Short-handed Nets no match for Raptors

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The Raptors was rested and resurgent, and played like it. The Nets were tired and shorthanded, and their struggles showed that too. At least once the bottom fell out.

The undermanned Nets coughed up a huge third-quarter run, and didn’t have the legs or healthy bodies to come back in a 114-103 road loss to the Raptors on Wednesday night.

The tail end of a back-to-back, marked the Nets’ 11th straight defeat on the road against the Raptors, dating to their last victory on Feb. 4, 2015. The first 10 of those losses were in Toronto, while Wednesday’s was at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Fla. Canada or Florida, it wouldn’t have mattered.

Kyrie Irving had 28 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists, while Bruce Brown added 21 and 14 boards off the bench for the Nets. But Joe Harris scored just two of his 14 points after the first quarter, and the Nets shot just .396 from the field, 13-for-41 from 3-point range.

Pascal Siakam had 27 points and OG Anunoby scored 25 for the Raptors who have won four straight, and 24 of 26 against the Nets.

The Nets essentially used an eight-man rotation, with Kevin Durant, James Harden, Nic Claxton and Spencer Dinwiddie all out. Harden — who missed an eighth straight game and suffered a setback in his hamstring rehab — had a front row seat next to general manager Sean Marks to watch this collapse.

“Big challenge, down bodies in a back-to-back. We’re being challenged in general during this stretch of the season with a bunch of injuries,” Nets coach Steve Nash said beforehand. “But that can hopefully provide us with an opportunity, an opportunity to grow resolve and get tougher.

“Toronto’s going to have some excellent players, some winners, some guys that will test us. We’ve got to be prepared to play well and have a good start.”

The start was fine, but considering how heavy the Nets’ legs looked by the end, good wasn’t good enough.

After leading by 13 points after the first quarter, the Nets were still clinging to a 62-59 edge early in the third quarter before the wheels came off. That’s when the Raptors went off on an extended 31-10 third-quarter run, capped by an 8-0 stretch, as the Nets lost contact.

The Nets went static and immobile on both ends of the court, while the Raptors shot 12-for-17 in that seven minute barrage, including 7-for-9 from behind the arc. A Fred Van Vleet pull-up 3-pointer left the Nets in a 90-72 hole with 3:53 left in the third, a deficit that proved far too steep to climb out of.

Bridging the third and fourth quarters, the Nets tried to respond with a 14-2 spurt, getting within 92-86 on a pair of Landry Shamet free throws with 10:35 to play. But that’s as close as they got the rest of the night.

A 12-3 Raptors answer padded their lead back up to 15, and the rest was garbage time. The Nets never got closer than five the rest of the way.

The Nets did pull within 106-101 with 2 ½ minutes left, but couldn’t get over the hump.

Shamet got the start in the backcourt, a reward for his white-hot play. But after averaging 20.8 points in his prior five games, he shot just 3-for-17 and finished with 10 points.

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