DeRozan scores 33 points to lift Rap­tors over Port­land

Cape Breton Post - - SPORTS -

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.

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