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Toronto Raptors determined to learn from previous letdowns in NBA playoffs

All-Star DeMar DeRozan says team knows 'biggest learning tool is failure' staff reports

* Tonight on NBA TV: Magic vs. Raptors (6 ET)

Wrapping up the top spot in the Eastern Conference standings and heading into the postseason with home court advantage all the way to the conference finals is supposed to be cause for celebration. And it probably would be everywhere else but Toronto, where the finest regular season in franchise history is accompanied with a side of heartburn medicine. The Raptors, who host Orlando today (6 ET, NBA TV), have been in this sort of space before, feeling good about themselves after a stout regular season only to see it unravel in the playoffs.

So you can understand why folks are watching them now and wondering if they can trust what they’ve seen all season, whether they can believe that this team is truly destined for a different outcome. Trust, it turns out, is a buzz word that has surrounded the rise of these Raptors, according to Doug Smith of the Toronto Star. And that trust is soon to be tested:

It’s president Masai Ujiri trusting coach Dwane Casey to make the necessary changes.

It’s Casey trusting his best and most important players to buy into a lesser role for a greater gain.

It’s those veterans trusting the young players to perform well beyond their years.

It’s trust up and down the organization — trust that change would wipe away the pain of the past.

“It’s been great, understanding that the biggest learning tool is failure,” all-star guard DeMar DeRozan said after the Raptors notched win No. 57 against the Indiana Pacers on Friday night. “You’ve got to fail to understand what you need to be better at, how to be greater. We did that over the years. We had our ups and our downs. We had our moments of being upset and frustrated, but we learned from it and we didn’t let it break us.”

It has been that way since Casey arrived in 2011, charged with turning around the fortunes of a very middling team.

He trusted his ability to develop a program of consistent success and never got off point, coaching and coaxing with one thing in mind: turning Toronto into a perennially good team.

It’s worked beyond the expectations of many. In six of the last seven seasons, Toronto has increased its win total from the one before, something done only twice before in NBA history — by the Boston Celtics led by the legendary Red Auerbach in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and Phoenix under John MacLeod in the late 1970s.

“That’s what you want to be a part of,” DeRozan said. “When you struggle you kind of find appreciation more in the grind. (It’s) not getting discouraged when things (are) not going your way, not winning. But you’ve got to remember those moments, to understand the 22-win season is what keeps you humble when you win 50-plus games multiple seasons.”

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