Under the Bleachers: Why Does Dwane Casey Keep Trying To Sabotage Toronto’s Playoff Chances?

On a night where the Toronto Raptors reset the franchise record for wins in a season for the third straight year, the bigger talking point coming away from Wednesday’s win over the Atlanta Hawks might have been that All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry logged 40 minutes just two days after having fluid drained from his elbow.

The second-biggest talking point is that Toronto tried desperately to give this game away, entering the fourth quarter with a 22-point lead before allowing Atlanta to claw back into it with a 30-16 fourth quarter that left the Raptors with an 8-point win… but we’ll get to that later.

Lowry averages 37.3 minutes per game, the second-highest total in the league behind only Houston guard James Harden. While he’s absolutely the engine that drives the Raptors bus, this is a team that is locked into the two-seed in the East, holding a six-game edge on the Hawks, which should trigger the Raptors trying to get their most important player some much needed rest down the stretch.

Instead, he’s playing massive minutes in a pretty meaningless game as the team prepares for a third-straight playoff appearance in hopes of finally getting out of the first round for the second time in franchise history.

That’s the club record the team should be focused on – not 50 wins, not claiming top spot in the Eastern Conference, which is still a possibility, but would be another meaningless accomplishment it the team fizzles out on the playoffs again.

It’s not just Lowry either; his backcourt mate DeMar DeRozan clocks in at 36.2 minutes per game, good for sixth in the league, making the Toronto tandem the most heavily-played pair in the league. Not only is that sub-optimal, it’s more of the same from Casey and that’s the most frustrating part.

At a time where coaches around the league are making a point of getting their stars extra rest and the top teams are focusing exclusively on being healthy and fresh for the playoffs, Casey routinely runs his most important players out there for massive minutes in situations where it is completely uncalled for and it’s a real concern.

Lowry’s gas tank hit empty last year when the playoffs started, shooting just over 30% from the floor, averaging 12.3 points as the team got swept by the Washington Wizards. And that came after playing 34.5 minutes per game, roughly three minutes less than he’s logging this year. DeRozan was better, averaging 20 per game opposite Washington, but he too struggled from the floor, going 8-for-20 in Toronto’s four games.

These last eight games are going to be telling for Toronto.

With Win No. 50 in the books and no real reason to chase top spot in the East, Lowry and DeRozan should be resting far more than they’re playing down the stretch, if they’re playing at all.

Let Cory Joseph run the point and keep getting Norman Powell a bunch of minutes, seeing as the second-round draft pick has been excellent of late and has earned some extra run. Even if you want to start those two over the next five games – all of which come against playoff–bound teams – keep them under 25 minutes and give them the final three games of the season off.

Point blank: there is no reason for your two most important players being on the floor, risking injury and collecting more miles against New York, Philadelphia and Brooklyn to finish out the season. Those games don’t matter; the playoffs do and given this club’s recent tortured history with first-round series, focus on those and forget about everything else until that series rolls around.

And if Lowry or DeRozan struggle – or heaven forbid Toronto flames out again – Casey has got to go. His job is to get this team as prepared as possible for the playoffs and so far, all he’s done is coach for regular season success.

E. Spencer Kyte

E. Spencer Kyte

E. Spencer Kyte is a freelance journalist based in Abbotsford, British Columbia, where he lives with his wife and dog. In addition to his work here, he writes about sports for Complex Canada and covers the UFC for various outlets. His mom also still tells him what to do on a regular basis, even though he’s nearly 40. He tweets from @spencerkyte.

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