himself too.

“Put me and the whole group in the room, we’re all responsible for this atrocious (performance),” Casey said not actually finishing that particular thought. “Give them credit, they made some tough shots, they made some good shots, they’re not a great three-point shooting team, they shot 43% tonight, I’m not disrespecting Orlando but most of it is us, doing your job on every possession.”

Those unfortunate enough to have paid to see this game saw the worst 6 1/2 minutes of the Raptors season as the team closed out the first half on the wrong end of a 21-2 run.

The Raps were 0-for-7 in that final 6:20 while the Magic went from down 10 to up nine by the halftime whistle.

“As bad as we’ve played all year,” Casey said. “Transition defence, we hit the floor, it’s five on four, nobody stops the ball and it’s coast to coast. The second unit comes in and they’re making mistakes,” Casey said.

“We’ve got to go back to the fundamentals, the basics, almost back to training camp to get our defence back in shape,” Casey said. “Again, some of it starts on the offensive end, tough shots, the ball doesn’t move, we’re stationary, stagnant and then they run out and we leave our offensive woes and our energy on the offensive end. It’s a little bit of everything. We’ve got to start over.”

There was not a dissenting voice in the Raptors locker room either after much of what Casey said was relayed in question form to the players.

““Yeah, it is. It is,” DeMar DeRozan said of the current funk which has seen the Raptors lose six of the past seven and fall out of second place in the Eastern Conference for the first time since the earliest stages of the season. “It’s all about how we bounce back, how we get out of it. We’ve got a lot more basketball to play, a lot more. We haven’t even made it to the break yet. Before then, we’ll figure it out, get it going. I’d rather it now than later.”

That was about as optimistic as anyone in the room was and it certainly didn’t match the overall feel in the room.

DeRozan made his return to the lineup after three games out with a sprained right ankle. He finished with 22 points on an off night for him shooting but this one wasn’t about offence.

Lowry, who had 33 and almost pulled this one off himself with 14 points in the final quarter alone, was as somber as anyone in the room.

“This is very challenging,” Lowry said. “But being a professional and a leader I am going to keep my head up and I’m going to keep going out there and working. This is a small, little thing that we can get through. We have to continue to get better. At the end of the day we still have to go out there and play games. No one is going to feel sorry for us.”

Early on the Raptors had no answer for centre Nikola Vucevic and later on couldn’t corral one-time Raptor guard and ever since Raptor-killer D.J. Augustin.

Vucevic took Jonas Valanciunas just far enough away from the basket early on to make things uncomfortable for the Raptors centre and very comfy for the Magic.

Vucevic had 19 of his 25 points in the first half after which Valanciunas only saw limited action.

It would have been more limited had Lucas Nogueira not committed his fifth foul late in the third quarter that pretty much ended his night.

Augustin, we don’t even know what to say about other than he certainly seems to get up for Toronto.

His career high is 35 points, done against the Raptors as a member of the Bulls. Sunday night he had 21 points in just 27 minutes off the bench, easily the most productive player from either bench.

Earlier this year the Magic put up one very good quarter against the Raptors in Orlando but followed it up by being toasted for the next three as the Raptors rolled to an easy win.

There was no such let-up this time around.

The Magic had six different players in double figures in the game. The Raptors had four.

Practice on Monday should be very interesting.

mganter@postmedia.com