Raps learning the hard way

Raptors guard Jose Calderone reacts after missing a basket against the Grizzlies at the Air Canada...

Raptors guard Jose Calderone reacts after missing a basket against the Grizzlies at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ont., March 2, 2012. (STAN BEHAL/QMI Agency)

RYAN WOLSTAT, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:49 PM ET

TORONTO - One of these days — and Dwane Casey hopes it will be Sunday against the Golden State Warriors — the Raptors will pull out one of the close games the team always seems to be in.

The latest was a tough 102-99 defeat to the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday, which followed a heartbreaker in Houston earlier in the week.

The Raptors head coach is still preaching patience — taking the journey the proper way is more important than wins at this point for the young squad — but it’s about time some of these contests get pulled out.

Toronto is an astounding 3-13 (.187) when the point differential is five or less entering the final minute of games. The shooting has slumped to 42.4% (18.8% from three) compared to 59.4 and 37.5% by opponents in that period of games.

A lot that has gone right is suddenly going wrong at the most crucial time.

Casey said part of it is players being put into “closing” situations they haven’t been in in the past (such as Aaron Gray needing to hit crucial free throws, Linas Kleiza being asked to hit big shots and even DeMar DeRozan needing to step up late).

Casey believes the experiences will serve the Raptors well down the line and though the results don’t show it, might even be starting to happen now.

“Anytime you lose it’s frustrating. It should hurt, I want it to hurt,” Casey said.

“But at some time we need to start saying: ‘Hey, enough is enough,’ and start learning from our mistakes, and we are.”

Speaking specifically of Friday’s fourth quarter, the coach maintained:

“At the end of the day it’s about what we’re building ... This is about that just as much. Next year if that goes on, in that situation, we should show improvement. We got good looks, the next step is knocking them down.”

The Raptors went through a light practice at the Air Canada Centre on Saturday, with Andrea Bargnani doing more work on his own. However, Casey said if the practice would have been a normal one, Bargnani finally would have rejoined his teammates for some on-court work with them. That now will have to wait, likely until Thursday, since the Orlando Magic is in town on Monday and Casey seldom schedules a practice following back-to-back games.

Bargnani will miss his 24th game of the season against Golden State.

Casey can’t wait to get his leading scorer back from a calf injury that has stubbornly refused to go away. He knows time is rapidly slipping away to evaluate going into the off-season who fits well with the big man.

“He’s getting closer and closer. We need to get him back to get our growth going,” Casey said.

“Just to get into the flow and rhythm and continue our building process because he is the most important part of it.

“We’re running out of games and before you know it, it’s going to be summer time.”

Casey said he hoped DeRozan and his teammates learned from the “tenacious” defence Memphis — particularly guard Tony Allen — played on Friday.

DeRozan, who struggled after leading the Raptors in scoring in February, intends to turn it up against the potent Warriors.

“It’s definitely exciting, playing against a Golden State Warriors team that can score in bunches,” DeRozan said.

“We’ve got to do our part at both ends. They’re not really known as a defensive team, so we’ve got to take advantage at the offensive end (and) definitely have to bring our A game on defence.”

If that happens, perhaps Casey, the Raptors and the fans will be able to avoid another ulcer-inducing final minute for once.

TIPOFF

MARQUEE MATCHUP

DeMar DeRozan goes from Tony Allen’s tough defence to Ellis’ lights-out offensive capabilities. Monta Ellis is averaging 22.2 points a night, to lead the team, though his field goal percentage (.429) is the worst since his rookie year and his three-point shooting has fallen off considerably. Ellis’ quickness could get DeRozan into foul trouble. The Raptor was on a hot streak offensively, before Allen and Memphis shut him down on Friday.

SCOUTING REPORT

Warriors star Stephen Curry — who has had a couple of remarkable performances at the ACC already — is unlikely to play because of a foot injury that kept him out of Friday’s meeting with Philadelphia. Golden State is seventh in the league in points per game under new head coach Mark Jackson, but 26th in points against. Already missing Kwame Brown for the season, sophomore shot blocker Ekpe Udoh left Friday’s game.

DID YOU KNOW?

Golden State averaged 123.5 points against the Raptors last season, the most of any opponent ... Warriors Guard Ishmael Smith and James Johnson were teammates at Wake Forest ... Andrea Bargnani will not play.


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