Jan 20, 2014; Charlotte, NC, USA;Charlotte Bobcats center Al Jefferson (25) shoots the ball over Toronto Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas (17) during the second half at Time Warner Cable Arena. The Bobcats defeated the Raptors 100-95. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Charlotte Bobcats 100 - Toronto Raptors 95: Too steep a hill

The Toronto Raptors began their game against the Charlotte Bobcats as if they were sleepwalking. Despite repeated attempts to get him cranked up, Jonas Valanciunas couldn’t buy a basket, and the ‘Cats rebounders allowed no second chances. The Raps’ defense was a step behind also, and the low-scoring ‘Cats were knocking down open looks. Factor in a bunch of turnovers, and Charlotte had a 15-point edge after Q1. A spirited Toronto comeback in Q4 came up short (hardly surprising – the deficit at one point in Q3 was 30 points), and the Raps were done.

Jan 20, 2014; Charlotte, NC, USA; Charlotte Bobcats small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (14) blocks the shot by Toronto Raptors shooting guard DeMar DeRozan (10) at Time Warner Cable Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

The Kemba Walker-less Bobcats should have been easy prey, even for a gassed Raps team playing their second game in less than 24 hours. However, when three-fifths of the starting lineup (Amir Johnson, Terrence Ross, JV) totals 5 points, winning becomes an unlikely proposition. An exasperated coach Dwane Casey granted significant minutes to Steve Novak, who responded with 3 of 3 shooting from distance. Also from the bench, Chuck Hayes contributed a double-double of 12 points and 13 boards, and Greivis Vasquez had 15 points and 9 assists. Odd (and disturbing) stat of the month: the starters were a collective minus-79, while the bench was plus-54. For the second straight game, the Raps’ opponents got to the free throw line far more than our guys, by a 33-10 margin. I’m (almost) certain the referees have no bias against the NBA’s only Canadian team.

The Raps are beginning to miss Tyler Hansbrough a lot. Once again they were powerless against a free-wheeling big man. This time it was Al Jefferson, who pulled down 18 defensive rebounds. He wasn’t exactly invisible on the other end, pouring in 22 points and dishing 7 assists. JV was the repeated victim of Al’s ball fakes, and there was no one behind JV to contest the dunk.

DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry once again led the starting offense, but are going to sue their colleagues for non-support if today’s game becomes the norm. DD scored 25 and Kyle 21, but it was Kyle’s missed free throw with 25 seconds left that prevented the Raps from tying the game, and setting up a miracle comeback victory. Vasquez’ missed 3-pointer at 15 seconds was the last gasp.

After their third loss in four games against sub-.500 opponents, there may be a mild sense of panic starting to envelop Raptor fans. I suggest that’s premature, and a shakeup of the starters isn’t warranted, but I reserve the right to change my mind. Let’s see which Toronto team shows up at home on Wednesday night against Dallas, the leaden-legged crew we saw this Martin Luther King Day, or the quick-passing sharpshooters of last week.

Brian Boake is Senior Editor for Raptors Rapture. “Like” Raptors Rapture on Facebook and follow us on twitter @RaptorsRapture for all the latest news and updates about the best damn NBA team from Canada.

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