Following a postseason in which the Toronto Raptors won two games against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals, and a strong 22-8 start to the the 2016-2017 NBA season, the Raptors are struggling.

After 16 consecutive months of being the No. 1 or 2 team in the Eastern Conference, the Toronto Raptors see themselves in third place, after an embarrassing loss to the Orlando Magic this past weekend.

Over the past month, the Toronto Raptors have gone 7-11, and have allowed the Boston Celtics to take over the second seed in the East. A couple of weeks ago, any NBA fan would have seen Toronto as the toughest challenge for Cleveland come April, but this team has not been playing well, especially at the late stages of games.

The Toronto Raptors have lost their last three games by a combined total of 5 points. Consistently failing to close out these games reflects Toronto’s inability to get a stop at critical points of the game.

Defense wins those games. This has been the Raptors first losing month since March 2015, and they now sit only 2.5 games out of fifth place, yes you read that correctly.

The reason as to why this Toronto Raptors team has been struggling is simple. This team simply has not prioritized defense, or put in nearly as much effort as they had before this losing streak, and have paid the consequences.

The lack of effort on the defensive end is the reason why this Toronto Raptors team has lost to teams such as Philadelphia, Charlotte, and Phoenix. The Toronto Raptors are a much more talented team, and have proved in the past that they are far more elite than some of the teams that have been beating them.

After their most recent loss against the Orlando Magic, I expect that Dwane Casey gave this team a lecture that they won’t forget, after hearing his comments during his post-game presser. Casey was not one to hold back when talking about his players when saying: “We gotta find five men that’s going to go out there and defend. You can go right down the roster and everybody had a defensive mistake”.

The former defensive specialist expresses how important defense is to his players on a nightly basis, but it seems as if his messages go through one ear and out the other. Toronto’s lack of effort throughout this dreadful January was especially present during this game.

Allowing an Orlando team that ranks 29th in offensive rating to shoot 53 percent from the floor for 114 points is embarrassing. This ugly performance came exactly one week after the Raptors allowed 113 points to another bottom-ten offense in the Phoenix Suns.

Until the Raptors defense can generate more stops, the offense won’t be able to carry them.

The Toronto Raptors are a defensively sound team when they put in effort and hustle. The Raptors have not played hard for extended stretches of games, and this greatly benefited opposing offenses.

After a dreadful January for the Raps, they sit at 20th in the league in defensive rating.

There is no doubt that they are one of the deadliest teams on the offensive end of the basketball, but until they wake up from this nightmare, this dreadful stretch will only continue.

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