Five players injured and one suspended. A horrendous road trip with five straight losses. Fourteenth place in the Eastern Conference.
The vultures are circling the Toronto Raptors, a miserable 4-18 prior to Wednesday’s visit by the Brooklyn Nets.
“It just sucks that we’ve got bad luck everywhere,” leading scorer DeMar DeRozan said succinctly.
For Raptors coach Dwane Casey, the advice to his players is simple.
“This is when you have to pull your pants up — I think I heard the term ‘big boy pants’ — and be ready to play,” Casey told reporters after the team’s morning shootaround.
“That’s where I am. I’m a fighter. I’m a scrapper. I’m still with this team. We’re working hard ... I’m not shying away from this challenge and this opportunity.”
An injury-depleted roster hasn’t helped matters. Casey’s injury list includes Andrea Bargnani, Kyle Lowry, Linas Kleiza, Alan Anderson and Landry Fields.
Bargnani is out indefinitely with a ligament tear in his right elbow and a strained right wrist after getting hurt in Monday’s loss to Portland.
Lowry, who was also hurt Monday, has a partial tear to his right triceps muscle and is expected to be out for 10 days.
Anderson has been working out with the team and is expected to participate in a full practice Thursday with an anticipated return to the active roster for Friday’s game versus Dallas. Anderson sustained a partially torn plantar fascia in his left foot in a Nov. 10 game versus Philadelphia.
Fields underwent ulnar nerve transposition surgery November 14 to address compression/entrapment in his right elbow and will have a second follow-up visit Thursday with surgeon Dr. Andrew Weiland in New York.
Amir Johnson, meanwhile, was suspended for the Brooklyn game after throwing his mouthpiece at an official during Monday’s loss.
Casey expected to have just eight healthy players available for the Nets. The number went up, however, with the arrival of rookie forward Quincy Acy from the Bakersfield Jam of the NBA Development League.
Bargnani and Lowry are second and third on the team in scoring, averaging a combined 31.8 points per game.
Casey, who believes his team is probably three to five wins better than the standings show, says coaches and players alike have to endure the attention and speculation that accompany such a slide down the league table.
“We live in a glass bowl. I live in a glass bowl. That’s part of the territory when we sign up,” he said. “So we’re all men.
“And I’ve explained that to players. You’ve got to perform — trade rumours, firing, whatever it is — we all have to perform. We have a job to do. And we can’t go in a shell and say ‘Please go away, please go away.“’
Like Casey, general manager Bryan Colangelo is under the spotlight as the team sputters.
Colangelo spoke out on the recent road trip, calling the team’s play unacceptable, disappointing and embarrassing. Rather than the team’s talent level, he pointed to “lack of focus, attention to detail, consistency of competing.”
Players and coaches also met after a loss in Utah to do some soul-searching. The Raptors promptly lost games in Portland and Los Angeles, against the Clippers.
“I think Bryan was trying to light a fire under the players, saying there’s lack of focus, that we had talent,” said Casey.
“We do have talent,” he continued. “We have young talent that can compete in this league — or growing talent. I think there’s a lot of room for improvement with the talent we have and I think that’s what he’s trying to say is ‘Look, we’re good enough. We’re good enough to compete with these guys.“’
Defence has been one of the major issues.
Going into the Brooklyn game, the Raptors ranked 30th — last — in the league in point differential per game at minus 7.45. Toronto was 27th in points conceded per game at 103.0 and 27th in rebounding by opponents.
“I thought we made progress last year defensively and we’ve taken a step back,” he said. “We’ve taken a step back to go forward. But are we giving up on that progress? I’m not.”
After playing 15 of their its 22 games away from home, Toronto sees 11 of its next 15 at the Air Canada Centre. But Casey was quick to note that the friendly confines of home are not a cure-all.
“There’s an old saying: ‘Home will take care of you but you’ve got to take care of home,“’ he said. “You don’t want to be comfortable at home either because that’s when you get in trouble.
“We’re going to have challenges wherever we play as a team.”
And Casey says he’s going to give everything he has to help the team progress.
“And I’m going to continue to do it until they tell me I’m not here any more. And if they feel like I’m the issue or the problem then that’s fine too. But I haven’t been told that so I wake up every morning, six o’clock, ready to come in and ready to get to work and have my big boy pants on.”