TORONTO -- In the controlled world that is the NBA, the media usually is allowed access to players only at the tail end of practices.
Not much can be learned because not much goes on when the doors to the practice facility open and all one sees are players shooting, riding stationary bikes or horsing around.
Whether it was scripted to give the impression that there's still some fight in a team that has been completely listless of late, something unusual unfolded on Thursday, a day after the Raptors were routed by the Utah Jazz.
There was Jarrett Jack, whose recent demotion was not well received, holding court and cajoling his beleaguered teammates to somehow dig deep and play with a passion that has gone completely AWOL.
"We have to put it all on the line, regardless of what happens, win, lose or draw,'' Jack began. "Whatever amount of games we have left, we have to put it all out there and not let all this hard work we've done all year to go to waste."
They were fighting words at a time when there's been very little fight in the Raptors, whose idea of resistance has been the commendable exercise of resisting the urge to point fingers.
Chris Bosh has said his piece, general manager Bryan Colangelo has deflected attention by being accountable for a roster he assembled, and head coach Jay Triano has made some minor tweaks to his rotation.
Just about everything has been done and said and repeated and yet the message continues to get lost.
Short of benching Hedo Turkoglu and Andrea Bargnani, which isn't going to happen, there's nothing more that needs to be done because it's obvious what is needed.
"Our mind-set has to be tougher,'' Triano said.
What isn't so obvious is how a fragile team can reclaim its identity.
Regardless of how long this season lasts, perhaps this year's Raptors will be remembered as a shooting team that simply did not know how to mentally regroup when shots aren't dropping.
When the Raptors were among the NBA's best during a stretch that saw them go 22-10, they were coming back from double-digit deficits, sharing the basketball, playing with energy and defending.
They've lost it all.
Jack hasn't lost hope because he sees an opportunity of playing in the post-season for the first time in his five-year career, but time is running out.
The importance of the next three games, beginning with Friday's visit to the Air Canada Centre by the Denver Nuggets, hasn't been lost on Triano.
"Arguably three of the most important games of the year,'' he said.
Triano wasn't trying to be dramatic. He was simply being honest.
The Raptors need some kind of momentum heading into a tough back-to-back road set against Miami and Charlotte, a boost that can only be created by defending their home court.
In their past two games at the ACC, the Raptors have laid an egg. Fans turned on them and more venom is sure to be spewed if the Nuggets are able to impose their will. "We've let the home fans down,'' Triano said. "We have to try to bounce back."
Friday night marks the first of three games in four nights for the Raptors, who reviewed Wednesday's horror show before they conducted a light workout.
Twelve games remain. Six will be played at home and six on the road.
Where once it appeared, at least based on their play, the Raptors were in contention for the fifth seed, nothing is now assured, not even a playoff berth. As big as looming tips against the Heat and Bobcats are, no game is bigger than the Nuggets.
"There's not a lot of patting on the back right now,'' Triano said.
For Jack's words to mean something, the Raptors must find a way to back up their backup point guard with actions.