Streak of mis­for­tune re­al­ity check for Rap­tors

Toronto Star - - SPORTS - DOUG SMITH SPORTS RE­PORTER

It was one of those nights where ev­ery­thing that could go wrong did. A much-needed big man came up lame, the kids who re­placed him even­tu­ally wore down against the un­re­lent­ing tal­ent they were fac­ing, and shots of ev­ery imag­in­able kind clanged off the rim, the back­board, some­times draw­ing noth­ing but air.

There’s plenty of time for the Toronto Rap­tors to fix what ailed them Sunday night, but at the mo­ment all that stings is the mis­ery of de­feat, a 96-91 loss to the Sacra­mento Kings that had an in­evitable feel about it as the night at the Air Canada Cen­tre pro­gressed.

A swollen knee kept Jonas Valan­ci­u­nas out of the lineup, Sacra­mento’s De­Mar­cus Cousins even­tu­ally chewed up rookie Jakob Poeltl and Lu­cas Nogueira, and the Rap­tors con­tin­ued to shoot three-point­ers like they had never tried one be­fore in see­ing a three-game win­ning streak come to an end. It was a frus­trat­ing night for a team with ex­pec­ta­tions.

“I know I have to play bet­ter and the team has to play bet­ter,” said Kyle Lowry, who shot just 5-for-16 from the field and missed seven of the 10 three-point­ers he tried. “It’s only one loss, but there’s a lot of pres­sure on our team be­cause we’re one of the bet­ter teams, and I put a lot of pres­sure on my­self be­cause I’m one of our bet­ter play­ers.

“We just have to play bet­ter as a group and my­self in­di­vid­u­ally.”

Of­fence was an is­sue. The Rap­tors shot just 36 per cent from the floor and made only seven of 30 three­p­oint at­tempts. The ab­sence of Valan­ci­u­nas hurt, pri­mar­ily be­cause the Kings had lit­tle re­gard for Poeltl and Nogueira and loaded up the cov­er­age on Toronto’s ma­jor scor­ing threats.

“There’s a lot to learn from the way they were guard­ing me and Kyle — what to ex­pect in the screen-an­drolls, what the bigs are sup­posed to do, what to do on the weak side, small things like that,” said DeMar DeRozan, who was held to 23 points and shot just 7-for-20 from the floor, end­ing his streak of 30-point per­for­mances at five. “It’s a great learn­ing tool for us.”

Valan­ci­u­nas, listed as day-to-day with knee swelling from an in­ci­dent last week that he says he can’t re­mem­ber, would have been nice to have to bat­tle Cousins, who shred­ded Toronto for 22 points and 14 re­bounds. Poeltl, Nogueira and rookie Pas­cal Si­akam did what they could, but they were over-matched.

“They played as well as you can against Cousins. He’s one of the hard­est matchups that you can have in the NBA,” coach Dwane Casey said of Cousins. “His phys­i­cal­ity, his speed and quick­ness, his abil­ity to score, draw fouls is un­canny. That’s a tough matchup for any big player. I thought Poeltl did a good job un­til he got into foul trou­ble, and then he got ten­ta­tive like most guys do.”

It was al­ways go­ing to be a sea­son of learn­ing for the Toronto rook­ies, who have been force-fed more min­utes thanks to an in­jury to Jared Sullinger and a sore an­kle that cost Nogueira his spot in the ro­ta­tion.

For the most part, the two kids have been good to very good, lauded for their savvy and their work ethic. The sting of a loss notwith­stand­ing, they’ll take some­thing away from Sunday as well.

“I gotta live with that,” Poeltl said of the fouls that lim­ited him to 181⁄

2 min­utes. “Some of them are stupid fouls on my part, and some of them are a lit­tle cheap where I can’t re­ally do any­thing about it. But the way I gotta ap­proach it is, take away the stupid fouls I’m mak­ing and all of a sud­den I’m not in foul trou­ble any­more, be­cause I can take the one or two fouls that maybe aren’t too much con­tact. I can take that and still be out there on the court.”

RICK MADONIK/TORONTO STAR

NBA scor­ing leader DeMar DeRozan’s streak of 30-point games was snapped. He fin­ished 7 for 20 from the floor.

RICK MADONIK/TORONTO STAR

Rap­tors rookie Jakob Poeltl tan­gles with Kings cen­tre De­Mar­cus Cousins in the sec­ond half of Sunday’s game.

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