Dwane Casey Talks About Jason Collins Signing With Brooklyn Nets

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Dwane Casey talked with the media about Jason Collins signing with the Brooklyn Nets, if the Toronto Raptors have a locker room that would be open to a gay player and how players and coaches have become open to the idea of a gay teammate.

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Dwane Casey Doesn’t Want Masai Ujiri To Make Any Trades

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Dwane Casey talked with the media tonight about being happy with the roster he currently has and about not wanting Masai Ujiri to make any trades this week.

He also denied that the Brooklyn Nets making moves put pressure on him or his team.

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Toronto Raptors Showing Signs Of Slippage On Defensive End

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Dwane Casey has made the defensive end a focus this season, but during Toronto’s recent road trip where the team went 2-3, there were noticeable signs of slippage.

Toronto has held opponents to 97.1 points per game this season (tied for third in the NBA with Charlotte), but during their recent five game road trip, they only held Denver (90 points) and Utah (79) below those averages.

It’s also not a coincidence that those two games marked their only wins on their road trip.

In losses to Portland (106 points), Sacramento (109) and Los Angeles (118), their defense showed signs of slippage.

Toronto’s slow start on both ends of the court have allowed teams to run out to large leads to start games. Portland raced out to a 31-19 advantage, Sacramento held a 67-52 lead going into halftime and Toronto found themselves down 18 to Los Angeles in the second half which forced Casey to employ a “Hack-a-Jordan” strategy.

During the television broadcast of the Los Angeles Clippers game, Jack Armstrong made an astute observation and then asked Casey during halftime how the lack of practice time since January 1 has hurt Toronto.

“It’s really huge,” Casey told Armstrong. “Because right now as far as rotations, the habits of boxing out, our big-big rotation, transition defense, communication, those little fundamentals are hurting us right now and we’ve gotta’ get through it. It’s not like it’s due to a lack of effort. It’s a lack of timing and a lack of togetherness on the defensive end.”

Casey was predictable in gathering his team for a walk through and quick practice before Toronto’s home game against the New Orleans Pelicans.

That combined with a practice on Sunday had Casey feeling confident that some of the kinks had been worked out.

“It was huge,” Casey admitted. “I don’t know if it will cure all of our problems or issues, but again, the speed of the game, I think that is what you lose when you don’t have a full, hard, tape it up practice. We had one and it was the first one we had had in a while because we’ve had so many games. It has been brutal. Just game after game with just one day off we couldn’t put too much energy into practice. We had an extra day and we wanted to utilize that.
“Then after the (all-star) break we have some days penciled in as far as good days to practice. We’ve gotta’ get out timing, our rhythm (back) defensively as well as offensively.”

Things looked great in the first quarter last night as Toronto opened up a 31-20 advantage and looked great doing it. They only turned the ball over three times and they held New Orleans to 40% from the field while shooting an impressive 63.2.

But the second quarter saw a regression to what has become the norm during their west coast road trip. Toronto was a step slow on their defensive rotations the entire quarter which allowed New Orleans to outscore them 23-12 to begin the quarter and coast to a 29-18 advantage through the entire quarter.

Toronto allowed New Orleans to score nine second chance points and 14 points in the paint in the second quarter; two problems Casey had hoped he had cleaned up this week but evidently hadn’t.

On top of that, Toronto allowed New Orleans to get a lot of good looks and the Pelicans capitalized by going 11-21 from the field.

The rest of the game was a see-saw title which saw Toronto tighten things up in the third only to have the bench nearly throw things away again in the fourth. Part of the issue was Patrick Patterson being moved from the bench to the starting unit due to Amir Johnson being out with an injury, but the normally strong play from Toronto’s guards coming off the bench wasn’t there.

The fact Tyreke Evans was able to come off the bench to score 23 points and dish out 12 dimes the day after being benched against Brooklyn won’t sit well with Casey and his coaching staff.

Regardless of the reason or excuse, there’s no way Casey is going to be happy going into all-star weekend with countless signs of slippage on the defensive end. Look for Casey to sneak in another practice or two before the break and then for him and his coaching staff to continue to work on fixing the issues hurting the team on the defensive end when the team reconvenes following all-star weekend.

Mental Lapses Have Been Costly For Toronto

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The Toronto Raptors’ Achilles heel so far this season has been their inability to play consistently for 48 minutes.

Toronto was an impressive 11-6 in January but their schedule is littered with examples of the team not playing consistently for four quarters.

Against the Brooklyn Nets they nearly choked away a nine point lead late in the fourth quarter after letting the Nets go on a 12-2 run. It took a last second steal and bucket by Patrick Patterson to steal a win back from the clutches of the Nets.

Another big collapse came against Los Angeles last weekend when they raced out to a 50-31 lead only to see it evaporate and the game end in a tough loss.

There were games against Dallas (15 points) and Charlotte (11 points) where anemic first quarters created huge deficits that were too tough to climb out of. They were lucky to steal a win against Dallas but the hole they dug against Charlotte was too large to overcome.

