But instead Toronto wilted as the Portland Trail Blazers came out as though they had something to prove, playing aggressively and with hunger.
With LaMarcus Aldridge scoring his season-best 33 points and gathering a career-high 23 rebounds, the Trail Blazers controlled the game all the way in a 94-84 victory over the Raptors on Friday.
"He was just a monster out there tonight both in the paint as well as on the boards," Blazers head coach Nate McMillan said. "He has the ability to average double-double."
Not only was it the seventh loss in a row for the Raptors, it was their ninth in the past 10 games.
"It was a tale of who we are right now," Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said. "Tonight I thought we started out soft. Portland came out the way they should, aggressive and into us and we didn't respond until the second quarter and once we did we played well."
James Johnson with a career-best 23 points and DeMar DeRozan scored 22 led the Raptors, who were playing without leading scorer Andrea Bargnani for the fifth game in a row.
"They came out more aggressive like they had more to lose than we did," Johnson said. "They were running up and down, Aldridge is an all-star, he's playing great and we've got to come out tougher than that. We're a better team than that."
The Blazers, who have won the past seven meetings with the Raptors including four in a row at Air Canada Centre, had a 55-40 advantage in rebounds, including an 18-8 edge in the first quarter.
"I definitely wanted to try and force the tempo early," Aldridge said. "I felt if I got going early in the game it was going to be easier for us."
The Raptors were down by 13 points after the first quarter and trailed by as many as 21 in the second quarter. They battled back from a 15-point half-time disadvantage to cut the lead to five in the third quarter, but Portland was back in front by 11 after three quarters.
"We started having more pick and rolls, I thought we got more aggressive defensively, we weren't as soft coming off screens and thought we got physical on the defensive end," Casey said.
"(The Blazers) are a good team, they're going to be in the money at the end of the year, they're going to be one of the top teams we're going to be talking about at the end of the season."
Raymond Felton added 14 points and five assists for the Blazers. Nicolas Batum had nine points for Portland and Wesley Matthews and Gerald Wallace each scored eight. Former Raptor Marcus Camby took in 10 rebounds.
DeRozan shot 7 for 21 from the field for Toronto but said he does not feel pressure to score more with Bargnani out with a calf injury.
"Andrea just makes everything so much easier," said DeRozan who has been in a scoring slump. "We play off each other and we make things so much easier for everybody else out there. It's tough, teams focus on me a lot but there's no pressure. I've missed easy shots on my own so I wouldn't consider it pressure."
Leandro Barbosa had 17 coming off the bench for Toronto and Jose Calderon dished out 12 assists to go with seven points.
"We don't have our No. 1 scorer and we have to find other ways to win," Casey said. "Somehow, some way we have to find a way to put four quarters together."
Notes: Attendance at Air Canada Centre was 17,537. ...Toronto's Aaron Gray fouled out with 42 seconds to play. ... In addition to Bargnani (strained left calf), the Raptors were without guard Jerryd Bayless (left ankle sprain) for the 13th game in a row. Bayless is considered closest to returning, having had two practices. It is hoped that Bargnani will be able to practise on Saturday in Los Angeles ahead of Sunday's game against the Clippers at the Staples Center. ... The Raptors play their next five games on the road before returning home for a Jan. 31 game against Atlanta.Suggest a correction