The Toronto Raptors (24-11), by all accounts, are having a great season. They’re third in the Eastern Conference and just three games out of first place.

Unfortunately, they’ve lost four straight – the third-worst streak in the NBA behind the New York Knicks (5-34) and Minnesota Timberwolves (5-29), who have lost 14 and 13 games, respectively.

What’s been the issue lately for the Raptors?

“It’s one of those things where it’s that time of year,” Toronto head coach Dwane Casey said on The Doug Gottlieb Show. “Everybody’s going through the grind, every team’s going through the grind. You take an All-Star out of our lineup, which is not an excuse. We were competing pretty well before then, but you take him out and now we’ve hit a wall, so to speak. Guys had to step up out of their lanes, out of their roles and again it takes a toll on you. It takes a toll on you emotionally. It puts more pressure on different players, but we’re not playing good basketball right now, especially on the defensive end. When DeMar (DeRozan) gets back (from his groin injury), that’s going to put everyone back in their alley, in their lane, so to speak, and I think that’ll help us tremendously.”

Without DeRozan, the Raptors have struggled to manufacture points – to the point where if Kyle Lowry and Louis Williams aren’t hitting shots, well, Toronto probably isn’t winning. Instead, the Raptors have had to rely on non-scorers to manufacture points artificially.

“No question,” Casey said. “That’s it exactly. You got your primary scorers. Now you have people who are asked to score, who we need to score out of necessity, and they’re asked to do it. If they’re having an off night, you have nowhere else to go. Again, it sounds like a bunch of excuses, but it’s the NBA. We can survive that if we keep the ball in front of us and contain the ball on the defensive end and do a better job on the defensive end. But now I think our missed shots have carried over to the defensive side of the ball, but it’s abut understanding (and) growing. We still have two young players in Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas, who are still learning and growing at the same time, and we’re asking them to take a bigger load also with DeMar out.

“But again, it’s a great growing experience for everyone,” Casey continued. “Once DeMar does come back, it’s great experience for different players in different roles. It’s going to help us overall. I totally agree with an old coach who said you got to go through something to get where you want to go, and we’re definitely going through some adversity right now, but I think it’s going to make us a stronger team afterward.”

Toronto, which has lost four straight to Portland, Golden State, Phoenix and Charlotte, hosts Boston (12-21) on Saturday ay 7:30 p.m. ET.


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