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Toronto Raptors coach Dwane Casey has challenged his team to show they can handle the pressure of competing for titles when they face the Orlando Magic in London next week.
Ten days out from the clash at the O2 Arena, Casey's Raptors sit on top of the Atlantic Division standings, but the match-up with the Magic will see them face the team that ended their five-game unbeaten start to the season with a 92-87 win in Florida back in November.
Casey has overseen a turnaround in the Raptors' fortunes since taking over in 2011 but they still have further steps to take. Last season, Toronto failed to capitalise on a hot start as they stumbled through the second half of the season before being swept by the Washington Wizards in the first round of the play-offs.
"There is a huge difference going from the hunter to the hunted," Casey said. "Our program has grown over the last five years to become one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference, but trying to maintain that is the hardest thing to do now.
"You have to play hard each and every night, each and every possession."
On Sunday night, Toronto gave up 67 second-half points as a 42-point outburst from Jimmy Butler inspired the Chicago Bulls to come back and inflict a 115-113 defeat - precisely the sort of performance Casey knows Toronto must eliminate to take the next step.
"Butler had one of the best games of his career but you're going to get those type of performances," Casey said. "You need to be ready to understand the level you have to play at.
"It's mentally draining and physically draining but you'd much rather be the hunted than be at the bottom trying to build."
It is an adjustment the Magic are trying to make in a hurry as they have emerged as contenders in the Southeast Division this year, despite having finished with a 25-57 record last season.
"A lot of teams in the East have built excellent programs where the offensive and defensive balance has grown and they've done an excellent job of developing their own players," Casey added.
"We'll be playing a team in London whose young players are taking steps to get better and they are becoming more seasoned as far as their level of play is concerned."
The Raptors have played at the O2 before, featuring in back-to-back games against the New Jersey Nets in 2011 shortly before Casey became head coach. They lost both games, including a 137-136 triple-overtime epic on the second night.
This time the schedule will allow them a couple of days in the capital before the game, and though this is a business trip, Casey wants his players and their families to enjoy it.
"Everyone is excited to see the city, excited to come over there again and share the Toronto brand," he said. "What we're not excited about is playing Orlando because they are an excellent up-and-coming team and they are going to be a tough match for us."
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