TORONTO (AP) — Five players injured and one suspended. A horrendous road trip with five straight losses. Fourteenth place in the Eastern Conference.
That describes the Toronto Raptors, who are 4-18 before facing the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday night.
"We've got bad luck everywhere," leading scorer DeMar DeRozan said.
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 said during the 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 injured list includes Andrea Bargnani, Kyle Lowry, Linas Kleiza, Alan Anderson and Landry Fields. Amir Johnson was suspended for the Brooklyn game after throwing his mouthpiece at an official during Monday's loss in Portland.
Bargnani and Lowry are second and third on the team in scoring, averaging a combined 31.8 points.
Casey, who believes his team is probably three to five wins better than the standings show, says coaches and players have to endure the attention and speculation that accompany such a slide.
"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 rumors, 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.'"
General manager Bryan Colangelo spoke out during the recent road trip, calling the team's play unacceptable, disappointing and embarrassing. Rather than the talent level, he pointed to "lack of focus, attention to detail, consistency of competing."
Players and coaches met after a loss in Utah for 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," Casey said. "We do have talent. 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.'"
Defense has been among the major issues.
Entering the Brooklyn game, the Raptors ranked 30th — last — in the league in point differential at minus 7.45. Toronto was 27th in points conceded at 103 and 27th in rebounding by opponents.
"I thought we made progress last year defensively and we've taken a step back," Casey 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 its 22 games away from home, Toronto hosts 11 of its next 15 at the Air Canada Centre. But Casey was quick to note that home court isn't 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."