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raight victory and seventh in eight gam

 
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TORONTO - With the Raptors mired in their longest losing skid of the season, Dwane Casey is strongly considering shaking up his rotation going into Saturdays contest at home to the Boston Celtics. Although Torontos coach remains tight-lipped regarding the details of a potential lineup change, insisting that no decision has been made - which should continue to be the case until just before game time - he suggested an alteration could be in the works. Well find out, well see, Casey said following an informal practice session Friday afternoon. Im not pointing fingers at anybody, at any one person. If we make an adjustment in the lineup its going to be to help solidify or give us something that were probably not getting in a certain situation or matchup. If we change it, its not saying, hey, that persons at fault for the four-game losing streak. Slow starts have plagued the team over their recent slide. In Thursdays disappointing loss to Charlotte, the Raptors allowed 31 points in the first quarter, trailing by eight (or more) after 12 minutes for the third straight contest. After the game, Casey questioned his first units energy out of the gate. Patrick Patterson, one of the teams top reserves, attributed it to a lack of focus and a lack of will. The second group contributed 49 points, more than half of Torontos overall scoring output on the night, shooting 45 per cent from the field, while the starters shot the ball at a 35 per cent clip. Kyle Lowry was 7-for-22 from the field and continues to battle the physical and mental fatigue that has been weighing him down since last weeks overtime loss in Portland, a product of overuse in the absence of DeMar DeRozan. During that stretch, the point guards minutes are up only slightly from last year, but without DeRozan theyre taxing minutes. Since DeRozan sustained his injury, Lowrys usage rate (the percentage of a teams offensive possessions that a player uses while on the court) is just under 30 per cent, up from 23 per cent earlier this season. Prior to DeRozans injury, he had attempted 21 or more field goals just five times in 521 career games, something hes done in eight of 20 games since. With DeRozan return pushed back to next week, at the earliest, the Raptors are forced to rely heavily on their point guard - theyre at a significant disadvantage whenever hes not on the floor. As a result, Casey and the coaching staff have gotten creative, hoping to lessen the demand on Lowry, while still riding him offensively. Its getting to that time where guys minutes are ramping up and its telling on them in certainly situations, mainly on the defensive end and with their shooting, shots being short, Casey said. But thats the NBA. Weve got to make adjustments as a staff and as players to get it back on track. And if it calls for getting other guys larger minutes off the bench, then thats fine too, to give guys rest. But weve just got to be creative as far as how we manage things until DeMar gets back. Among the challenges their facing is finding the right lineup combinations to put around Lowry. On Thursday he got little-to-no help from three of his fellow starters in Landry Fields, Terrence Ross and Amir Johnson - all three of whom should be under the microscope as Casey reevaluates his rotation. Fields, DeRozans understudy, would seem to be the most logical candidate for a return to the bench. The fifth-year swingman has started nine of the last 14 games, having missed the five in between with a concussion. A pleasant surprise after stepping into the starting lineup last month, Fields has tailed off since returning from his injury. Hes a smart player but has little offensive impact on account of his limited range, and although hes a solid individual defender, it hasnt exactly translated to team success on that end. The Raptors have been outscored by 58 points with him on the court this season. Production from Ross and Johnson has been sporadic this season but the intangibles they bring to that unit make their demotions unlikely. Ross shooting spaces the floor for Lowry and company, while Johnson - even an inconsistent and hobbled version - is still the teams best interior and help defender. Generally, his teammates all perform better with him on the court. That leaves James Johnson and Greivis Vasquez, who have both started games in DeRozans absence, as potential replacements, likely for Fields. Johnson started the five games Fields missed and has been one of the clubs most consistent contributors all year. He owns the second-best defensive rating on the team and has been an efficient offensive player buying into his new role. Caseys concern with extending Johnsons role, even temporarily, is rooted in the fear he may revert to the player he was, the player that would often go rogue and try to do too much on the offensive end. It would seem, as he often states himself, that the old Johnson is no more and the new version could be, and probably should be, in line for more playing time. Vasquez was Caseys initial replacement for DeRozan. While Johnson seems like the safer choice, theres something to be said for the relief Vasquez would give Lowry as a second ball handler in the backcourt. The two guards were Torontos most productive pairing last season and in the playoffs but havent had the same success together this year. Beyond that, the most pressing issue with the first unit has been their defensive energy, something Johnson is likely to address more than Vasquez would. FIGHTING THROUGH ADVERSITY The Raptors did not hold a full practice on Friday, instead players gathered at the Air Canada Centre for individual workouts and film sessions with the coaches. Casey pointed to the mental hurdles that can build up and derail a team during tough stretches like this, something he hopes to avoid by staying prepared and remaining level-headed. Adversity brings out the best or the worst in you, said Casey. Were going through an adverse time. Every team in the league that Ive ever been with goes through it. It gives you guys [in the media] something different to write about and talk about other than a winning streak, he joked. Were going through it now and its going to make us better. I dont care what team you are, until you go through something it doesnt make you better. We all are happy and full of joy and peanuts and candy when were winning, but then you turn around and you find out who the real people are when you hit adversity and thats what were going through right now. And well figure it out. While their frustration has been evident, primarily after their latest loss to Charlotte, it has been directed inward and at the situation more than at each other, which is a promising sign going forward. This Raptors team has been a notably tight knit group since they came together following last seasons trade. Although their chemistry has not been tested through adversity like this before, that togetherness should pay off now more than ever. Nobodys blaming nobody and thats a great sign, James Johnson said. Everybodys sticking together. I think this is making us closer and later down in the season togetherness is big. You learn who the leaders are on your team and whos on board, whos in the boat, Casey added. Everybodys in the boat in the locker room, theres no splintering against each other and we understand its us against everybody else. I think theyre mature enough not to [point fingers]. Its about winning. Its about figuring out a way to win. Its not about whos right, whos wrong. its about coming together as a team collectively on both ends of the floor and getting it right. Thats our job as a team, as an organization, is not pointing fingers and staying together. Walker Zimmerman Jersey . Sterling was banned for life and fined US$2.5 million by the NBA on Tuesday for racist comments the league says he made in a recorded conversation. Nash, who plays for the rival L.A. Lakers, spoke as a representative of current NBA players at a press conference assembled by Sacramento mayor and National Basketball Players Association adviser Kevin Johnson. David Bingham Jersey . 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