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The Toronto Raptors are treating January regular season games like do-or-die playoff games and that's a problem.

It's simply unsustainable to run with a seven-man rotation for any extended period of the regular season and yet here they are, the Raptors have trimmed things so lean there's barely any wiggle room these days. Fred VanVleet leads the league in minutes played per game, Pascal Siakam sits seventh, OG Anunoby 10th, and Scottie Barnes 12th. It's exhausting, especially on the road and especially against some of the NBA's toughest teams.

That much was clear Wednesday night against the Dallas Mavericks. Toronto traded blows with the red-hot Mavericks for the better part of the night, but eventually, the legs began to slow, the missed shots mounted, and the gas tank hit empty in a 102-98 loss, Toronto's fourth in the last five games.

Even in exhaustion, the Raptors wouldn't quit. They overcame an offensive cold spell in the fourth to pull ahead in the dying minutes courtesy of a deep Fred VanVleet three. But a strange defensive letup from Scottie Barnes left Luka Doncic wide open for a three-pointer to put Dallas up for good. 

"I probably would have guarded him harder," a frustrated Nick Nurse said of Barnes' defense.

When VanVleet tried to respond with a three-pointer of his own, there was just nothing left in his legs. His 4-for-20 performance showed just how exhausted this stretch has been. Only OG Anunoby seemed to provide any reliability against Dallas and even his 19-point performance tailed off after a 13-point first half.  

"This is what we got. There’s no help on the way. We’re in a fight. We’re grinding it out," VaanVleet said. "We've got high-character guys, guys that work extremely hard. We’ve got a great medical team, a great organization. We’re doing everything we can to play hard every night."

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Sure, injuries are part of the problem with the bench. Gary Trent Jr. remains out with a left ankle sprain and Khem Birch is recovering from nose surgery, but that's what depth is for, right? Nurse just has no faith in anyone outside the top seven right now. He's kept Yuta Watanabe, Svi Mykhailiuk, Dalano Banton, and Malachi Flynn stapled to the bench. The benchings aren't unwarranted. None of them has earned playing time but can this kind of rotation be sustained?

"I don’t know," Nurse said. "I think we’re playing great."

Doncic Dazzles

The Raptors have always been aggressive with Luka Doncic and Wednesday was no different. They threw everything at him and nobody could slow him down early. He had 22 of his 41 points before the break and threw this wild no-look alley-oop pass to Dorian Finney-Smith.

Even when Toronto turned up the pressure in the second half, double-teaming Doncic at every opportunity, the crafty Slovenian just found a way to move the ball, adding seven assists and 14 rebounds to round out his night.

Gary Trent Jr. Update

Trent Jr. is getting close to a return.

"We've been thinking for the last couple games he was gonna he was gonna play. He's really close," Raptors coach Nick Nurse said pre-game. "He goes through pretty much all the team activities and (he's) just not quite comfortable enough yet. Still has some discomfort trying to change directions, things like that."

Siakam Loses His Triple-Double

The NBA took away two of Pascal Siakam's rebounds from last Saturday's victory over the Milwaukee Bucks meaning he ended the game with 30 points, 10 assists, and eight rebounds, not 10, and therefore lost his second career triple-double.

Up Next: Washington Wizards

The road trip will wrap up Friday night in Washington against the Wizards at 8 p.m. ET.