There remain seven days in the 2011-12 NBA regular season.
No result or results are going to alter the Raptors situation. At the end of next Thursday’s game they will disperse. That is a certainty.
So it was somewhat curious heading into this final road swing when news started to filter out that the team would be staying an extra night in Miami to practice. There was even some early talk of a night off in Miami on Thursday followed by a practice the next day before a flight to Detroit where the Raptors resume their death march on Sunday.
The first inclination was the team might be getting a little extra down time in one of North America’s more envied cities.
No one will say exactly what transpired to change those plans, but changed they were.
The new schedule had them practising on Thursday followed by a weight room session and then a morning flight to Detroit where they will practice again Friday and once again Saturday before Sunday’s third last game of the season.
Three consecutive practises at the tail end of a season that ends Thursday might seem overdoing things a bit to some, but not to the man who has made changing the culture here his No. 1 priority.
“It is setting the tone for next year, yes,” Casey said when asked about the late season work, “but also a good opportunity for a lot of individual work. Breakdown stuff, technique stuff, offensively and defensively which you really don’t have a lot of time to do during the season when it’s cramped with games.”
The Raptors could barely catch their collective breath in January when they played 19 games in 31 nights.
There was an extended stretch of practice time just before the all-star break with four off days between their next-to-last and last game heading into the break.
Since then, they have not gone more than two nights in between games, until now.
Casey wants to ensure there is no backslide with games still on the schedule.
“Friday we’ll get a little harder in Detroit and then we’ll have the next day but (all of it) is more to maintain what we have,” he said. “I thought (Wednesday) in the second half we disintegrated and lost our focus. They turned up the playoff intensity and we had no answer.”
A total of 23 second-half points not only matched the franchise low, it reiterated the importance of the Raptors staying on point regardless of the time of the season.
“It would have been very easy to give them a day off (in Miami) but that’s not what we’re here for,” Casey said. “We stayed here an extra day but I told them before we left we were here to practise and work in the weight room. It’s not a vacation.”
Casey knows not everyone would insist on taking that path, but it’s the only one he knows and the only one he would take.
“There’s no question that has happened in the past,” he said of teams mailing it in over the final few games, “but we have to maintain our semblance of focus, our semblance of defensive awareness, the very things that we didn’t do (Wednesday) night. They hit us with a sledgehammer and knocked us backwards.”
If Casey has been consistent with one message all season it is that he needs his team to be tougher, both mentally and physically. It’s not something that you can just ask of a group of players. It is something they have to experience and days off, even at the end of the season, send the exact opposite message.
Prior to yesterday’s practice in the Miami Heat practice facility there was film to watch and be broken down. What Casey saw on that film was the Heat gearing up for the playoffs with a little more emphasis on the physical style of play. From his own team, he didn’t see much of a response.
“That’s the type of physical play we have to get ready for in the paint,” he said, pointing out how by the second half barely a Raptor managed to get a foot in the paint let alone battle for position there.
But Casey is also enough of a realist to understand where the Raptors are right now and where the Heat is are two different stratosphere’s.
“They are in championship mode and we’re just trying to maintain what we have done this year,” he said. “This is probably the hardest time of the year to (keep at it). You can see the light at the end of the tunnel but we’re not there yet.”
And until they get there, Casey will take every opportunity possible to keep his players on point.
Back to school for Davis
A day after taking his first backwards step in a few weeks, Thursday’s film session was a real learning experience for Ed Davis.
The sophomore power forward had his lunch handed to him by an array of Miami big men who outmuscled, outworked and at times outfoxed him on Thursday night, leading to a quiet eight-point, four-rebound night.
A few weeks ago that line might not have raised eyebrows but Davis has been on such a tear of late, it stood out like a sore thumb. The morning film session didn’t hide it either.
“We watched film and saw the difference in intensity, in physical play in the paint, how you have to take a hit and that type of thing,” Casey said. “We showed that to him.”
It wasn’t so much a step back as it was one more game Davis can stash away in his memory when those long sessions in the weight room he will have to endure this summer start to become too much for this young Raptor.