Ujiri talks Raptors defence, updates DeMarre Carroll status

Michael Grange and Eric Smith has been begging for more consistency from the Raptors, and Toronto came out with some on Thursday against the Atlanta Hawks.

Despite the fact the Toronto Raptors have won eight of their last 10 games, there is growing concern about how they’re performing on the defensive side of the ball as the post-season approaches.

The fact they’ve been without defensive stalwart DeMarre Carroll since early January (knee surgery) has been a contributing factor and the timeline for Carroll’s return is still up in the air, according to Masai Ujiri.

“He went for a checkup with the doctors in New York a couple days ago and hopefully it was a positive checkup and he can continue to ramp up what he’s doing and we’ll go from there,” the Raptors GM told Jeff Blair and Stephen Brunt on Sportsnet 590 The Fan Friday. “How long is he going to be? I can’t say. I think that’s for the doctors and medical people and DeMarre to decide. We’ll see as he continues to do all his rehab work and his workouts.”

Carroll’s absence isn’t the lone reason the Raptors have been struggling on defence and head coach Dwane Casey has been blunt about it.

“It’s not like guys are slacking or anything or just not giving an effort,” Casey recently explained. “It’s just attention to detail and doing a few little things that will help us defensively and make it harder for [opponents] to make shots.”

Ujiri isn’t panicking.

“I think consistently we’ve been a good defensive team this year. We’re trying to be better and obviously you want to be playing well going into the playoffs,” Ujiri said. “The honest truth is these are the dog days in the NBA. It’s a long season. Not to give excuses for anybody or how we play – we have to go out there and be professional and play hard – but there are some times when guys get tired. There are some times where [the grind of the season] wears you out a little bit and [Casey] is trying to motivate our players.

“Yes, we’ve dropped a little bit but I think we saw in the last couple games we’ve picked it up a little bit too.”

The Raptors defeated the Atlanta Hawks 104-96 Thursday.

“We understand Casey he’s a defensive coach and he wants us to be a defensive team and for that to be the forefront of what we do,” Ujiri explained. “To win big you need to be good defensively. He’s hopping on it the right way.”

The less-than-stellar defensive play has been the cause of some apprehension among Raptors fans when you consider how last season concluded. However, Ujiri is convinced this year’s edition of the team will perform better down the stretch.

“DeMar [DeRozan] has grown, Jonas [Valanciunas] is growing, Kyle [Lowry] is growing. All these guys. Whether it’s Patrick [Patterson], whether it’s Terrence [Ross], I think we can honestly look at ourselves and say these guys are slowly understanding.

“Last year’s failures in my opinion – I know we had success in some ways – but when I look hard in the mirror I point the finger right at myself and say I caused that because I don’t think the roster was made up well. Defensively, we kind of felt that we were going to struggle, we were not capable going in[to the playoffs]…This year I think we’re a little bit better. We defend the perimeter better. We defend the paint better. Last year we were always out-rebounded. I think this year we are a good rebounding team. Where we are this year, I think slightly better. Just from the experience alone I think we’re better because we’ve learned. This year, when we lose a tough game, guys don’t sit in the corner and mope.”

The Raptors host the surging Miami Heat Saturday at the Air Canada Centre. Fans can watch the game on Sportsnet One with coverage beginning at 6:30 p.m. ET.