NBA

Ibaka could be available when Raptors host Hornets

TORONTO -- If ever a team needed help, it is the Toronto Raptors.

They hope they achieved that Tuesday when they traded Terrence Ross and a first-round draft pick to the Orlando Magic for a much-needed power forward, Serge Ibaka.

"I think he's a great addition to any team," Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry said. "Especially ours where we add some shot-blocking, some outside shooting, some inside toughness, some athleticism running up and down the floor."

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Ibaka did not play in the Raptors' 105-94 loss to the Chicago Bulls at the United Center on Tuesday but could be available Wednesday -- although there is no guarantee -- when they play the Charlotte Hornets at the Air Canada Centre.

"We're at that point where I think everybody knows -- it's not rocket science -- that was a missing link on our team," Raptors president Masai Ujiri said. "Patrick (Patterson) has done a great job, but I think we needed a couple of guys in that position, a prime guy in that position. He's one of the better power forwards in the league and hopefully he fits in with us."

Patterson missed his fifth straight game Tuesday because of a left-knee contusion but is close to returning.

The Raptors (32-24) have lost 11 in a row to the Bulls, but more important is their current slump against all teams in which they have four wins in their past 15 games and are in danger of losing home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

They will face another struggling team. The Hornets have lost 10 of their past 11 games and are beginning a seven-game stretch on the road, where they are 8-18.

The Hornets (24-31) will be without centers Cody Zeller, who has missed eight of the past nine games with a quadriceps injury, and Miles Plumlee, who suffered a strained right calf muscle during the second half of the home loss to the Philadelphia 76ers on Monday.

The Hornets are not playing in a manner that opposing teams have become accustomed to seeing.

"If you ask other teams (about Charlotte), you'll hear, 'they don't beat themselves' and 'they're hard to play against,'" Hornets coach Steve Clifford said. "We're not hard to play against. Just not.

"That speaks to me getting them to understand that you have to change. You can't be the same person every year. If the challenge changes, you have to change. My job is to get them to understand that, and I haven't so far. We still have time, but it's getting late."

Some good news emerged from the loss to the 76ers when Kemba Walker ended a five-game scoring slump with a 29-point game. In his previous five games, he averaged 13.2 points on 21-for-74 shooting (28 percent) from the field.

Zeller's absence was part of the reason for Walker's slump because the center's ability to set screens on the pick-and-roll.

"Cody is an important part of Kemba's game," Clifford said. "Not critical, but important," Clifford said.

Even with the acquisition of Ibaka, the Raptors need to improve. "We're excited about Ibaka coming in, but we've got other things we've got to get fixed up before he comes in -- our defense, one."

"It starts with our leaders, me and DeMar (DeRozan)," Lowry said after the loss Tuesday. "We have to figure it out, find ways to push our teammates to be better and push ourselves to be better."

Lowry had 22 points Tuesday and DeRozan scored 18.

"This game is tough," Casey said. "If you're not ready mentally, physically ready to start the game and be in a tough mindset, the game gets away from you quick, and we weren't ready to play. I take the blame for that, not having the guys jacked up and ready to play the first half."

The Raptors have lost three in a row.

"Right now, we're a way below .500 team," Lowry said. "We're playing really bad basketball. It's crazy right now. We went from this to that."