The Toronto Raptors were finally glad to be home Monday night after a brutal five-game road trip. It was a time to regroup and recharge at the expense of the Philadelphia 76ers, not exactly the class of the NBA these days.
These are the kind of games that always make Raptors coach Dwane Casey, pensive at the best of times, really nervous: outings against lesser opponents that a team with the pedigree of the Raptors should have no problem dominating.
Casey was saying before the game that the rebuilding 76ers, the NBA's youngest team, reminded him of the growing pains his Raptors endured when he first took over as the club's coach for the start of the 2011-12 season.
With a young and impressionable DeMar DeRozan still learning the nuances of his game, Toronto would miss the playoffs in Casey's first two years in charge before starting to emerge as a force in the Eastern Conference.
"It's very difficult to win with young players in this league," Casey said. "We've gone through that here. They're going through it now – the last few years.
"But they're getting better. In every area of the game, they're getting better."
Better, maybe, but still a long way from being a legitimate playoff contender, something long-suffering 76ers fans have not been able to celebrate since the 2011-12 season.
Monday's contest marked the first home game for the Raptors since Nov. 16, having survived an arduous five-game road swing with a 3-2 record, their first extended trip of the season. The game began a stretch of six consecutive home games for the Raptors, a season high.
In what was a welcome respite from the repeated potboilers the team has already been exposed to, the Raptors (11-6) enjoyed a blowout at Air Canada Centre, thumping the 76ers (4-14) 122-95 to earn their third straight victory.
Kyle Lowry was in control for the Raptors as the point guard would lead the way with 24 points, including an impeccable 6-for-6 shooting the three ball. With his long-range shooting prowess, Lowry became the first player in Raptors history to hit that many without a miss.
Over all, the Raptors connected on 13 of their 19 shots from beyond the arch.
Terrence Ross came off the bench to contribute a season high 22 points.
The 76ers were further weakened without the looming presence of seven-foot rookie centre Joel Embiid, who was being rested for the second game of a back-to-back. Embiid is Philadelphia's leading scorer this season, averaging 18.2 points.
Despite a solid start to the season, Casey continues to bemoan the club's continued reluctance to play consistently at the defensive end, allowing 104.9 points against through its first 17 games. In their last outing on Friday in Milwaukee against the Bucks, the Raptors somehow conspired for a 105-99 win despite allowing their opponents to connect on 50.5 per cent of their shots.
Casey said that sort of continued porous defensive effort will eventually start to catch up to the team.
"We've taken a step back defensively," Casey said before Monday's game, noting that there is no excuse for it. "We've got to look in the mirror and say, 'Look, I've got to guard my man, one on one, stop my man,'" he continued. "There's nothing scientific about it, there's nothing magical about it. It's about guarding your position."
Philadelphia's weaknesses were evident early in the first quarter against the Raptors when forward Robert Covington missed a gimme layup. Covington did well to get his own rebound and then proceeded to pass to an open area of the court, with the ball going out of bounds for a turnover.
A ragged opening quarter ended on a high note for the Raptors when a Patrick Patterson heave from the half court banked in off of the glass for a buzzer-beating three-pointer that gave Toronto a 33-26 lead.
The Raptors began to exert their will in the second quarter, where a Ross three-pointer, their seventh of the contest to that point, placed them in front 41-33 with just over nine minutes until the half.
The Raptors would secure a 60-49 lead heading into the third, but not everybody was happy.
DeRozan, who hit on just two of his nine shots for four points in the opening half, was hit with a technical foul in the final minute and was clearly miffed as he stalked off the court.
The Raptors iced the game in the third quarter when they secured a 91-71 advantage.
On Wednesday, the Raptors will welcome Vince Carter and the Memphis Grizzlies to the ACC in what is anticipated to be the club's 100th-consecutive sellout (regular-season and playoff games), a streak that dates back to 2014.