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Raptors have to hope home-court advantage will carry them past Wizards

TORONTO — The morning after the Toronto Raptors' late-game meltdown against the Washington Wizards, DeMar DeRozan was still taking the blame.

DeRozan scored 35 points but was kicking himself for the shots he forced down the stretch, as the Raptors gave up a late eight-point lead in their 106-98 loss to Washington. The Raptors host the Wizards in Game 5 on Wednesday with the series tied at two games apiece.  

"I just try to go out there and be aggressive," DeRozan said. "It's just one of those nights where you find yourself sometimes you come off great, sometimes you could find yourself looking back and wishing you could take a few shots back that could have been, that you probably felt was forced. (Sunday) night was that."

Coach Dwane Casey defended DeRozan, saying the loss was "on all of us."

"It's no one person."

The Raptors will head back to Washington's Capital One Arena for Game 6 on Friday, and Game 7, if necessary, would be Sunday in Toronto.

Earning their first No. 1 seed in franchise history, the Raptors have home court for the duration of the Eastern Conference playoffs. They have to hope they play as well at the Air Canada Centre as they did during the regular season, losers of just seven games at home.

"The series is 2-2, that's why you play the entire season to get home-court advantage," Casey said. "Now it's a three-game series and we've got two at our house. That's the way we've gotta look at it. You have a lot of series around the league, you've got Cleveland, you've got Boston in the situation. That's why you play as hard as you do during the regular season to get home-court advantage."

Both the Boston versus Milwaukee and Cleveland versus Indiana series are tied at two games apiece.

The Raptors have some history on their side. Since the NBA expanded to 16 teams in 1984, only five No. 8 seeds have upset top seeds in the opening round of the playoffs. But in three of the past four years, the eighth seed has pushed the opening round series to six games. Washington versus Toronto is the fourth.

As Casey has pointed out since the series tipped off however, Washington isn't a typical No. 8 seed. All-star guard John Wall missed half the season with a knee injury, returning a couple of weeks before the playoffs began — and he looks like he never left.

"To come and think this was gonna be an easy series, I said it before it even started, it's gonna be a nip-and-tuck dog-fight for seven games, like a lot of other series around the Eastern Conference," Casey said. "The Eastern Conference is a very balanced conference, a lot of even teams. You put John Wall on this team for 82 games and I guarantee they wouldn't be eighth."

Still, Casey said there are numerous facets of their game the Raptors must clean up, particularly unforced and uncharacteristic turnovers. They had 18 on Sunday that led to 19 points for the Wizards.

"We had 10 turnovers (that were) just bad passes," Casey said — and to demonstrate his point, he joked with a reporter in one light-hearted moment of the team's media availability.

"I see (the reporter) over there and I just throw it over here — and not because I know (the reporter) couldn't do anything with it if he caught it — but just uncharacteristic things that are unexplainable," Casey said. "Guys they see it, they know it. . . it's things we can control that just making the obvious right pass, right decisions with the ball, and then once you catch it, be decisive."

After finishing last in the league in assists last season, the Raptors climbed to sixth this season.

Casey said players turned down wide-open shots, particularly late in the game, which contributed to DeRozan forcing shots.

"Let 'em fly. C.J. Miles, Delon Wright, they've got to let those shots fly," Casey said. "I don't care if you miss six or seven of them, if they're in the shot spectrum, they're your shots, you've got to shoot those shots. Because, you turn down that shot . . . we turned down one corner three and it turned into a layup for them because of a bad pass."

Wright, who shot 37 per cent from three-point range in the regular-season, said he was one of the worst culprits.

"Yeah, two. Two for sure. Probably could be more, I don't know," Wright said. "But yeah for sure two threes that I passed up that I should've taken, and I already knew I should've."

If there was a plus side to the Raptors' Game 4 loss, Casey said he liked the edge his team played with for most of the game that was sorely lacking in Game 4. The Raptors raced out to an early double-digit lead, and wouldn't relinquish it until the third quarter. 

"I did like the fight," Casey said. "I thought we came out with the right intensity, right mindset of playing hard, physical."

Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press

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