LOS ANGELES - To say Dwane Caseys future was up in the air a year ago at this time would be an understatement. In his third season at the helm of the Raptors, and the final on his contract, Caseys Raptors would fall to 6-10 on the first night of December, their third loss in a series of five straight defeats. They werent good enough to justify Masai Ujiris patience but they werent quite bad enough to be considered a serious contender in the Andrew Wiggins sweepstakes. Ujiri insisted he would give the players and coach he had inherited the chance to sink or swim, but something had to give, and it was about to. Rudy Gay was a week away from being traded. Kyle Lowry was on the block. And the coach? Its reasonable to assume he was on the hot seat. But one thing weve learned about Casey since he took over ahead of the lockout shortened 2011-12 campaign: hes unflappable. He wasnt coaching for his job any more or any less than he was the year prior, or than he is now that he is locked up for another three seasons. Hes also one of the more humble and personable men youll come across in this business of professional sport. He possesses the innate ability to relate and get through to just about anyone, an essential cog in last years remarkable turnaround followed by an even more impressive first month to the new season. On the heels of a franchise-best 13-4 start, good for the best record in the conference, Casey has been named the Easts Coach of the Month, a well-deserved honour for the leader of a club that has managed their expectations, avoided complacency and continued to thrive for more despite their accomplishments a year ago. Casey last won the award following an 8-6 December last season, becoming the first Raptors bench boss to win Coach of the Month twice. If youre looking forward to his acceptance speech, a heads up, it will be brief and unassuming. I dont give a crap, he had said after winning the award last year. I mean, its not about me. Its about that team in there, in that locker room. Im going to be in coaching for a long time so its not about me, its about those guys. The 57-year-old Casey has always taken individual acknowledgement - either for himself or one of his players - as an indication that collectively everyone is doing their job the way theyre supposed to. DeMar DeRozan has blossomed into an All-Star. Lowry is on his way to doing the same this season. The locker room, as weve been reminded over the last 12 months, is one of the most harmonious around. Theyve put their egos aside in accepting roles, which for many of them require the occasional swallowing of pride. Then theres Casey, the conductor, driving the train, ensuring it doesnt stray and go off the rails. It could have, it still may, but it hasnt. Now, the Raptors head coach and his team face a new challenge with DeRozan sidelined indefinitely. Once again, Casey will be tasked with rearranging the pieces, placing his players in new and in some cases unfamiliar roles and maintaining a high level of performance in the process. Everybody is happy during good times, he said after Sundays loss to the Lakers, the first game without DeRozan. But weve lost a couple of games and now we will see what we are made of. We have to make a muscle, stay together and stay positive. Two games dont make a season. Weve had it pretty good here for a while but now we have to bounce back, regroup and reload. With a record of 118-129 since taking over in Toronto, Caseys winning percentage (.478) is the highest of any coach in team history. He recently passed Lenny Wilkens for second on the Raptors win list, approaching Sam Mitchell for top spot. He has brought stability and consistency, an air of calm since Bryan Colangelo poached him off Rick Carlisles staff in Dallas, just days after he helped lead the Mavericks to a championship. Carlisle, in town with the Mavs last week, remains one Caseys most loyal advocates. First of all I give [Colangelo] a lot of credit for hiring Dwane, Carlisle said in Toronto on Friday. There were a lot more established coaches that he passed on. He really targetted Dwane as a guy that he knew could take a group of younger guys, mould them and instill a defensive philosophy and a defensive disposition in how they played. The very first year the record wasnt great but the defensive numbers did a 180. From there they have built it up each year. Dwane has earned the right to have a team this good and he has done a great job of building it up to this point. 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With the suspension, Nigeria is unable to take part in any kind of international fixtures. FIFA had issued a warning to the NFF last week after the federation was served with court proceedings from the government that prevented the NFFs president from running the NFFs day-to-day affairs.NEW YORK – The Blue Jays entered Thursdays series finale at Yankee Stadium losers of eight of their last 11 games. Theyd dropped 15 in a row in the Bronx dating back to 2012 and had seen their lead over their pinstriped rivals in the American League East dwindle to two and a half games. This is a slump. Its lasted for about two weeks. The downturn comes on the heels of a terrific May, when Toronto won 21 of 30 games and Edwin Encarnacion captured the imagination of fans with his 16-home run month. This is not is the end of the world, nor does this slump suggest a long-term trend. This is on the offence and thats a good thing because theres too much talent in the Blue Jays lineup for the widespread malaise to continue. To wit: The starting pitching has been fine. You could say its been good and you wouldnt be wrong. In the last 11 games, Jays starters have allowed four or more earned runs only twice and have pitched to a staff ERA of 3.71. The starting pitching was supposed to be the weakness. So far it has held up. The Jays have hit only four home runs in their last 11 games. Not surprisingly, three of the home runs came in two of the three victories. Toronto continues to lead baseball with 93 team home runs, which is crucial to the clubs attack. Of the 338 runs the Jays have scored this season, 147 (43.4 per cent) have come via the long ball. Jose Bautista hasnt hit a home run in 11 games, his longest power drought of the season. Hes still hitting for a respectable average, .275 with five of his 11 hits going for doubles, but the Jays miss his power bat as the club struggles, having scored three or fewer runs eight times in the span. This is a phase, both for the individual and for the ballclub, Bautista said, that was bound to happen. "If you can execute every single day for 162, youd probably win 140 games," said Bautista. "We dont expect to execute every single day. But we do have to pick it up. Its one thing, were running into some St. Louis good pitching, soome other pitching staffs.dddddddddddd I dont want to speak badly or worse about the Yankees or the Orioles but its not the same. We faced much better pitching at home during the last homestand than we have on this road trip, except for Tanaka, who did a tremendous job. So we shouldve won some of these games that we lost." It hasnt helped, either, that Edwin Encarnacion has hit only one home run in the last 11 games. "Weve lacked some timely hitting," said Bautista. "Our pitching has been there enough, I think, that we shouldve won some of these games that weve lost. We just need to keep going on offence. We got really hot at one point and kind of hitting a little cold spurt now. Weve just got to overcome it and not get 10 hits a day but get them when you get the baserunners on." Bautista has repeatedly acknowledged hes bought in to hitting coach Kevin Seitzers philosophy of using all fields. The slugger has become a better all round hitter. His 1,000th career big league hit, achieved in the eighth inning of Wednesday nights loss, was a double to right field. That alone would have been a story last season. This year its commonplace. "I think Im more aware of some situations where people are going to keep challenging me inside, especially when Im behind in the count or theres the right situation when theres a defensive shift," said Bautista. "Why not try to go over there and it ended up working out again? But the previous at bat I tried going that way and I hit into a force out, when Melky got forced out at second. So it works sometimes, sometimes it doesnt." Its difficult to watch a team go into a funk, especially when it had become customary for fans to watch Toronto out-slug and, often, out-pitch opponents. Despite the recent struggles, the Jays offence remains top 10 in important statistical categories: Home runs – 93 (1st)On-base percentage - .329 (5th)On-base plus slugging percentage - .760 (2nd)Walks – 243 (9th) ' ' '