With just 25 games left in the regular season, and the Toronto Raptors trying to claw their way into a playoff spot, there is no room for coasting.
Dwane Casey knows it, and he definitely let his players know it after the Raptors' ugly 90-84 loss at home Monday to the Washington Wizards — the worst road team in the NBA.
"It was a stinker. They whupped us, they outworked us," Casey said. "We tried to turn it on, turn it off. They got us. They kicked our butt in the paint, they ran the floor, they forced us into 12 turnovers in the first half, and that was the ballgame. The first half set the tone for the whole game."
DeMar DeRozan topped Toronto (23-34) with 25 points, but was one of the few players who didn't look half asleep in front of the 16,705 unfortunate fans at Air Canada Centre who sat through one of the worst efforts of the season.
Kyle Lowry added 18 points, while Amir Johnson grabbed a team-high 13 rebounds.
The Raptors scored just 32 points in the first half in what was only their second loss in eight games, and played without any sense of the desperation that Casey likes to see in his players.
"Why we wouldn't have that at this time of the year, and for what we're fighting for, scratching for, and what we've been through, it's shocking to me," Casey said.
Bradley Beal scored 20 points to top the Wizards (18-37), who have won three straight and seven of their last nine games. A.J. Price and Martell Webster added 12 points apiece. Nene had 11 points and nine rebounds, while Emeka Okafor grabbed 13 rebounds to go with eight points.
The Raptors had been one of the hottest teams in the Eastern Conference in February, and began the game four spots out of the eighth and final playoff spot.
But the positive vibes quickly fizzled for a Raptors team that trailed 63-54 heading into the fourth quarter.
"We dug ourselves a hole and were trying to fight out of it the whole game," DeRozan said.
Asked if he hopes the loss can light a fire under the team, DeRozan said: "We definitely need it to, and understand we don't have much time to get where we're trying to go. Every game that we play is definitely critical."
The Raptors managed to pull within six points a couple of times down the stretch and then a DeRozan free throw cut the Wizards' lead to five with just over a minute to play.
But John Wall put the visitors back up by seven with 46 seconds left, which had many of the fans headed for the exits.
"Disappointment. We're a way better team than the way we played today. A way better team," an angry Rudy Gay in the Toronto locker-room. "I don't believe there's ever a good loss, but this might be the one that can wake us up."
Gay's disappointing performance
Gay, who's been solid since he was acquired in last month's trade with Memphis (the Raptors are 7-4 with Gay in the lineup), might have had the most disappointing performance of the night. He shot just 1-for-11 from the field.
"You've got to come out of the locker-room in that desperate mode, because you've got a bullseye on your back," Casey said of Gay. "You've got to come out with that in mind."
The Raptors shot just 37 per cent on the night.
The ACC was more polite in its reception of Andrea Bargnani, who finished with eight points in 21 minutes. Raptors fans have been booing the much-maligned Italian since he returned from injury, but both Lowry and Casey have been vocal in their criticism of the jeering.
"I love our fans to death, but booing one of our players isn't cool and it should NOT be done!!" Lowry said through via Twitter after Friday night's win over New York. "Hopefully next game it won't happen!!"
Both teams lumbered out to a horrible start, with the Raptors shooting 33 per cent in the first quarter, just slightly better than the Wizards' 27. Washington ended the first quarter up 17-16.
The second wasn't much better. Both teams continued to play bad basketball, but the Wizards were a little less miserable and a three-pointer by Beal a minute before halftime gave the visitors a 10-point lead. The Wizards took a 40-32 lead into the break.
A three-pointer by Lowry tied the game 49-49 with 4:16 to play in the third, but that was as close as the Raptors would get as the Wizards led 63-54 with a quarter left.