SPORTS

Charlotte Hornets hand Raptors fourth straight loss, beating Toronto 103-95

01/08/2015 10:06 EST | Updated 03/10/2015 05:59 EDT
TORONTO - The once-red hot Toronto Raptors have suddenly gone cold.

And while Kyle Lowry said a four-game losing streak is nothing to fret over, his chilly demeanour in the post-game dressing room Thursday night said otherwise.

The Raptors dropped a 103-95 decision to the Charlotte Hornets, spoiling the team's homecoming after a disappointing road trip. And Lowry, who led the way with 24 points, was positively terse with reporters after the lacklustre loss.

"Tonight we sucked as a team, and we've got to figure it out soon," Lowry said. "We've got a game on Saturday, and tonight we sucked as a team, but we had a bad game, and I'm sure we'll be fine."

Lou Williams finished with 15 points on just 4-for-15 shooting for Toronto (24-11), while Greivis Vasquez had 11 points and Jonas Valanciunas finished with 10.

Charlotte's starters also outscored Toronto's by a whopping 89-46 margin.

Raptors coach Dwane Casey, who was longer than normal in the post-game dressing room, was angry at the team's lack of intensity, especially in the first and third quarters — in each of which the Raptors were badly outhustled and outscored.

"I don't know what it is. But we've got to find seven or eight guys that are interested in competing at a high level," Casey said. "I thought the second unit came in and competed.

"For whatever reason, we're not getting that energy at the start of the game, the start of the third quarter. Those were backbreakers. Whether it's a lineup change or whatever it is, we've got to find an answer for it."

Asked if he could expand on Casey's comments, Lowry replied: "No, I cannot."

When asked why Casey would say that, Lowry said "I don't know."

The game was the Raptors' first back at the Air Canada Centre after a disappointing road trip that saw them win just two of six, and fall out of the Eastern Conference lead. It was also the first of a welcome six straight games at home, where the Raptors had been riding a five-game winning streak — until Thursday.

But as Casey said prior to tipoff, "Home won't take care of you, you've got to take care of home," and it was the Hornets that led for most of the night in front of another ACC sellout crowd of 19,800.

"Just frustration, disappointment, anger," said Patrick Patterson. "Everyone's just frustrated with the way we're playing right now. It's not like we're not trying. It's not like we're giving up. As you see, no matter what the score is we're going to continue to battle and play hard but it just seems like things just aren't working for us.

"It seems like we're in a hole and we're trying to climb out right now. Hopefully we climb out sooner rather than later."

Gerald Henderson scored 31 points to top the Hornets (14-24) in their fourth straight victory. Kemba Walker added 29 for Charlotte, which led by as much as 15 points before taking a 75-66 advantage into the fourth quarter.

The Raptors, who've now lost five in a row to the Hornets, opened the fourth with a 7-0 run to pull within two points. But that was as close as they would come, as Charlotte answered virtually every Toronto basket the rest of the way.

A three-pointer by Walker 1:55 left to play put the Hornets up by 10 and sent many fans for the exits.

The Raptors fought back one last time, and a Patterson basket with 42 seconds to play pulled the Raptors to within four points, breathing some life into Toronto's hopes for a victory.

But Walker snuffed that out with a long jumper that put Charlotte back up by six with 19 seconds to play, and sealed Toronto's fate.

"We knew this team was going to come in hungry," Casey said, "They're athletic and aggressive. We had to meet that. You're going to have nights when the shots aren't going to fall. But the focus and the defensive energy need to be there. It wasn't there."

This is the first real slump for the Raptors since the Rudy Gay trade just over a year ago that turned their fortunes around.

"It happens, it's a long season. I don't know how many games we've played," Lowry said. "It's a long season, so we can possibly run out 10 in a row, and this four-game losing streak will be forgotten about."

The Hornets shot 48 per cent on the night to Toronto's 40 per cent, and outrebounded the Raptors 46-42.

Henderson was asked why the Hornets have had so much success against the Raptors.

"I don't know, I think we get up to play them," he said. "They are a really good team, second in the East. They have been playing great this year, so we just know that we have to bring our best game to compete against them."

Toronto played its 19th game without DeMar DeRozan, who had hoped to play Thursday, but instead is now targeting next week for his return. They could sorely use their leading scorer back in the lineup — they've also dropped from ninth in the NBA defensively, to 28th since DeRozan's injury — but they are playing it safe with their all-star, who is out with a torn groin tendon.

"When the medical people say he can come back, he'll come back," Casey said prior to tipoff. "His career is more important. . . I've seen two or three players in my time in the NBA lose their careers on a similar injury, by rushing back too quick. It's going to be up to the medical people and up to DeMar when he does come back."

Despite a warning by Casey to come out with a sense of urgency, the Raptors got off to an abysmal first quarter that saw the Hornets go up by 10 points. The Hornets doubled Toronto on the boards 16-8 and beat them 7-0 on second-chance points. Charlotte took a 31-23 lead into the second.

Tyler Hansbrough drained the first three-pointer of his NBA career to pull the Raptors to within a point early in the second. They finally took the lead on a driving layup by Lowry with just under a minute left in the quarter, and went into the dressing room leading 52-50 at halftime.

Toronto didn't get its first field goal of the third until five-and-a-half minutes in, while the Hornets went on a 21-3 run to take a 71-56 lead. Charlotte outscored the Raptors 25-14 in the third and took a nine-point lead into the fourth.

Toronto is home to the Boston Celtics on Sunday, then hosts Detroit, Philadelphia, and Eastern Conference-leading Atlanta, before capping its homestand Jan. 18 versus New Orleans.

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