Casey: There's no excuse

Raptors head coach Dwane Casey argues a call during a game against the Jazz at EnergySolutions...

Raptors head coach Dwane Casey argues a call during a game against the Jazz at EnergySolutions Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah, Jan. 25, 2012. (JIM URQUHART/Reuters)

MIKE GANTER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:18 AM ET

NEWARK - Say this about Dwane Casey — he doesn’t waste any time.

Fortunes can change very quickly in an NBA season and Casey has been around the league long enough to know it.

So even coming off an improbable two-game winning streak, when the Raptors head coach was presented with something he knew his team could not continue, Casey was quick to lay down the law.

Casey saw a team Friday night in Denver that was already using Andrea Bargnani’s injury as a crutch.

What he saw was a team that said they had no chance of winning without Bargnani and then went out and made sure that was the case.

The Raptors first quarter was as abysmal an offensive quarter as they have played all year.

With just over four minutes remaining in the 12-minute frame, they had scored all of two points.

In short, they went into the game thinking all was lost and then played that way.

Casey could have shrugged this one off as a team in the midst of a tough road trip playing in one of the NBA’s traditionally toughest places to get a win — particularly for an Eastern Conference team.

He could have looked the other way for a night and just said it was the combination of the long trip, the high altitude and a superior opponent.

But Casey doesn’t operate that way.

He left the court, conferred with his coaching staff a little longer than he normally does and then walked into the Raptors locker-room and in no uncertain terms told the Raptors the approach that night was unacceptable.

His message was simple. The attitude that his team brought to the arena Friday night will no longer be tolerated.

He didn’t make any threats — at least he didn’t when he reiterated his message moments later to the media in what we can only assume was a toned down version of the one the players got minutes earlier. What he did was take away the excuse.

The excuse that says the Raptors have no chance without Bargnani in the lineup so why fight it.

That doesn’t fly with Casey.

It doesn’t fly because that lack of belief, that give up before a game is even played, isn’t in his DNA.

Casey’s not blind. He realizes his team is and will be outgunned without Bargnani in the lineup on many occasions until the team’s leading scorer returns, but he believes he has enough in the room to compete even without Bargnani.

And it was the lack of compete that set him off after the game.

Losing to Denver isn’t an indictment of the talent the Raptors possess, but losing the way they did, barely putting up a fight until the second half rolled around is an indictment of everyone on the roster.

That’s what Casey saw and that’s what he spoke out against.

In the locker-room after the game, the full team, with only one or two exceptions was still seated at their lockers when the room opened to the media. Normally they are heading for the showers or finishing getting dressed. It was after all only about 10:30 local time and the team wasn’t flying out the next day until close to noon. There was still time for post-game activities, but instead they were all in their lockers going over the boxscore.

What kind of effect it had on the players only they themselves know.

““We just have to step up, everyone has to step up,” DeMar DeRozan said. “Tonight a lot of guys weren’t making easy shots. We’ve just have to believe that when Andrea is not out there, that we can do it.”

After today’s game in New Jersey, the Raptors are home for eight of the next 11 games.

That’s a lot of time at home which means more practice time and more attention to detail.

They’re going to need all of it to figure out a way to survive this latest Bargnani absence.

But if they go into every game thinking they’re beat, it’s not going to matter where they play or how much prep time they have.

Casey knew that and the same way he changed the defensive culture (or lack thereof) on this team, he had to change the defeatist culture that crept in when their leading scorer went down for a second time.

It had to be done immediately and it was.

UNFINISHED BUSINESS

Might not be a bad idea to circle Wednesday, March 28, on your Raptors schedule.

That’s the next time the Raps and Denver Nuggets tip off and judging by Al Harrington’s post-game comments there’s some unfinished business from Friday’s game. At the very least there could be some hard feelings left over from Friday’s game.

Harrington was still upset with Linas Kleiza, a one-time Nugget, who he exchanged verbal jabs with and then went nose-to-nose with the Raptors forward before Kleiza pushed him away.

That sent Harrington into animal mode. In the ensuing scrum, would-be peacemaker Rudy Fernandez got used as a human projectile.

“I’m not happy,” Harrington told reporters afterward. “We had a great win, it’s the NBA. Guys think its funny becauSe you know you can do all that, like the referees’ out there saves him, but I don’t play games like that. So it is what it is.”

Kleiza didn’t look especially worried during the fray. Fernandez was a different story.

“I apologized,” Harrington said of Fernandez’s forced involvement. “Rudy was the only wy I could get to him, so I picked Rudy up and kind of tossed him. But it is what it is. It’s over. We won, great win, we have a six-game win streak. We’re just going to keep pushing.”

Harrington says it’s over. We’ll see in late March.

TIPOFF

Toronto Raptors (6-14) at New Jersey Nets (7-13)

Sunday, 6 p.m. ET Prudential Center

SCOUTING REPORT

The Nets have won two in a row and three of the past four. The team’s only loss came to the Eastern Confernece leading Chicago Bulls in the past week. Point guard Deron Williams is a big part of that. After some early season struggles/indifference, Williams numbers are up substantially. He’s now averaging 19.6 points and 8.6 assists a night for the year. Kris Humphries, when he’s not being booed at every touch by Kardashian crazed basketball fans (who knew there was such an animal?) has been a huge help to the Nets. Hump, a former Raptor, is averaging a double doulbe with 13.4 points and 10.5 rebounds a night. Rookie Marshon Brooks is the Nets’ second leading scorer averaging 15.4 points a night.

MARQUEE MATCHUP

PG Jose Calderon vs. PG Deron Williams

Calderon is struggling with his shot right now hitting just 13 of the 44 attempts he has made in the past five games. A two assist, three turnover night in Denver on Friday was completely uncharacteristic of the normally sure-handed distributer. He’s in for a tough night matching up against Williams who started the season slowly but has come on of late. Williams has shot 50% or better in each of his past four games and is scoring an average of 24 points and 10.5 assists over that span. For the Raptors to stay in it, Calderon is going to have to get his game back up to where it was earlier in the season.

DID YOU KNOW

The Prudential Center is known as the Rock. The Raptors mantra this season is “Pound the Rock” ... With the Nets shooting just 39% at their temporary home until the move to Brooklyn next season, head coach Avery Johnson has moved shootarounds from the team’s practice facility in East Rutherford to the arena in Newark hoping to better acclimate his players to their temporary home ... Anthony Morrow, the Nets fourth leading scorer is the only player in the NBA this season with two 4-point plays ... Former Raptors assistant coach P.J. Carlesimo is now a member of Avery Johnson’s staff with the Nets.


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