When the 2012-13 NBA schedule was released last spring, the Toronto Raptors knew they would be in for a difficult time over the first six weeks of the season.
Now that the worst is over, it remains to be seen if the Raptors have the fortitude to claw their way out of the huge hole they have dug for themselves.
After playing 15 of their first 22 games on the road, the Raptors will play five of their next six, and 11 of their next 15, in Toronto at the Air Canada Centre. That stretch begins Wednesday night when Toronto plays the Brooklyn Nets, the first of three in a row at home for a 4-18 club in desperate need of a winning streak.
The Raptors will then play the Dallas Mavericks on Friday before meeting the Houston Rockets on Sunday.
The Raptors return to their home court after an abysmal road trip in which they dropped five straight with an average losing differential of 15.8 points. For the season, the Raptors own a –7.45 point differential, worst among the NBA's 30 teams.
That includes a 92-74 setback Monday night in Portland against a Trail Blazers team that spanked the Raptors despite going 0-for-20 from three-point range, the most three-point attempts without a make in NBA history.
It has been that kind of year for the Raptors, who entered the season with expectations of contending for their first playoff berth since 2007-08. Instead, the Raptors appear to be aiming for the top lottery pick in the June draft.
Over the weekend, general manager Bryan Colangelo called the team's performance "embarrassing" this season and said he would not hesitate to make a trade if he felt it would improve the team.
Andrea Bargnani, the underachieving power forward, is at the centre of most of the trade talk. Reports indicate the Raptors have explored the possibility of sending him to the Los Angeles Lakers, along with veteran backup point guard Jose Calderon and forward Linas Kleiza, for centre Pau Gasol.
The Lakers, according to ESPN.com, are rebuffing all trade inquiries until the team can assess its roster after the return of injured point guard Steve Nash, who is recovering from a broken leg. He is not expected to return to the lineup for at least two weeks.
Colangelo is confident Toronto can turn things around with the current roster, but injuries continue to sideswipe the team. The status of Bargnani for the game against the Nets remains uncertain after he injured his right elbow in the first quarter against Portland.
It is also uncertain if starting point guard Kyle Lowry will be available. He did not play most of the second half against Portland after suffering a right tricep injury.
And the Raptors are awaiting word from the NBA about what disciplinary action, if any, will be taken against centre Amir Johnson. He was assessed a technical foul and ejected midway through the third quarter against the Trail Blazers, flinging his mouthpiece in frustration at referee David Jones, striking him in the back.