Flash in the pan

There are occasional glimpses of promise amid the torrent of misery in this trying season for the Toronto Raptors, and often that creates a hope that typically ends in more frustration.

Toronto Raptors' Amir Johnson

Toronto Raptors' Amir Johnson

Mavericks 114 Raptors 96

TORONTO — There are occasional glimpses of promise amid the torrent of misery in this trying season for the Toronto Raptors, and often that creates a hope that typically ends in more frustration.

They got another dose of all that during Sunday evening’s 114-96 loss to the Dallas Mavericks, blazing out to an early 19-point lead only to watch it slowly disappear when a more talented opponent shifted its game up a gear.

The Raptors (16-44) led 22-3 at one point in the first quarter and were up 57-50 at the break. But with forward Dirk Nowitzki and guards Jason Terry, Jose Barea and Jason Kidd executing a brilliant pick-and-roll game in the second half, the Mavericks (43-16) flew past their hosts and cruised to a sixth straight win and 16th victory in 17 outings.

“We had energy, we had the game,” said Amir Johnson, who paced a balanced Toronto attack with 21 points. “The first half we did great, the game was going our way. We just came up short — it was almost like we gave the game away. …

“It definitely is frustrating but all you can do is get better and learn from your mistakes.”

With their 20th loss in 23 outings, the Raptors are certainly doing a lot of learning. Flu-like symptoms kept leading scorer Andrea Bargnani out of the lineup for this one and although he wasn’t missed early, his shooting touch certainly would have helped in the second half as the Mavericks tightened up their defence.

Stripped of the time to make plays and take open shots, the Raptors’ scoring dried up just as the visitors got hot and they were unable to adjust. Part of that could be blamed on their youth, and part of that could be credited to the skill of the Mavericks.

“(They) decided to lock-down,” said Raptors coach Jay Triano. “(Bargnani) is out and I don’t think they let DeMar DeRozan have an easy catch all game. Jason Terry did a heck of a job denying him over the whole court and he had to really work to get it.

“That’s what you try to do, bear down on the guy that’s going to try and lead this team, and they did a pretty good job.”

DeRozan still managed to score 19 points while Jose Calderon added 15 with eight assists, but the Raptors needed so much more to keep pace with the Mavericks.

Nowitzki scored nine of his game-high 31 points in the fourth quarter, while the Dallas bench outscored Toronto’s subs 64-25.

Shawn Marion led the way on that front with 20 points against his former team, while Terry chipped in 19 with five assists and Barea added 12 and nine helpers.

They were all front and centre as the Mavericks built on a 75-72 lead through three quarters and turned this one into a laugher with a 12-2 run to open the fourth.

“They have too many shooters and too many weapons out there so at the end of the day you’ve got to give them something,” said Calderon. “They were just picking us apart, they were finding the open guy.

“That’s what a good team does.”

After surrendering the game’s opening basket, the Raptors led until midway through the third when a Marion dunk made it 62-61. The Raptors would tie the game 65-65 soon after, but then a Kidd three put the Mavs up for good.

They led by as many as eight during the quarter, but a Jerryd Bayless layup and free-throw for a three-point play with two seconds left pulled Toronto to within three. But they couldn’t get any closer.

“We had to wake up some time sooner or later,” said Marion.

“They had a day of rest, we came off a back-to-back. . . . Once we got warmed up, they still were hitting some shots, they got their confidence early.

“At the same time, we were able to buckle down, get some multiple stops and open the game up.”

The Raptors took a 57-50 lead into halftime after holding their own in a back-and-forth second quarter. The Mavericks pulled within one at 36-35 on a Nowitzki three 3:40 into the second, but the Raptors held strong and didn’t surrender the lead, led by Leandro Barbosa’s seven points.

The Raptors led 30-24 after one quarter, highlighted by eight points from Johnson. They held the Mavs to just 1-of-11 shooting during that stretch but the tide turned on consecutive jumpers by Stojakovic, Terry and Marion.

Dallas outscored Toronto 21-8 the rest of the frame, capped off by Terry’s three at the buzzer.