Embarrassed Raptors attempt to regroup

Toronto Raptors' Jerryd Bayless, Jose Calderon, Amir Johnson, and Aaron Gray watch the final...

Toronto Raptors' Jerryd Bayless, Jose Calderon, Amir Johnson, and Aaron Gray watch the final moments of the second half of their NBA basketball game against the Boston Celtics from the bench at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts Feb. 1, 2012. (REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi)

MIKE GANTER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:11 PM ET

As starting forward James Johnson pointed out following a brief non-contact practice Thursday, it’s fine to lose once in a while “but not like that.”

“That” being the near 40-point loss in Boston on Wednesday that was so bad in all facets of the game that head coach Dwane Casey could not in good conscience follow it up with a day off regardless of the fact the team had just played on back-to-back nights and have another game Friday.

“We just went back to the basics,” Casey said. “I thought we looked punch drunk from the Atlanta game. A little reeling, kind of lost our bearings a little bit and (Boston) poured it on and we caved in. Today it was back to our fundamentals. That’s the only thing you can do when you’re in a tough time.”

Casey referred to the peaks and valleys every team in the NBA deals with, particularly in a crazy 66 games in four-months schedule they’re playing, and said this was one valley he expected this season and probably not the last one. Even so a day off after Wednesday’s showing was out of the question.

“If we hadn’t had a game tomorrow it would have been a full-bore practice, not to punish them but all part of the growth process,” Casey said. “I am not losing sight of the big picture. I am more surprised that we have not had more valleys than we’ve had. Now it’s like swimming. You know when you hit the bottom of the pool. We hit bottom (Wednesday) night so we have to hit and bounce back or we’re going to drown.”

Quality of opponent should help in that regard with the 4-18 Washington Wizards coming into town but even that is a concern. To begin with the Wizards have already defeated the Raptors once this year and that was when the team was spinning it’s wheels even more than it now is.

In the interim the Wizards have changed coaches sending Flip Saunders packing and promoting assistant Randy Wittman to the head job. The overall effort by the Wizards seems to have improved since but they’re still a far cry from the teams such as Boston and Atlanta that helped put the Raptors in their current funk.

Casey wasn’t taking any comfort in any of it.

“We don’t have the right to play down to anybody,” he said.

Among the many issues he addressed yesterday on a day that was far more mental than physical training was the subject of the team’s poor home record.

In eight games at what should be the advantageous Air Canada Centre, the Raps have just two wins, fewest of any team in the NBA along with Charlotte and New Orleans, both of which have played more games at home.

“We have issues at home,” Casey admitted. “We don’t play with the same sense of urgency and intensity that we play with on the road (although) you couldn’t tell from last night. I have had problems with other teams in the past where guys get relaxed, get comfortable at home, not coming to the arena with that edge, but we have to get it back. We have talked about it. We have addressed it.”

In Dallas the where Casey was an assistant under Rick Carlisle, Casey recalls the team shaking up the comfort level by banning some of the comforts that the players had been provided by the team.

“(Team owner) Mark Cuban has these real comfortable bath robes (that he provides) and TVs and music in the lockers so we took away those,” Casey recalled. “Our first year it didn’t work but again you try everything to try to change up the rhythm, change up the ritual that the guys have and hopefully that does it.”

Short of taking away the fancy compression pants the players don after a game (and those are more a physical maintenance tool than a real comfort), there really are no visible extras this team enjoys. Casey would much rather see them begin their preparation for the next home game a little earlier.

“It’s like I told the guys: ‘We have to start right now preparing for (Friday’s game with the Wizards),’ ” Casey said. “We can’t wait until Friday when we walk into the arena. We have to start thinking now what will happen Friday night.”

Johnson suggested a little more seriousness in the locker-room pointing out the veterans have been on some of the younger players on the roster to get their games faces on a little sooner than they have been.

Johnson just knows something has to change.

“We had a day off before Atlanta and we came out and played like chickens with our heads cut off,” he said.

Casey said he has toyed with the idea of even foregoing the morning shootaround and bringing the team to the arena closer to game time and doing it then.

But like Johnson he knows something has to give soon or that bottom of the pool he talked about visiting is going to look a lot like the bottom of the NBA standings.

AMIR JOHNSON’S LOST HIS HUSTLE

When the hustle goes out of Amir Johnson’s game, you know there’s something amiss.

For a few days now the thinking has been Andrea Bargnani’s absence has affected his game more than some others.

That sliver of an opening Johnson was accustomed to having when he rolled to the basket had all but closed up as teams were no longer having to account for the Italian (who has now missed nine games with a sore left calf) out beyond the three-point line.

Turns out that was only part of it.

Johnson revealed yesterday has been dealing with personal problems that he will keep to himself.

Johnson isn’t looking for sympathy or excuses. In fact he says the onus remains on him, regardless of his off-court issues to find a way back to the hustling Johnson that always has seemed to have a source of energy far greater than any mere mortal has to draw from.

“To be honest it’s probably some personal issues but I have to bring that energy no matter what,” he said. “It’s no real excuse. I just have to pick it up.”

Head coach Dwane Casey pulled Johnson aside Thursday morning and learned of the off-court issues. He’s been working on some things to help Johnson get a little more space but he was very candid about the energy issue.

“It’s like I told him, the focus and energy, the rolling, the running hard, the defending, none of that has anything to do with anybody else but himself,” Casey said. “He understands that but again, he has some issues going on, not overly serious, but some things going on at home that he is dealing with that have had an effect somewhat.”

mike.ganter@sunmedia.ca


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