If that trend continues it will result in the team enduring some painful growing pains and probably a quick and embarrassing ouster from the playoffs.

“It’s difficult because the only way you learn is through experience,” Casey admitted to me before the game against Orlando. “I can threaten them but I can’t hit them. Guys just need to learn through experience.

“Again, we are doing much better. Our starts have been fantastic. I thought our start against Brooklyn was fantastic and the couple of starts before that game had been good. We’ve had that focus so we just don’t want to let it creep up again.”

Toronto started the game against Orlando perfectly as they raced to a 19-9 lead before Orlando called timeout. They were swinging the ball to open teammates, hitting open looks and forcing Orlando into bad shots. The only time they let up was in the third quarter when Orlando crept to within eight points at 61-53. Toronto was quick to squash that rally and coast to an easy win.

In the first half against Denver this weekend neither team wanted to play defense and it resulted in a high scoring first half. Toronto came out inspired in the third quarter and applied defensive pressure which resulted in a 26-17 advantage in the quarter.

The fourth quarter started out strong only to see Toronto unable to make a field goal for six minutes and barely put the ball in the basket over the last seven minutes of play. They limped to the end of the game – fatigue from playing in Denver? – and only scored 14 points in the fourth quarter.

Playing against a talented Portland Trail Blazers squad this weekend they dug themselves into too deep of a hole so that a fun fourth quarter rally couldn’t help them steal a road win.

Toronto shouldn’t think they are good enough to east into a road game (Portland jumped out to a 35-19 advantage) and then steal a road win against one of the top teams in the NBA.

Tired legs from a game in Denver the night before isn’t a valid excuse either.

Against playoff caliber teams Toronto can’t coast for a quarter or start games slowly. If they do, they will be quickly ushered out of the playoffs in April.

Lucas Finds An Unlikely Fit

John Lucas III doesn’t look the part of a third-stringer.

The diminutive point guard carries himself with pride and purpose, and talks excitedly about what he and the rest of the Toronto Raptors feel that they can accomplish this season.

“I came here because I see this as a place where I can contribute by helping some of the young guys and doing my part to keep things going in the right direction,” says Lucas. “We know that we can be a playoff team.”

Lucas’ current standing as a third-on-the-depth-chart floor general on the Raptors says less about his own abilities and more about the newfound depth that the club’s off-season additions have afforded them at the position. Kyle Lowry came over from the Rockets via trade in what was the team’s biggest move of the summer. With Jose Calderon already in tow, Lucas knew where he stood when he signed with Toronto in late July.

However, the soon-to-be-30-year-old doesn’t sound like a guy disappointed with his lot in life.

“I love it here,” Lucas says emphatically. ”I’ve been telling all my friends back home that Toronto is a mix of San Francisco and New York combined. […] It’s very liberal, very free-spirited – like San Fran, but then there’s the hustle and the go-go-go lifestyle, like New York. […] Plus, I’ve already gotten to know the team a bit and it’s a great group of guys here.”

For Raptors fans, it’s refreshing to hear from a player who is not only proud to play in Toronto, but carries high expectations and believes in the organization’s prospects.

In some ways, it shouldn’t be surprising considering the parallels between the player and his new team. For one thing, they are both underdogs – Lucas is a scrappy 5’11 ball handler (if Lowry is the bulldog among Toronto point guards, Lucas is more the chihuahua) who went undrafted despite leading Oklahoma State to the Final Four and has toiled in the CBA and NBDL. The Raptors, meanwhile, have been outside the playoff picture for five years and are never mentioned as players for marquee free agents.

For another thing, they both enter this season having made some strides in the previous campaign. In 2011-12, Lucas struggled to simply find a spot on the Chicago Bulls’ roster, getting cut and re-signed on two separate occasions during the season. He ultimately found a permanent role in the aftermath of Derrick Rose’s groin injury and thrived, pouring in 25 points off the bench against Miami and helping the Bulls to an 8-4 record in the absence of their star (he didn’t fare quite so well in a disappointing playoff run).

For the Raptors, the gains were more modest. Under new head coach Dwane Casey, the club’s increased commitment to defence helped them to a one-win improvement in spite of playing 16 fewer games.

In spite of his current third-string status, Lucas can still be expected to carry a significant role within Casey’s system. He brings energy, character and intangibles, all of which fit within the club’s new culture. On top of that, he brings the type of reliable jumper (50% shooting and 13.7 points per game through three pre-season games) that the team so desperately needs in light of last year’s bottom third league finish in scoring average and field goal and three-point percentage.

For a second straight season, Lucas’ big opportunity may come from unfortunate circumstances surrounding a teammate. While an injury is always possible, a likely scenario also exists in a move involving Calderon. Long-standing trade talk concerning the Spanish veteran got even louder this summer, to the point where GM Bryan Colangelo publicly acknowledged it, admitting that ”you have to look at Jose’s [expiring] contract as something that would be a vehicle to accomplish [a deal]”.

Regardless of how things play out, Lucas with be ready to seize any opportunity as it presents itself.