After a rugged run that featured games against some of the league's elite, and playing pretty well in the process, there was a concern that the Toronto Raptors were in line for a letdown facing the lowly Charlotte Bobcats.
The only problem with that, and a topic that Toronto coach Dwane Casey harped on repeatedly the previous 48 hours heading into Friday's game, is that the Raptors are in no way at the stage of being able to take any opponent lightly.
Twenty-two losses in your first 31 games is hardly the stuff that should prompt any sense of elitism.
But these Raptors are a stubborn outfit who have exhibited an annoying trend this season of playing down to the capabilities of their opponent, and so it was Friday night against the Bobcats at the Air Canada Centre.
Playing against a Toronto team that played with little, if any at all, sense of urgency, the Bobcats snapped a mind-bending 16-game losing streak with a 98-91 verdict over the Raptors.
The victory improved Charlotte's record to 4-26 while Toronto fell to 9-23.
“We just came out flat,” a disappointed Casey said afterward. “I don't know if we looked at Charlotte's record. We had no right to do that.
“We didn't come out and play with the same sense of urgency that we had in the past few games.”
It was a strange game with each side suffering through bouts of mediocrity but in the end it was the Bobcats who were able to prevail, taking advantage of a Raptors team that could only make 19 of their 28 free throws while hitting on just two of 16 three-point attempts.
Charlotte also hit on 50 per cent (37 of 74) of their field goals compared to a 41 per cent (35 of 84) clip by Toronto.
As tough a year as this has been for the Raptors, it pales by comparison to the struggles that have befallen the Bobcats, who entered the game in the throes of a horrendous downward spiral.
The losing “rips your heart out,” Charlotte head coach Paul Silas said before the game.
“And the guys haven't gotten down,” Silas insists. “The effort is there. They're working hard and they're learning. And if they continue to do that in the future we're going to be okay.”
SIlas only hopes he'll be around to preside over the anticipated upswing as rumours about his job security continue to circulate.
After a week where the Raptors have played some of the league's best, including the Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs, the game against the Bobcats could be viewed as a welcome respite.
The Raptors got some good news heading in when word came down that backup guard Jerryd Bayless, who had missed the previous four games, was going to test his sore left ankle.
The Raptors continued to play without leading scorer Andrea Bargnani (calf) and Linas Kleiza (knee, ankle).
As disheartening as the season has been for Charlotte, Silas was full of praise for rookie centre Bismack Biyombo, selected 7th overall in the 2011 draft.
Biyombo has plenty of lift which he displayed in the opening quarter, making three blocks as Toronto managed a 23-22 lead, largely on the strength of 13 points from DeMar DeRozan.
The locals started to get a bit restless in the second quarter when the Bobcats started fast, taking advantage of some sloppy Toronto ball handling to shoot in front 29-24.
Jose Calderon helped calm things down, draining a three-ball that moved Toronto in front 37-36.
Calderon then poked the ball away from Reggie Williams for a steal that resulted in a rousing one-handed windmill jam by DeRozan.
But it was Charlotte who held the upper hand by the half, leading 47-45 on the strength of a closing 7-0 run.
The game remained tight heading into the final two minutes with the Bobcats clinging to the lead.
Two untimely turnovers by Leandro Barbosa went a long way toward sealing Toronto's fate.
Williams held the hot hand for the Bobcats, soaring for 22 points.
DeMar DeRozan had 24 for the Raptors, but only six of those came in the second half.