Ringing in a new year really hits home for the Raptors, who return home following a 1-2 road trip with a gruelling Western swing on the horizon.
New Year’s Day officially tips off with a date against the visiting Cleveland Cavaliers, a team that continues to be without Evan Mobley (left knee surgery) and Darius Garland (jaw fracture).
When they began their trip in Washington last Wednesday night, head coach Darko Rajakovic switched his lineup for the first time this season.
The Raptors would win the game, but the Wizards were quite awful.
Friday night in Boston, the Raptors began the game with no energy and playing with no defensive intensity, but they would regroup before succumbing late in a one-possession game.
Then came the trade that sent O.G. Anunoby to New York on the same day the Raptors arrived in Detroit playing a Pistons team desperate for a win following 28 consecutive losses knowing the next defeat would set an NBA record.
Toronto was forced to dress 10 players with Precious Achiuwa and Malachi Flynn also part of the deal with the Knicks.
In reality, the Raptors only had nine available because rookie Gradey Dick didn’t even see the floor.
At 12-20, the Raptors aren’t going to suddenly become playoff contenders.
Anunoby’s defence will be missed as will his versatility.
Immanuel Quickley and R.J. Barrett, whom the Raptors acquired from the Knicks, aren’t going to make an immediate impact.
In time, each should emerge, but time is quickly running out on the Raptors.
As much as the Pistons tried to give the game away Saturday night in Motown, they did hold on to a 129-127 win, the team’s first since Oct. 28.
Pascal Siakam poured in a game-high 35 points on a night the Raptors scored 83 second-half points.
Barnes, who made a career-high seven threes in Boston, buried but one shot from distance one night later.
“It was a very emotional day for everyone,” said Rajakovic. “I’m really proud of the energy our guys had, taking everything into account.
“I also don’t want to take anything away from what Detroit did. They played a really good game and hit some very, very timely shots.”
It will be interesting moving forward how the rookie head coach incorporates Quickley and Barrett.
Dennis Schroder was pulled from the starting group in Washington for Gary Trent Jr.
The veteran point guard played well in the win and his improved play continued in Toronto’s losses against the Celtics and Pistons.
In Detroit, Schroder netted a season-high 30 points.
The Pistons led 90-86 after three quarters.
In the fourth period, no team was able to forge a run until the Pistons received back-to-back triples from Cade Cunningham and Jaden Ivey that gave Detroit a 110-99 lead with 5:50 remaining.
The Raptors responded by going on an 8-2 run, a stretch that featured Barnes scoring six points.
Down the stretch, the Pistons held on before clinching it from the line.
With one second left, Trent Jr. buried a three-pointer.
“I challenged both (Siakam) and Scottie at halftime,” said Rajakovic. “I told them that we needed more from them in the second half and they both did a really good job.”
Siakam went off for 20 points in the third quarter.
Toronto’s depleted bench scored 12 points in the loss, while Detroit’s second unit produced 33 points.
Following the Anunoby trade, the only player link to the 2019 title team is Siakam, whose future in Toronto is very much up in the air, even if an extension gets hammered out.
“I wanna be happy,’’ he told reporters. “I wanna play meaningful basketball. I wanna win.”
If those words ring true, it would be a stretch to suggest Siakam will play meaningful games this season wearing a Raptors uniform.
As their record clearly indicates, the Raptors are not a good team.
It is now a team minus its best defender, a team with two new players who will undergo a learning curve.
With the Knicks, Quickley and Barrett were coached by Tom Thibodeau, an experienced bench boss.
In Toronto, Quickley and Barrett will be coached by a rookie whose resume consists of 32 games.
It would surprise no one if more changes to the roster are made at some point.
Even though a new year gets ushered in, the Raptors are pretty much the same team faced with the same issues that have plagued this club for more than a few years.
Officially, it is Scottie Barnes’ team, but he has to avoid nights such as Saturday, even though it was on the backend of a back-to-back, when he disappeared for stretches.
Barnes, though he is ascending, is far from a finished product.
Making seven triples one night to burying one the next hardly inspires confidence.
His size remains Barnes’ greatest asset combined with a skill set that allows him to see the floor.
When he’s in the post, he becomes virtually unstoppable when matched up against a smaller defender.
When an extra defender is thrown his way, Barnes has already shown an acumen to make the right read and pass.
Making shots from distance is a bonus, an area that must be upgraded by acquiring shooters to space the floor for Barnes.
We’ll see how Quickley complements Barnes, but it requires time.
Once the formalities of Cleveland’s visit are officially dispensed, the Raptors will be in Memphis to play Ja Morant and the Grizzlies Wednesday.
A late tip in Sacramento Friday follows before a visit to the Bay Area to play the host Warriors.
Back-to-back nights in L.A. to play the Lakers and Clippers beginning Tuesday capped off by a game in Utah on Jan. 12.
By the time they return home following the Western swing, there’s no telling what the Raptors record will look like.
By the time the NBA’s Feb. 8 trade deadline passes, there’s no telling what this roster will look like.
Any way you cut it, it’s looking more and more like a lost season.