Casey returns to Toronto as Pistons face Raptors

TORONTO — The atmosphere will be different, perhaps even a little strange for some of the participants, when the Detroit Pistons visit the Toronto Raptors Wednesday night.

Dwane Casey, who coached the Raptors for seven mostly successful seasons, will be returning in his new job as coach of the Pistons.

“It will be different being on that side, and I would be disingenuous to say it’s not going to feel funny,” Casey told the Toronto Globe and Mail from Detroit in a telephone interview. “Any human being worth his salt knows it’ll be a different feeling, a funny feeling. But I think once the game starts and they throw it up, it will be one of 82. And I’m sure it’s going to be the same for the players from the other side too.”

Despite a franchise-best 59-win regular season in 2017-18 that earned him coach-of-the-year honors, the Raptors fired Casey following a four-game second-round playoff sweep by the Cleveland Cavaliers, led by LeBron James.

Casey was the longest-tenured Raptors coach and the winningest with a 320-238 regular-season record.

The 61-year-old was soon hired by the Pistons, who have not won a playoff series since 2008.

He was replaced as Raptors coach by Nick Nurse, who was his assistant in Toronto for five playoff seasons.

Neither would talk about the possibility of any awkwardness between them, or whether there was conflict between Casey and Raptors president Masai Ujiri. Casey did not mention Ujiri in his acceptance speech in Detroit.

“We had five years together and a lot of success,” Nurse said Tuesday after the Raptors practice. “A lot of battles and a lot of long hours together, working hard. He took a team from relative obscurity, or the hinterlands, to relevance and that may be the hardest thing to do in this league. … We had a lot of success and I learned a lot from the guy and have a lot of respect for the guy as well.”

Toronto’s All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry developed a strong relationship with Casey after the two developed a trust in each other. “I had an opportunity to play under him for six years and got to know him really well,” Lowry said Tuesday. “It’s going to be different, but, hey, listen, I’m still going to try to take his team’s head off and win the game.”

Both teams are coming off losses. The Raptors (12-2) lost for the first time in eight games at home Monday night when they dropped a 126-110 decision to the New Orleans Pelicans.

The Pistons (6-6) lost 113-103 at home Sunday to the Charlotte Hornets with Blake Griffin being ejected with 7:06 remaining in the game after a flagrant-1 foul. He had received a technical foul earlier in the game.

Casey defended Griffin.

“He’s getting hit on a lot of shots,” Casey said. “That frustration builds up and he’s had a lot of load on him. Bringing the ball up the floor, handling the basketball, being a point forward and then going down in the paint and battling down there. I think it’s taking its toll on him, so I’ve got to do a better job of getting him some more relief, getting him out of the game a little bit more, finding places he can rest. Officials are not going to change the way they’re calling it, so we have to adjust, but I do think he’s getting banged and hit down there.”

The Raptors appeared sluggish for the second game in a row after returning from a 4-0 Western trip. They overcame it in defeating the New York Knicks on their return home Saturday but were unable to match the Pelicans Monday.

“At least a half of a step,” Nurse said. “It just felt like we were just not quite with much pace and readiness on defense. … I give them a lot of credit, and this is going to happen in this league. (The Pelicans) are going to see a team that is 12-1, they are coming on after a couple of wins, they are very talented, they were ultra-focused, they made a lot of shots and they played great. I thought we let them get there, we tried really hard to fight back a couple of times, and then they just looked us in the eye and made a bunch of 3s over us or a floater down the lane or a rebound would squirt away from us and they would dunk it. It was some decent fight for moments there, but we just couldn’t get over the hump.”