TORONTO - Losses -- the kind of close losses to the kind of teams in the same stage of development the Raptors are right now -- are a tough pill to swallow.
Dwane Casey knows this better than most, but it's a pill he manages to get down and keep down all the while keeping his young roster from caving in to the urge to let the losses overwhelm them.
Avoid any talk of the record.
Off three tough road losses, two of them by a point, both of them to teams they expect to be battling for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, Casey and the Raps were back in the gym Saturday looking for solutions rather than dwelling on past failures.
"I keep talking to the guys about the process," Casey said. "Walking in the gym every day, we are the third-youngest team in the NBA so we cannot do anything but get better. I approach every day the same. I don't even talk about wins or losses. I talk about getting better. What can we do to win?"
And while it may seem like a recurring nightmare for the Raptors with each loss, the reality is it's not one thing that is tripping up the team.
Discounting some tough calls from the officials (there's no point in going there), the Raps have stumbled in various stages of the game, for various reasons.
Closing out games is obviously a recurring one, but it's not the reason Casey points to for Friday's one-point loss in Detroit.
"We had 111 opportunities to screen and I think we actually screened 53 times," Casey said. "That's not acceptable."
Now setting a screen to get a man open is more about the willingness to sacrifice oneself than about any particular skill. It's not like his players don't know how to set screens, but in the heat of the battle, particularly Friday night in Detroit, it was a case of too many guys opting to set a half-hearted screen rather than forcing the legal body-on-body contact in order to free up a teammate.
To put the 53-of-111 in context, Casey said his accepted rate of success in setting screens is upwards of 75%, a success rate the Raps did not come close to on Friday.
"It's a small fundamental, but it's a big fundamental in the big picture," Casey said.
And while the majority of fans will focus on a defensive breakdown in the final seconds where Brandon Knight split two Raptors defenders to put his team ahead and the fall away jumper that Kyle Lowry attempted at the buzzer as the ultimate game decider, Casey said the tone for the loss was set seconds after tipoff.
"The very first play of the game, we have a play where Kyle Lowry is coming off a triple screen and nobody (none of the screeners) touches his defender," Casey said. "That in turn set the tone for the rest of the game. Screening was our bugaboo all night."
So it was screening on Friday night but other nights it has been getting back defensively or closing out on three-point shooters or any number of reasons. The frustrating part is that it's not a consistent problem Casey or his coaching staff can put a finger on.
"We always have that one bugaboo segment," Casey said. "It has come at different times of the game and if you find a solution please let me know. Right now it's a mystery (why it happens) but we're working every day and night trying to figure it out and we will."
The Raps came out of the Detroit loss a little banged up, but not terribly worse for the wear. Lowry and Jonas Valanciunas, who was the victim of a kick to the back of his calf, were still a little sore on Saturday but expected to play on Sunday when the Raptors play host to San Antonio in an early Grey Cup day tilt.
Lowry said the mounting losses and the close losses, while frustrating, are not having any lasting effect on the mood in the locker room.
"We're good," Lowry said. "I think we're fine. We're all on board. There's 69 games yet. It's not a sprint, it's a marathon. We just know we are getting better every day.
"I think most guys realize that. We can't get too up or too down. We are behind the eight-ball but we're not that far behind. We're not even a quarter of the way through. We're just 13 games in."