The Toronto Raptors wrapped up another campaign to forget with a victory on Thursday — something they couldn't get nearly enough of when it mattered this season.
Ben Uzoh recorded Toronto's first triple-double in 11 years in the battle between bench players, with 12 points, 12 assists and 11 rebounds as the Raptors beat the New Jersey Nets 98-67.
Solomon Alabi had 11 points and 19 boards for his first double-double, while Ed Davis scored a career high 24 points.
Now the Raptors (23-43) head into the off-season to be playoff spectators for the fourth year in a row.
Toronto native Jamaal Magloire took centre-court for the traditional season-ending shout-out to the fans, and promised a post-season appearance next year.
“We'd like to thank you guys for hanging with us through thick and thin I know it's been a turbulent year...” Magloire said. “I promise you we will get better... thank you from the bottom of our hearts, and continue continue continue to stick with us because we are going to improve and we are going to make the playoffs next year.”
Anthony Morrow and Armon Johnson scored 11 points apiece to top the Nets (22-44), who finished last in the Atlantic Division, one spot below Toronto.
In a woeful finale between two teams with nothing to play for but draft lottery positioning, the Nets dressed eight players while Toronto played just seven. The same five Raptors played the entire second half.
“I just thanked all the guys for their effort,” said Raptors coach Dwane Casey. “This game was meaningless, but they came out and laid it on the line and played for 48 minutes.”
The Raptors had already shut down Andrea Bargnani and Jose Calderon for the season. The team announced before tipoff that DeMar DeRozan had hurt his ankle in the morning shootaround.
So fans had to be content with big prizes instead of big names. The night was billed as “Fanapalooza” and cheerleaders chucked T-shirts and handed out everything from autographed jerseys to concert tickets all game long.
The Raptors led 73-43 heading into the fourth quarter in what had to be one of the ugliest games ever played at the Air Canada Centre, a fitting ending for a season that had gone awry weeks ago.
Casey summed it all up, saying “It's been a short but a long season.”
The season, cut from 82 to 66 games due to the NBA lockout, began with plenty of promise, but unravelled after Bargnani suffered a calf injury that kept the team's leading scorer out 35 games. The Raptors won just 10 without him.
If there's a silver lining to this season of disappointment, it's the attention to defence that Casey instilled. The team went from being one of the worst in the league to the middle of the pack, with Bargnani playing the best defence of his career.
“Looking forward to next year, and I'm excited about this summer, the possibilities,” Casey said. “I'm proud of the guys that we had this year, everybody that played with us.”
The Raptors also have the financial flexibility to make some moves this off-season, which was GM Bryan Colangelo's intent all season. The team will have a high draft pick, plus Jonas Valanciunas, the Lithuanian centre they took fifth in last year's draft but left in Europe for another year of seasoning.
“We knew this year was kind of in the middle, but I think that we grew as a team, and that's the step (playoffs) that we need to do next year,” Calderon said. “I think we're not that far from being a really good team, with coach Casey everything is different. I feel really comfortable with where we're going and what our goals have to be.”
Anderson had three three-pointers in the game's first four minutes as the Raptors backups beat up on the Nets' second unit in the first quarter, running out to a 17-2 lead. The Raptors led 26-15 at the end of the first.
The Nets shot just 4-for-19 in the second quarter and the Raptors led 54-27 at halftime.
NOTES: Alvin Williams was the last Raptor to record a triple-double, in March of 2001. ... The Raptors lost in the opening round to the Orlando Magic in their last post-season appearance, in 2007-08.
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