The Raptors came crashing back to earth at the hands of the Sacramento Kings. Toronto was never as bad as it appeared when they were 4-19 and they aren’t as good as their recent stretch – winning eight of nine – made them appear. Tonight was one of the uglier performances of the season, as the Raptors starters couldn’t find any rhythm at either end of the floor.

Here are some thoughts on the game:

Kings 105, Raptors 96

-Toronto’s starting lineup only has one guy that can score consistently – DeMar DeRozan. This unit will never blow teams out in the first quarter because they don’t have enough offensive weapons. With Lowry, Anderson, Amir, Fields and Ross coming off the bench, Dwane Casey has made his reserves more dangerous than his starters. Most of the bench came into the game facing a seven-point deficit and they turned that into a five-point lead by the time the starters returned. By halftime, the starters had allowed Sacramento to regain a one-point lead. The starters opened the second half with another slow stretch and this time the bench couldn’t dig them out of the hole, as the Raptors were outscored 28-10 in the third quarter and the game was out of reach.

-I don’t usually believe in single game plus/minus as a good indicator of player performance but it told the story tonight and it’s been the same story in recent games. Starters Calderon, DeRozan and Davis all finished with plus/minus ratings of -20 or worse. Reserves Lowry, Fields and Anderson were +15, +8 and +5 respectively. Casey needs to add some talent to the starting lineup and there is no point in waiting for a losing streak to make that change.

-DeMar DeRozan and Jose Calderon are forced out of their comfort zone when they are asked to do too much. They have no choice but to try to do too much when they are on the floor with Aaron Gray, Ed Davis and Mickael Pietrus. Davis can score with his back to the basket but he isn’t a sure thing by any stretch. DeRozan and Jose combined for 8-of-22 shooting tonight to go along with a four assists and four turnovers.

-In my opinion, the starting lineup should be Lowry, Ross, DeRozan, Davis and Valanciunas (Amir for now) or Lowry, DeRozan, Anderson, Davis and Valanciunas (Amir).

-In three of the four games that Kyle Lowry has come off the bench, the reserves have significantly outperformed the starters. That was the case again tonight. I would be far more concerned about tonight’s result if the Raptors had given a complete effort, put their best foot forward with a healthy lineup and still lost by nine or more. Some tweaks to the starting lineup, a more complete effort from some of the starters and some better matchups for DeMarcus Cousins would have led to a far different result tonight.

-One of my favourite Raptors related stats is Toronto’s record when Alan Anderson gets 20+ minutes: 7-1 7-2. Anderson came into the game halfway through the first quarter with Toronto down by 7 and had an immediate impact, cleaning up a Calderon miss for an easy two and then jawing with DeMarcus Cousins – leading to double technicals. That play seemed to awaken the Raptors who went on a run following that altercation. Anderson continued to try and get under Cousins’ skin as they walked up the tunnel for halftime. Anderson is the type of player that you hate to play against but love to have on your team. His average plus/minus of +4.5 per game is no fluke.

- I 100% believe Landry Fields when he said “I’m not this bad” after discovering that he had a pinched nerve in his elbow earlier this season. The injury affected his shot, ball-handling and finishing ability. Since he returned from surgery, Fields has shot 10-of-14 from the field.

-I gush over Ed Davis in every game recap, but it’s so refreshing to see your power forward make a regular impact in the paint and on the glass every night. Davis finished the first half with 5 points, 10 rebounds, 2 blocks and many altered shots. For any number of reasons, it will be a travesty if Andrea Bargnani is handed back his starting job when he returns from injury.

-Quincy Acy played what I believe were his first significant minutes in the NBA in the second quarter and he looked serviceable. Acy competed with DeMarcus Cousins on defence and didn’t look outmatched on the glass.

-DeMarcus Cousins was the driving force behind this victory for Sacramento. As Joe talked about in his game thread, Cousins is the enigma of all enigmas. Tonight, Toronto didn’t have anyone that could guard him. Aaron Gray didn’t have the speed to match him and both Ed Davis and Amir Johnson lacked the size. Gray and Amir had especially rough nights, combining for 0 Pts (0-2 FG), 3 rebounds and nine personal fouls in 16 minutes.  Having Jonas Valanciunas and Andrea Bargnani in the lineup would have been useful for defending Cousins.

-The biggest question that continues to circulate around this team’s fan base is “are the Raptors better off trading Andrea Bargnani for whatever BC can get?” Although I wrote several weeks ago that Bryan Colangelo’s only option was to trade Bargnani, the truth is, when you’ve won eight of your last 10 games, you don’t have to do anything. Would I trade Bargs for a lottery pick? Yup. But do I also think it’s possible he could be a positive factor off of the bench for the Raptors? Yup. Not likely, but possible.

-It’s important to put Toronto’s good stretch of basketball in perspective. The Raptors were never as bad as they were made out to be in the first 22 games, so when a number of things changed in their favour following that loss to Portland, their win streak isn’t very shocking in retrospect. This was a team that lost six games early this season in which they were leading in the final two minutes. Giving Bargnani’s minutes to Ed Davis and Amir Johnson helped spark this turnaround, without question, but that wasn’t the only factor.

The players-only meeting led to more cohesive and consistent play on both ends of the floor and the team also started to slowly develop confidence. There was a good loss to Brooklyn, followed by progressively better play against some weak opponents. There is also a chance that Jose Calderon brought some stability to the point guard position when Kyle Lowry went down. I’m not sold on that last theory and I emphatically believe Lowry should be the starter right now but I’m willing to listen to arguments that Calderon guided them down this path faster than Lowry could have. Toronto’s turnaround wasn’t as dramatic as people may think, which is why we shouldn’t be shocked by results such as tonight’s loss.

Raptors Player Of the Game: Kyle Lowry - 24 Pts, 5/10 FG, 4/7 3PT, 10/12 FT, 4 Ast, 3 Reb, 2 Stl, 2 TO in 28 minutes

Kings Player Of the Game: DeMarcus Cousins – 31 Pts, 11/18 FG, 9/12 FT, 20 Reb, 4 Ast, 2 Stl, 4 TO in 33 minutes

The Raptors need to put this game behind them quickly with the Thunder coming to town on Sunday afternoon. The Raps then face six straight Eastern Conference foes, with four of those six matchups coming at home.