The Raptors followed up their infuriating loss in Philadelphia on Tuesday with a tough one-point loss in Charlotte on Wednesday, dropping to 3-9 on the season and severely damaging the hope of eventual playoff contention many fans had for this team. And no, it’s not too early to say that.

Now here are some thoughts on the game…

Bobcats 98, Raptors 97

- The Raptors had their opportunities in this game and they shot themselves in the foot plenty of times, so I’m not going to say that they deserved the victory if not for the refs, but having said that, they certainly deserved some free throws and a chance to take the lead in the final seconds of the game if not for some deplorable officiating. In a frantic final half-minute that saw the Raptors get four or five chances to take the lead after offensive rebounds and deflections, Kyle Lowry and Andrea Bargnani were clearly fouled two or three times without a call. No non-call was as atrocious as the final one though, when Bargnani’s hand was hit on his release just a few feet away from the ref. Oh, and just to make it worse, it was rookie Jeff Taylor who got the benefit of the no-call on the play in question.

- It’s hard to be positive after a ninth loss in 12 games, especially when a handful of those games have been decided in the final few minutes, but it’s also hard to be anything but positive about the future of Jonas Valanciunas. The 20-year-old rookie recorded his second double-double in as many nights (and third on the young season) and was finally rewarded with fourth quarter minutes, until he fouled out, a night after we all pleaded for Dwane Casey to throw him in in crunch time. I know it usually doesn’t mean anything, but in this case, I feel like Valanciunas’ team-leading plus/minus of +8 in this game does means something.

- Valanciunas wasn’t the only Raptors rookie to impress in this ball game, as Terrence Ross finished with 11 points on 5-of-9 shooting in just 15 minutes of action, which also included some fourth quarter time. If Ross can put together a string of performances like this, it will be hard for Casey to keep him on the bench with Landry Fields and Alan Anderson out. Although, I’ve said that before and Terrence still isn’t getting the time.

- Most of us have taken issue with some of Casey’s late game lineup decisions, but I was fine with him using the unit of Lowry, Calderon, DeRozan, Bargnani and Valanciunas for the majority of the fourth quarter.

- Bargnani put together what was by far his best game of the season, scoring 25 points on 9-of-17 shooting, which included him hitting a couple of big shots down the stretch. As mentioned, his failed attempt at a game-winner in the final seconds saw him take contact to his shooting hand without getting the call, so I’m not going to knock the guy for missing his shot. Furthermore, while the rest of the team continued to struggle from the free throw line (combining for 9/15), Andrea was a perfect 5-for-5, so you know he likely would have made at least one of his freebies had he been adequately rewarded by the incompetent stiff disguised as an official.

And yes, I’m aware that Bargnani grabbed an embarrassing two rebounds in 33 minutes, but his offensive game was pretty much where it needed to be and he was actually active on defence, so I’m not going to pretend like Bargnani’s lack of rebounding is what lost the Raptors this game.

- Kyle Lowry was solid for the Raptors again, filling the stat-sheet with 21 points, eight assists, three rebounds, two steals and three blocks in nearly 36 minutes in his return to the starting lineup. Lowry missed a couple of free throws again and took a very bad three-point attempt at a crucial point of the fourth quarter with the Raptors up three, but just like last night in Philly, he was also one of the only reasons the Raps were even in the game.

- DeMar DeRozan was disappointing for the majority of the game, committing five turnovers as he was frustrated by the defence of Jeff Taylor, but he came alive late in the game when the Raptors needed him to and made the right decision to continue to attack the basket despite not getting many calls.

- When Scott and I were doing our player preview posts during the pre-season, a lot of fans seemed to take issue with how critical we were of Linas Kleiza, and for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why. In case you still haven’t put it together, Kleiza is pretty much a waste of space on this Raptors team, as he really doesn’t do anything well enough to warrant consistent playing time. Sure, he has the odd standout offensive performance off of the bench, but for the most part, you’re looking at a guy who thinks he’s a shooter yet can’t shoot, doesn’t defend all that well, doesn’t stand out from a rebounding perspective and sure as hell doesn’t move the ball consistently enough.

Other than jacking up a lot of long two-point attempts (I’ve coined the nickname “Long-two Linas”), the most frustrating part of Kleiza’s game is that he and a bunch of other people think he’s some sort of three-point threat when he has rarely displayed that talent. With his 0-for-3 shooting performance from deep tonight, Linas is now 5-of-21 (23.8%) from downtown on the season, which shouldn’t surprise anyone who can make a basic observation. For the record, Kleiza is a career 33 per cent three-point shooter and has only converted 32 per cent of his attempts as a Raptor. In addition, only once in his six previous seasons in the NBA has he shot better than 35 per cent from behind the arc, and that was six years ago.

So maybe stop calling Linas Kleiza a shooter, okay? “Chucker” is the more appropriate term for his type.

- I won’t take anything away from the Bobcats, who at 6-4, are one win away from their entire 66-game total from last season’s historically pitiful display. They deserve to be where they are right now and I believe in players like Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, but that doesn’t mean I believe this team can or will keep it up. As I mentioned in the game thread, I think they’ll end up like the 2010-11 Cavs, who started that season 4-3, were 5-5 after 10 games and 7-9 after 16 games, but finished 19-63.

- As for the Raptors, there’s no denying it. Right now, the freaking Bobcats are a better basketball team, and Toronto’s 3-9 record might not be explainable by a tough schedule anymore if they’re going to lose games against teams like Charlotte. I know it sounds crazy just 12 games into the season, but I really have almost conceded any hope of this team competing for a playoff spot already. They’re 3-9, still have a tough stretch of games to play until the middle of December, and are a worse team than the Bobcats. Can YOU see a team like that competing for a playoff spot?

Exactly.

Raptors Player of the Game: Kyle Lowry – 21 Pts, 6/15 FG, 4/7 3PT, 5/7 FT, 3 Reb, 8 Ast, 2 Stl, 3 Blk, 3 TO in 35:47

Bobcats Player of the Game: Kemba Walker – 19 Pts, 8/16 FG, 1/4 3PT, 2/3 FT, 3 Reb, 7 Ast, 1 Stl, 3 Blk 4 TO