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Toronto Raptors

Six thoughts: Toronto Raptors come up short against Charlotte Hornets in Norman Powell's return

Too little, too late.

Following a tough loss to the Milwaukee Bucks earlier this week, the Toronto Raptors close their four-game homestand with a 99-96 loss to the Charlotte Hornets.

With the loss, the Raptors fall to 42-17 on the season, leaving them with a half-game lead over the Boston Celtics for the second-best record in the Eastern Conference.

For more on the game, here are some quick thoughts...

1. The injury bug bites again

Fred VanVleet and Serge Ibaka were both late scratches against the Hornets.

Per Blake Murphy of The Athletic, VanVleet hurt his shoulder on a screen in Toronto's loss to Milwaukee on Tuesday while Ibaka has been dealing with some soreness in his right knee.

As of this writing, it's unknown if they'll miss more than this game with their respective injuries.

The Raptors have now missed more than 200 games to injury this season, according to Spotrac. That's the fourth-highest total in the league behind only the Portland Trail Blazers, Golden State Warriors and Washington Wizards.

The Raptors can only hope that everyone will be good to go for the playoffs. 23 games to go.

2. It's good to have Norman Powell back

Powell returned after missing nine straight games with a fractured finger. He started in place of VanVleet at shooting guard, whereas Rondae Hollis-Jefferson started in place of Ibaka at centre.

It didn't take long for Powell to get on the scoreboard in his return. He missed his shot, but he followed that miss up with a 3-pointer in transition a few seconds later to give the Raptors their first points of the game.

Powell knocked down two more 3-pointers in the opening frame, giving him nine points on 3-for-6 shooting from the field. He was the only bright spot for the Raptors in the first quarter - everyone else struggled, which paved the way for the Hornets to take an early lead.

Powell went on to play 36 minutes in his return. He was Toronto's second-leading scorer in the game, finishing with 22 points on 8-for-19 shooting from the field and 4-for-11 from 3-point range.

On a night where the Raptors were without VanVleet and Ibaka, Powell's 3-point shooting and playmaking was much-needed, even though it wasn't his most efficient game of the season.

3. It's hard to win when you don't make shots

The Raptors made 26.9 percent of their field goal attempts in the first half.

26.9 percent!

Pascal Siakam was 3-for-13 from the field. Kyle Lowry, Patrick McCaw and Hollis-Jefferson were each 1-for-5. Chris Boucher and Matt Thomas also struggled off the bench, combining for three points on 1-for-8 shooting.

Powell and OG Anunoby were the only players on the Raptors who were able to get something going. Remove them from the equation, and you get this...

Charlotte took advantage by building an 11-point lead at the half. The Raptors were lucky to not be down by more, as the Hornets led by as much as 17 points at one point.

4. A rare loss for the Raptors

The Raptors made things interesting down the stretch. Siakam came out strong in the second half with a 14-point third quarter. After taking four 3-pointers in the first half, of which he made only one, he made much more of an effort to get to the basket in the second half.

It paid off - all five of Siakam's made field goals in the third quarter came in the paint and he attempted six free throws.

Powell and Lowry then took over in the fourth. Powell got things started while Lowry overcame a rough shooting night to score 10 straight points in the final minutes to tie things up at 96 with 52.8 seconds to play.

It just wasn't quite enough.

The final blow was Hollis-Jefferson committing an off-ball foul on Terry Rozier in the closing seconds, as it sent him to the free throw line and gave the Hornets possession of the ball. Rozier made the free throw to put the Hornets ahead by one point and Devonte' Graham extended their lead to three points after the Raptors intentionally fouled him off of the inbounds.

Powell got one last look, but he couldn't get it to fall.

In losing to the Hornets, the Raptors drop only their fourth game of the season to an opponent with a losing record. To add insult to injury, this was only the third time Charlotte has defeated an opponent with a winning record.

This isn't how it was supposed to go down on paper.

5. No pass is safe around OG

One positive for the Raptors: Anunoby set a new career-high with six steals. He was responsible for more than half of the team's steals in the game.

6. What's next?

A five-game Western Conference road trip, starting with a meeting with the Denver Nuggets on Sunday.

The Nuggets are led by one of the best centres in the league in Nikola Jokic, who is averaging 20.8 points, 10.0 rebounds and 6.8 assists per game this season. It would help having one of Ibaka or Gasol for that matchup alone, although it seems more likely that Ibaka will be available because there is still no timetable for Gasol's return.

The Raptors will then take on the Phoenix Suns, Golden State Warriors, Sacramento Kings and Utah Jazz before returning to Toronto on March 14 when they'll face the Detroit Pistons for the fourth and final time this season.

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