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Opinion | The Raptors have little offensive magic in loss to lowly Orlando

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Remove two of the top offensive players from just about any roster in the NBA and that team will go through some dry spells. The Raptors are no exception.

With Fred VanVleet and OG Anunoby still out of the lineup because of injuries, the Raptors struggled with their shooting all night and dropped to 2-4 since the all-star break with a 103-97 loss to the last-place Orlando Magic on Friday at Scotiabank Arena.

Pascal Siakam was one of the lone bright spots on offence, leading the way with 34 points and 14 rebounds, while Malachi Flynn chipped in with 20 points. Putting the ball in the basket proved more daunting for their teammates as Nick Nurse’s squad shot a woeful 39.8 per cent from the floor, including 32.4 per cent from three in a sluggish performance.

“I still think we have other shooters besides them, but we just didn’t make shots today at the level we usually do,” said Flynn, who also had eight assists. “ I think we got good looks today. They just didn’t fall.”

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The Raptors’ recent skid was somewhat predictable for a team that has been put through the wringer since the break. After taking a week off, they had to play six games in eight days — including three sets of back-to-backs — for the first time since 2012.

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There will be some tired legs after this difficult stretch, but unfortunately for the Raptors the path ahead isn’t much easier. After a day off Saturday, they will open a six-game road trip with all but one of those games coming against teams currently in possession of a play-in spot or better.

First up will be the Cleveland Cavaliers, who are two games up on the seventh-place Raptors. If Siakam and company want to avoid a play-in game, and guarantee themselves a berth in the first round, this is one of the teams they’ll have to pass in the standings. With 19 games remaining, the Raptors aren’t worried about that quite yet, but they will be.

“I don’t think there is any point in trying to position or think about that,” Nurse said. “We’ve just got to try and click off a win somehow. This isn’t easy, as you guys know. It’s six games in eight days and a third straight back-to-back with plenty of firepower out … I imagine those other teams above us will be playing each other and there will be some losses in there and things like that. We’ll just roll with it and hope we can hang in there.”

The Raptors still don’t know when they’ll get VanVleet and Anunoby back during this difficult stretch. Nurse confirmed Friday that both players will be travelling on the road trip, but didn’t commit to a timeline for either player. VanVleet appears to be game to game with a sore knee, while Anunoby is expected to miss up to two weeks with a fractured finger.

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With VanVleet and Anunoby unavailable, the Raptors are without two of their top outside shooters and it was particularly noticeable against the Magic. On a night when baskets were hard to come by, VanVleet’s three-point shooting was sorely missed. Despite missing 11 games this season, only Golden State’s Steph Curry and Indiana’s Buddy Hield have hit more shots from deep.

Anunoby is a step below offensively, but someone who averaged 17.5 points and 2.4 threes per game. Either one would have been a welcome addition on a night when the shots weren’t falling, and their absences have put additional pressure on Gary Trent Jr.

Trent entered Friday averaging 18.2 points and 3.1 threes per game, but he has struggled coming out of the break. In the first five games, his shooting has plummeted to 29 per cent from the field, including just 27 per cent from three. It was even worse Friday night as Trent went 0-for-9 from beyond the arc and finished with just four points.

“He’s got to find that rhythm and the confidence he was feeling for such a long time,” Nurse said. “He did show a little bit of needing to find rhythm when he came out of his COVID stint. Now we’re coming off the next break, which is the all-star break, so pretty confident he’ll find it back. He’s a confident guy.”

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Shooting like the Raptors did on Friday isn’t going to lead to very many wins, even when those games come against the team with the worst record in the Eastern Conference. They’ll have to be much better Sunday.

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