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I came into Saturday’s game thinking the Raptors could take two from Philly and Utah to temporarily right the ship and stem off the early panic. I came out of this game thinking this team is a loss against Utah on Monday away from cementing the beginning of a disastrous season, though I do understand how short sighted that seems.

Here are some thoughts on yet another frustrating loss:

76ers 93, Raptors 83

- The defensive focus and overall effort from the Raptors to start the game had me encouraged, as the team built a quick 22-12 lead, and still looked fine up by six at the end of the quarter. As anyone who watched this game or looked at the boxscore will know by now, an absolutely atrocious second quarter doomed Toronto tonight. In what will likely go down as one of the worst quarters I’ll ever see at home, the Raptors went 2-of-20 from the field, seemed content to die by the long jump shot without crashing the boards, and then subsequently let that lack of offence translate into a poor defensive effort. The final result: a 32-7 second quarter advantage for the Sixers (which included a 16-6 advantage on the boards) to send the Raps into the half down 19.

- Dwane Casey’s rotations in the last two games have been both puzzling and disturbing. On Wednesday, he stuck with an anemic lineup of John Lucas III, Alan Anderson, Dominic McGuire, Quincy Acy and Amir Johnson for too long while the Raptors were fighting to get back in the game in Dallas. On Saturday, his insistence on rolling a complete five man bench unit to start the second quarter, especially when tonight’s starters already included two usual bench guys, played a part in the Raptors digging themselves a hole in that second frame.

The loose rotations in games that are becoming more important with each passing loss are even more puzzling when you consider that Casey originally mentioned that his ideal rotation would consist of only eight or nine players. Also, while the “he was just trying to find a combination that worked” argument is valid on some nights, it wasn’t valid in this game, where the starters were clearly working well together to start both halves.

If Casey had a two-game stretch like this last season when it came to his rotation, I honestly would have believed that he was under pressure to tank, but that obviously can’t be the case this season, so what gives, coach? We’ve all seen Casey work defensive wonders and get every ounce out of a much worse team, and most of us have faith in the guy as a very good NBA coach, which only makes his decisions in the past two games even more confusing.

- No decision on playing time hurt the team more tonight than the lack of Jonas Valanciunas, who was probably the team’s best player when he was on the court. Valanciunas’ energy, effort on the boards and overall presence inside were major factors in the Raptors getting out to a good start, but Casey stayed away from him for far too long. Jonas was pulled midway through the first quarter and didn’t get back out on the floor until midway through the second quarter. Then in the second half, JV played the first eight minutes of the third quarter without touching the floor again after that. Even worse, Valanciunas saw this limited action while only picking up two fouls, so there was really no reason to keep him off the floor unless he was hurt.

Valanciunas finished with eight points, eight rebounds and a block in 20 minutes of hard nosed interior basketball. Amir Johnson, who replaced JV, played nearly the same amount of time (18:41 compared to JV’s 20:18) while only contributing two points, four rebounds and two blocks while also picking up five fouls. There have been nights this season, and there will be going forward, where Johnson or another bench big is needed to come in and spell a struggling Valanciunas or a Valanciunas in foul trouble, but tonight was definitely not one of those nights, and the lack of Jonas in this game went a long way in helping Philly build an insurmountable lead.

- This buzzer beating alleyoop from Calderon to Johnson, which cut the deficit down to seven heading into the fourth quarter, gave the sell out crowd some reason to believe

Unfortunately, every time the Raptors made a run to close the gap to seven or eight, they’d commit a foolish turnover or try to force an unnecessary shot. As much as they dug themselves a hole in the first half, they did plenty of shooting themselves in the foot in the second half.

- Alan Anderson, who made a couple of those aforementioned poor decisions in the second half, left the game with what the team is calling a sprained left foot. With Landry Fields already nursing an unknown issue with his shooting hand and Terrence Ross slowly starting to look more comfortable on an NBA court, I’m hoping the rookie can earn some more minutes in the near future.

- DeMar DeRozan’s final numbers weren’t bad (19 points, six rebounds), but his zero assists speak to his reluctance to move the ball tonight and his forcing up some tough shots in the second half, even more disheartening since we were lauding his impressive seven assists and surprising offensive awareness just a few nights ago.

- Linas Kleiza marked his return to the lineup with a sparkling performance of 0 points on 0-of-1 shooting to go along with two rebounds, 0 assists, 0 steals, 0 blocks and a +/- of -20 in just 12 minutes of action. Welcome back, Linas.

- Perhaps nothing summed up this game quite like the in-arena contest featured during one of the TV timeouts. The fan contestant had to predict what vacation destination could be spelled out with the following hints: _ _ S _ _ G _ _

The obvious answer, even without every fan in attendance yelling it, was “Las Vegas,” but I at least could’ve accepted “Los Angeles” if the guy just didn’t count the amount of letters properly. Instead, he went with the ridiculous answer of “Seattle,” and was mercilessly booed off of the court, just as the Raptors themselves were in the second quarter.

Raptors Player of the Game: Jose Calderon – 14 Pts, 5/11 FG, 4/7 3PT, 11 Ast, 3 Reb, 1 Blk, 4 TO in 38:24 (Valanciunas would have been the pick with a few extra minutes)

76ers Player of the Game: Spencer Hawes – 12 Pts, 5/10 FG, 2/4 FT, 11 Reb, 3 Ast, 1 Blk, 1 TO in 23:24

Right now this team just hasn’t looked capable of putting together 48 minutes of full effort basketball, particularly on the defensive end, which you know has to have Dwane Casey concerned. They’ll need their best effort of the young season on Monday against the Jazz, because again, heading out to Indiana and Boston with a 1-6 record on the heels of four straight losses and two straight at home is a recipe for disaster.

How long until hopeful fans start referencing the start to the 2006-07 season as comfort?