The Raptors (23-34) were all business in practice Tuesday afternoon after suffering an embarrassing 90-84 loss at the hands of the Wizards the night before. The mood quickly shifted from post-game disappointment and frustration to focus and determination as the team hopes to put Monday's lackluster effort behind them in a hurry. Coach Dwane Casey emphasized fundamentals and stressed the importance of building on their recent success – winning seven of 11 games since the Rudy Gay trade – while continuing to evolve as a team.
• Casey stated that his team was not physically ready to match Washington's intensity when the game began and that approach carried over, haunting them for the rest of the evening. He was not happy with his team's physicality on offence and believed they could have done a better job getting looks towards the basket as well as setting harder screens, calling it one of their worst screening games of the season.
"It is about winning but it's about the process to winning because if you take care of the process, winning will take care of itself. And if we don't approach it in the right way – the fundamentals, to do what we're supposed to do, each guy doing their job and being accountable for their job and doing it in a serious way – the process won't happen and winning won't happen."
• Casey raved about the way Rudy Gay has embraced a leadership role within the team since being acquired from Memphis. According to Casey, Gay stepped up in practice Tuesday and spoke to his teammates about how tough it is to win in this league, citing his experience with the Grizzlies. Although the coach acknowledged how difficult it can be to step into a leadership role with a new team midway through the season, he insisted that it's been a natural transition for Gay, who commands respect based on his accomplishments.
"He's seen this growth and the building process and how hard it is. And that's the part I told our guys; this is hard. What we're going through right now is hard. And we can't relax and take a back step back because to get back to where we are now is hard to do. Rudy's been through that, he reminded the players today how hard it is to win in the NBA."
-- Casey on Gay
• Coming from a program in Memphis that struggled during his first three seasons in the league – a sub .500 team each year – Gay is familiar with the building process that this Raptors franchise has been entrenched in. That Grizzlies squad improved in each of the six-plus seasons that Gay spent there, making the playoffs in the final two and the Raptors' forward was a big part of that transformation.
"It's not easy being good. It takes a while. It takes people stepping up and actually being that vocal leader and you have to do that, you have to have somebody. This is a relatively young team but we need people to really be professionals and everybody has to be accountable."
• Casey had a conversation with each of the team's veteran players – not just Gay – following Monday's loss. As the head coach he knows the onus is on him but hopes the team's more experienced leaders can relay his message and ensure that it's carried out on the floor. Earlier in the year, everyone seemed to fall into the habit of pointing the finger and making excuses – whether it be the tough schedule, poor officiating or just unfortunate luck. That does not seem to be the case with this group, led by Gay who acknowledged his poor performance against the Wizards – 1-for-11, seven points, five turnovers – and preached accountability.
"Playoffs [are] what comes from us being a good team. Before anything we have to practice on trying to be a good team. That's like a reward and we will be rewarded if we keep on working as hard as we've been working and get back to the basics."
• The Raptors now look ahead to Wednesday evening's road game against the much-improved Cleveland Cavaliers (18-38). The Cavs have been playing better of late, winning eight of their last 14 but may be without their leading scorer Kyrie Irving. The All-Star point guard will not be available for Tuesday's game in Chicago and is considered questionable for Wednesday's tilt against Toronto. With 25 games remaining, the Raptors sit four and a half games behind the eighth-seeded Milwaukee Bucks (26-28) for the final playoff seed in the Eastern Conference.
"We basically said it's on us. We have 25 games left. It's either win or go home so it's all on us."
-- Amir Johnson