Game No. 11: Kings 98, Raptors 91

Another ugly one for a small crowd at the Air Canada Centre to “enjoy” on Wednesday night, as the Raptors lost at home to the Kings for the first time since 2004.

Both teams were slow and sluggish early and made a run or two in the middle of the game, but the difference was that the Raptors never had a response for Sacramento’s burst in the fourth quarter. Say what you will about Toronto missing Andrea Bargnani down the stretch (strained left calf, left the game in third quarter), but the Kings were missing their leading scorer (Marcus Thornton) for the entire game.

Random note: This is the first time in four back-to-back-to-backs in franchise history that the Raptors finished with a losing record (1-2) and also the first time they lost the back end of a three games in three nights stretch. In the 50-game 1999 season, the Raps swept one back-to-back-to-back and went 2-1 in the other two.

Here are six thoughts on a brutal contest:

1- You want lockout basketball? You got lockout basketball. The Kings were playing on the back-end of a back-to-back after getting blown out on Tuesday night in Philadelphia. The Raptors were on the back-end of a back-to-back-to-back after being easily handled by the previously winless Wizards in Washington. Did it ever show for both teams? Toronto and Sacramento combined to shoot 64-of-161 (39.8 per cent) from the field and 13-of-44 from three while committing 30 turnovers and recording just 33 assists. It was a matchup of two tired young teams already low on quality, and neither team did much entertaining.

2- Andrea Bargnani continues to prove that he has improved and evolved. The bad news is obviously that Bargnani was forced to leave the game in the second half with what the team is calling a strained left calf and the fact that he was shooting just two-of-13 up to that point, but there were bright spots in Andrea’s game on Wednesday. Bargnani was putting in work on the defensive side of the floor, was driving the net and getting to the line on the offensive side, and most importantly, grabbed 10 rebounds in 26 minutes for his second double-double of the season. We’re now 11 games and over two weeks into the season, and instead of seeing his play slowly drop off, Bargnani actually seems to be elevating his game each day. Hopefully his calf strain isn’t serious enough to derail what is looking like a potential All Star campaign.

3- After nearly a year out of the lineup recovering from microfracture surgery, Linas Kleiza surprised all of us by suiting up and playing against the Kings. Kleiza was reportedly never healthy last season for the Raptors, which might be the reason he never really left his mark on the team and often looked like an inconsistent chucker. I loved the fact that Kleiza’s first NBA touch in over 50 weeks was a strong drive to the basket and the fact the he looked fearless throughout. It’s just one game, but Kleiza didn’t look tentative or worse for wear in his 14 minutes of inspiring action. It’s no surprise that one of the only bursts of life the Raptors showed in this game came when Kleiza first checked in, helping the Raps to a 14-2 run.

Rasual Butler couldn’t hit a soccer net right now and Gary Forbes has failed to impress in the limited minutes he has seen so far, so this is a golden opportunity for Kleiza to earn his starting spot back and for the Raptors to start a Linas Kleiza/James Johnson platoon at small forward.

4- From the good vibes of Kleiza’s return to the miserable vibes surrounding DeMar DeRozan. I wrote earlier this week that DeRozan’s performance against the Nets and 76ers last weekend was one of the worst two-game stretches of his young career. Well he followed those games up with a combined seven-of-27 performance against the Timberwolves and Wizards. On Wednesday night against the Kings, DeRozan finished with 13 points on five-of-nine shooting, but it was much, much worse than those numbers suggest. DeMar was sluggish for most of the game, had no movement at all on offence, no fight on defence and carried a very defeated body language around. After averaging 18.5 points on nearly 50 per cent shooting and showing off a dramatically improved three-point shot through his first six games, DeRozan has regressed to 8.8 points on 30 per cent shooting in his last five games, while going zero-for-seven from deep during that stretch.

DeRozan is lacking confidence and looks weak. He has to find a way to fight through this and get back to playing the way he is capable of, or what looked to be an innocent slump over one weekend could become a season-long nightmare.

5- After being one of the weak links in the team’s recent struggles, the Raptors’ bench finally came through with a worthwhile performance, outscoring the Kings’ bench 43-26. Most of that had to do with Leandro Barbosa’s 24 points off the pine, but Kleiza, James Johnson and Ed Davis all gave the Raptors something. Speaking of Ed Davis, I would have liked to see a lot more of him in this one, as the young big man finished with six points and six boards in just 12 minutes.

6- A quick note on the Kings. I know they’re the youngest team in the NBA, but I really think they should be better than they are. Young or not, they have a ton of talent in guys like Tyreke Evans, DeMarcus Cousins, Marcus Thornton, J.J. Hickson and others. If Keith Smart can get this team playing the right way, playing team basketball and getting Cousins’ head on straight, I honestly think they can surprise some folks in the Western Conference. They’re probably not ready to compete for a playoff spot just yet, but I don’t think they should be one of the worst teams in the NBA either.

Raptors Player of the Game: Leandro Barbosa – 29 Min, 24 Pts, 11-18 FG, 2-5 3PT, 1 Reb, 2 Ast, 1 Stl, 2 TO

Kings Player of the Game: DeMarcus Cousins – 39 Min, 21 Pts, 6-11 FG, 9-11 FT, 19 Reb, 1 Stl, 1 Blk, 5 TO (Cousins also came through with the quote of the night: “I’m out there just grabbing balls.” Amazing)

So here’s something scary to think about when you go to bed tonight: The Raptors next nine games are against the Pacers, Bulls, Hawks, Celtics, Blazers, Clippers, Suns, Jazz and Nuggets, with the last four coming as part of a Western road trip.

“Tank-Nation” has to be rejoicing right now.