UGLY START: Raptors can’t overcome early woes in loss to Trail Blazers

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Having experienced actual crowds in their past five games, the Raptors returned home to an empty Scotiabank Arena with a pretty much empty effort for all of the first half.

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By the time the carnage was half over the Raptors were down a whopping 30 points, having scored just 34 in the half, their lowest total for a half this season.

The starting five was a combined 6-for-39, the bench a stellar 5-for-9.

It was one of those halves where it felt like no matter what the Raptors did, things were just going to go wrong for the home side.

We all should have known it was going to be a night like this when the Trail Blazers had two steals before the game was even 30 seconds old.

As woeful as that first 24 minutes were, the Raptors did at least turn things around a little in the third, outscoring the Blazers by 11 to at least get the deficit below 20 and did some further damage to that deficit in the fourth before falling 114-105 in this one.

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They managed to get it all the way down to four with 1:31 to go in the game as they trapped the Blazers basically anywhere on the court they could corral the opposition long enough to get a second body to them.

It didn’t work every time but it worked enough that it junked up the game enough to give the Raptors a chance.

Pascal Siakam stayed aggressive throughout and was rewarded with 24 points on 11 off 17 shooting. Fred VanVleet, who has been battling his shot of late, got to 19 on 6-of-18 shooting but the Raptors needed one more of their scorers going to complete what would have been their biggest ever comeback from a deficit of 34.

The Raptors didn’t quite get there but it wasn’t for lack of trying.

The early deficit was just too much to overcome.

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The Trail Blazers shared the scoring equally with CJ McCollum and Anfernee Simons finishing with 19 while Nassir Little and Ben McLemore had 17.

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ACCEPTING THE WORKLOAD

It doesn’t get talked about enough. Gary Trent Jr., who was going up against his old team for the third time already having only joined the Raptors late last season in the Norm Powell trade, is a dramatically different player than the one who left Portland.

To hear Raptors head coach Nick Nurse tell it, the first sign a change was coming came in Vegas last summer.

“He was there working out,” Nurse recalled. “We were just sitting on the side talking. I said, ‘This is how we do it. This is what we’re gonna do.’ And he kind of said, ‘You (want me) to do all that and score, as well.’ I said, ‘Yeah. We want you to play that hard and still score.’ He said, ‘That’s a lot of work, man.’ I said, ‘Yeah it is, man.’

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“Usually we’ve found that when guys are in tune and doing what they’re supposed to do, in tune defensively, it usually translates to better offence from them,” Nurse said. “I can’t explain it, but they’re just totally into the game at both sides. We think that has happened to him this year. The other part: We found out that he just competes, man. He’s a fighter and a competitor and wants to win. And that’s awesome to see.”

Trent Jr. is fourth in the NBA in deflections averaging 3.5 a game.

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ALL-STAR CHANCES BOLSTERED

VanVleet isn’t going to get to the all-star game as a starter on the fan vote, but if Chauncey Billups is any indication of how the coaches feel about the Raptors point guard, his odds go way up with that route to the game.

“Freddie is just so under-appreciated to me,” Billups said prior to Sunday night’s game. “I think he is the maybe most underrated player in the league. He can do it all. I mean, he doesn’t get credit for being a lockdown defender. He’s a big shot taker and maker. He is able to read defences with his skillset and his IQ. Those players who can do those types of things — those are superstars in our league.

“So I don’t think he gets the credit he deserves,” Billups said. “He’s tough as nails. I’ve been proud watching him develop and continue to get better and better in this league.”

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