PHOENIX - Dwane Casey’s night was pretty much laid out for him.
His next competition was playing the Dallas Mavericks in the Lone Star State and having already put his own charges through film and a two-hour practice in the dessert, what better way for a coach to prepare for his next assignment than to plant himself in front of the hotel television and scout his next opponent.
Were that all that was on Casey’s plate it might be considered a relatively easy night in a season where very little has come easy for anyone associated with the Raptors, the head coach least of all.
But while Casey and his staff took in the Suns, on the backburner or perhaps the front was the question of what to do with his own starting lineup.
Following Sunday’s loss in Los Angeles, a game that was once again dominated and all but determined by a listless first-quarter Raptors performance, Casey is no longer content to stay with the status quo. At the very least he’s seriously considering changing a few pieces.
It’s not so much the mounting losses, although that’s clearly part of it, but how the losses are coming.
For the first time this year on Sunday, Casey called out one of his players for a lack of effort, clearly identifying Amir Johnson in the process.
Casey went to great lengths on Sunday to emphasize that he wasn’t placing blame on any one player. In fairness the questions Sunday left him little choice but to address the fact that Johnson played only seven minutes.
He had to explain why he wasn’t out there and the truth was Aaron Gray was running hard and ensuring DeAndre Jordan didn’t add to the number of crowd inciting lob-finishing dunks he was throwing down much to the appreciation of the Staples Center crowd.
Monday in Phoenix, though, Casey pointedly said that were any changes coming, it wasn’t going to be done to single out any individual’s performance or lack thereof.
“We still have a couple of positions we’re looking at,” Casey said. “Right now, we’re going to sleep on it again tonight. Everything we’re aiming to do is nothing that’s an indictment of any one player, it’s more of us having balance, finding the right combination to get off to quick starts and a balanced game.
“We’ve got too many ebbs and flows with the game as far as our points production, our defensive focus and the whole nine yards. That’s what we’re trying for more than: ‘Hey, it’s this one guy’ (that’s the reason) we’re not winning.”
Because he had not yet determined which, if any changes would be made, Casey wasn’t about to throw out any specific names.
He says he has a good feel for who his core is already although injuries have perhaps blurred that from a fans point of perception.
“I think our rotations have been relatively consistent with those guys when health permits,” he said. “We have a good feel for who those guys are, now we have to get a good balance of points and defensive matchups.”
Prodded about the starting small forward position which already has undergone one change beginning the year with Rasual Butler in that spot and now having moved on to James Johnson, Casey all but discounted the likelihood of that happening.
“(Linas) Kleiza I think his energy, coming off the bench or if he starts, it’s going to be who he is,” Casey said. “James (Johnson) gives us energy defensively. Offensively he’s been up and down a little bit but he runs the floor well, he does usually have a post-up matchup at the three position.
“We’re pretty good in that situation, that position,” Casey concluded.
You can pretty much eliminate the shooting guard position as a spot that’s likely for a new look giving DeMar DeRozan’s status among the core group.
Jose Calderon did not have one of his better games on Sunday, but Calderon has been one of the Raptors two best players this year with (Andrea) Bargnani, when he has been healthy, the other.
In any event Jerryd Bayless is just getting back to his own. He was beating himself up a little on Monday over his play on Sunday.
“It’s probably my explosion,” he said of what’s bothering him. “When I get into the paint usually I try to get into someone’s body but that’s not going to happen right now at least until (the ankle) gets (fully) better. That’s probably the most frustrating part. That will come over time. It will get stronger again but I noticed it was a little bit weak from being out.”
Eliminate those three spots and the only two left for consideration are power forward and centre.
Bargnani, whose return will be determined at game time, is an easy one as long as he’s ready. The only other would see Amir Johnson come off the bench and Gray, who is a big body in the paint, starting at centre.
Casey will sleep on it and given his routine this season, make his announcement about an hour and a half before tipoff.
Toronto Raptors (4-13) at Phoenix Suns (6-9)
US Airways Arena, 9 p.m.
The Suns had won a season high two in a row with road wins over New York and Boston prior to Monday’s game in Dallas. Canadian point guard Steve Nash is having a strong season. He leads the league in assists (averaging 10 a game) and his shooting 55% from the field. If he maintains that he would be the first point guard since John Stockton in 1987-88 to shoot 55% or better from the field. Marcin Gortat has been a rebounding fool for the Suns this year. He had a run of four consecutive games with 12 or more rebounds heading into the Dallas game. Defensviely the Suns have upped their game substantially this year. For a team that hasn’t held opponents under 100 points a game on average since 2003-04. Currently teams are scoring an average of 94.7 points a night against the Suns, an 11.2 point per game drop from last season.
Jose Calderon vs. Steve. Nash
The Raptors have not won a game against Phoenix since Nash returned from Dallas. In 24 career games against Toronto, Nash has averaged a double-double with 10.1 assists and 14.8 points. The only team he dominates more in the NBA in his career is Washington. Calderon, meanwhile, is averaging 10.8 points a night and 8.7 assists this season. In 10 career games against Phoenix, his averages drop to 7.6 points and 6.4 assists per game. Calderon is coming off a tough afternoon in Los Angeles where the Clippers held him to just three points and four assists in 23 minutes. At the very least he should be fresh for Nash and the Suns.
DID YOU KNOW?
The Suns 14-game winning streak against the Raptors is the longest current streak they have against any team in the NBA ... The Suns went into Dallas with a two-game winning streak but had lost five in a row prior to that ... If the Suns don’t get out to a good start, they normally don’t win. So far this season they are 6-0 when they lead at the half and 0-9 when they trail ... Jared Dudley is one of only eight NBAers to appear in all 82 games the past two seasons. The game Monday in Dallas was to be the 200th in a row he has played in ... The Raptors should be seeing a road-weary Phoenix club. The Suns wrapped up a five game in nine nights trip Monday in Dallas. Of course the Raps are in the midst of their own five in nine trip that began in Los Angeles Saturday and ends in New Jersey Sunday night.