DeRozan scores 33 points to lift Raptors over Portland
Two games since they rejigged their roster, the Toronto Raptors are marching back up the Eastern Conference standings _ despite the absence of allstar guard Kyle Lowry.
DeMar DeRozan scored 33 points, and newcomer Serge Ibaka had 18 points and 10 rebounds as the Raptors beat the Portland Trail Blazers 112-106 for their third straight victory.
“We still don’t know most of the plays. We’re just out there playing for the most part,’’ said P.J. Tucker, who along with Ibaka was acquired before last Thursday’s trade deadline.
Jonas Valanciunas added 15 points and seven boards for Toronto (35-24), while Cory Joseph, who started at point guard in place of an injured Lowry, finished with 14 points and six assists and Delon Wright chipped in with 11 points.
Damian Lillard led Portland (24-34) with 28 points.
The revamped Raptors, who went into the night in fourth in the Eastern Conference, are trying to make a push back into the top of the Eastern Conference. Their victory coupled with Washington’s loss Sunday put the Raptors even with the Wizards at six games back of Cleveland. Washington, however, has two games in hand.
DeRozan, who’s scored 76 points over the past two games, turned the spotlight on the newcomers in the post-game lockerroom.
“Oh man, defensively altering and blocking shots, able to switch out on wings, point guards and able to knock down shots,’’ DeRozan said of Ibaka. “He takes a lot of pressure off, teams just understanding you’ve got to pick and choose. We have another weapon out there that teams have to worry about.
“It’s veteran guys that know how to play the game, keep it simple, go out there and play hard on the defensive end. And as long as we get stops the coaches give us the freedom to just play.’’
The Raptors, who’d beaten the Trail Blazers 95-91 in Portland on Boxing Day, trailed by 12 points in the first half of the back-and-forth affair, and held a narrow 82-80 advantage heading into the fourth quarter.
Wright scored on back-toback driving layups to give the Raptors a seven-point lead midway through the fourth, but Portland chipped away at the difference, and when Lillard scored with 1:42 to play, it cut the Raptors’ lead to just three. But DeRozan, who’d scored a career-high 43 points two nights earlier in the team’s 107-97 win over Boston, replied with five straight points to give Toronto a comfortable six-point cushion with 23 seconds to play.
Tucker grinned when asked about the Raptors’ solid closing unit.
“Yeah, it’s unbelievable,’’ said Tucker, wearing a gold chain as thick as a snake. “I really like it, especially with me and (DeMarre Carroll) switching all the stuff. We’re making them take tough contested twos and then being able to push back at the other end with Serge at (centre) being able to take the rim, it’s a pretty good lineup.’’
Toronto Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan (10) drives between Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) and Trail Blazers guard Allen Crabbe (23) during second half NBA action in Toronto on Sunday.