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When Marreese Speights goes off on you in your ninth straight loss, you got problems

For the second straight game, the Raptors came out flying and started hot, only to slowly fade as the game wore on, eventually dropping another home game, losing their ninth straight and falling 20 games below .500.

The warning signs for what was to come were present, even in what looked like a solid first quarter for the Raptors. Ten of Philadelphia’s first 16 points were scored on open layups, dunks or alley-oops. And though the Sixers only managed 20 points in that first quarter, and the Raptors held a nine-point lead, it had little to do with good Raptors defence. The truth is that Philly was misfiring on some open looks.

DeMar DeRozan and Andrea Bargnani were keeping the Raptors hot offensively in the first half, especially DeRozan, and Julian Wright was providing his usual spark on defence (Wright was the only Raptor to finish with a positive plus/minus). Though it should be noted that Wright went 4-of-11 tonight, which included three missed layups in the first half.

The Raptors struggled dearly opening the second and third quarters, and in the end, those runs helped the Sixers stretch their lead. Philly opened the second quarter on a 17-4 run, and the Raps were lucky to have the game tied at 50 at the half. In the first few minutes of the second half, the Sixers compiled a 10-2 run to take a semi-comfortable lead which they would never relinquish.

The deficit was a very manageable seven points heading into the fourth quarter, but the truth is that the Raptors never showed up for the fourth. There was no spark, no defining play or moment to rally the fans or the team, and no sense of urgency or energy emanating from the Raptors bench. Though I know it wasn’t the case, the Raptors seemed generally okay with dropping their ninth straight.

Rebounding, second chance points and interior defence were the Raptors’ undoing. The Raps were out-rebounded 43-33, were outscored by 12 (at my last count) in second chance points and were outscored in the paint, 56-30. When your team is already low on talent and limited by injuries, those numbers just won’t cut it.

Alexis Ajinca and Trey Johnson made their Raptors debuts, though neither made an impact in limited minutes. The pair combined for five points in 18 total minutes. Ajinca, who will be hard-pressed to earn a future in Toronto, actually looked decent on the floor. But it’s too hard to make any sort of assessment in a six minute sample.

The positives for the Raptors were few and far between on this night. Bargnani had a solid night statistically, and even recorded three blocks, but was defensively poor for most of the night, and disappeared offensively in the second half. Amir Johnson finished with 15 points on 7-of-10 shooting and also had three blocks, but only grabbed six rebounds in 35 minutes of action.

Once again, DeMar DeRozan shone brightest for the Raptors, highlighted by his game-high 29 points and 12 trips to the free throw line.

It really is amazing to see how quickly things can change in the NBA, or pro sports for that matter. Two months ago, the Raptors disposed of the Sixers twice in a one-week span. At the time, Toronto looked like a young team that could over-achieve, while Philly looked like a hopeless squad destined for a top-five pick. The Sixers are now becoming more and more comfortable in a playoff spot, while the only thing separating the Raps from the East’s basement is Cleveland.

With the Raptors now 20 games below .500 and six or seven games back of the eighth seed in the East (depending on how tonight’s Bobcats-Suns game finishes), perhaps delusional fans still dreaming of a miraculous playoff birth will come to terms with the fact that this year is finished, from a wins and losses standpoint. Just look for youth development, exciting games, an honest effort, and a lucky bounce of the lottery balls.

Raptors Player of the Game: DeMar DeRozan -40 Min, 29 Pts, 9-18 FG, 11-12 FT, 5 Reb, 1 Ast

76ers Player of the Game: Marreese Speights -17 Min, 23 Pts, 10-12 FG, 0-1 3Pt, 3-3 FT, 9 Reb, 1 Ast (Yes, that’s how bad the interior defence was. Speights had 23 and nine in just 17 minutes)