When the first batch of NBA all-star voting results were released on Friday, the Toronto Raptors’ DeMar DeRozan was sitting just seventh among Eastern Conference guards. That’s four spots back of teammate Kyle Lowry and behind both John Wall (fifth) and Derrick Rose (sixth).
Two of the Raptors’ next three opponents directly following the results? Rose and Wall, of course.
While not direct defensive matchups for DeRozan, the two do represent hurdles he’ll likely have to leap to get to his second All-Star Game in three years and first since the 2013–14 season, which will be held in his team’s hometown no less.
In the first head-to-head showdown of the week, DeRozan outplayed Rose to the tune of 19 points, eight assists and five rebounds—Rose put up 20, four and one, respectively, on a worse field-goal percentage—but the latter got the last laugh as the Chicago Bulls pulled out the win down the stretch.
Wednesday night DeRozan was having none of that. He tied a season high with 34 points, and added six rebounds, five assists, two steals and two blocks. He was also a perfect 15-of-15 from the free-throw line, and helped push the Raptors to a 94–91 victory over the Wizards, their 19th win of the season.
DeRozan’s performance is even more impressive when you consider not just the micro picture but the macro one. Forget for a moment the Raptors’ 84–82 squeaker of a victory over Washington at the Verizon Center in November, or the fact that the Wiz were 14-15 coming into Wednesday’s game. Just seeing Wizards red and navy is enough to bring on nightmarish, strobe-style flashbacks for Raptors faithful.
The last time Toronto basketball fans saw the Wizards on their home court it was an absolute bloodbath.
The Raptors were beaten in two straight at the ACC in the playoffs last April, the second game by a 117–106 score, on their way to being swept out of the post-season. DeRozan averaged just 17.5 points in the two home games while shooting 39.4 percent from the field, and got to the line just eight times combined.
In the homecoming on Wednesday, DeRozan got off to a decent-enough start—four points on two-of-three shooting, plus two assists through eight minutes—when he was tripped from behind on a breakout by (who else?) Wall. He nailed the freebies and scored another bucket before the end of the quarter, cuing a 28-point Raptors first quarter that easily outstripped the team’s season average of 23.3, which ranks 27th in the league.
But the breakout was still in waiting.
Wall, meanwhile, hit a jumper with four minutes gone in the second to score his ninth and 10th points, and threw his fist like he’d just won the finals—he’d come to play.
Though DeRozan led all scorers with 17 first-half points—thanks to eight from the line—he was just a paltry four-of-15 when he drove the paint for a layup and finally got the Raptors’ untracked in the third quarter. Next trip down he got a high-arcing banker in the paint over Marcin Gortat for two more. A couple plays later he added another bucket by picking the ball up off the paint and putting it in, again, over Gortat.
He finished the quarter with a sneaky basket on a defensive miscue (his 11th and 12th points of the frame) to raise his total to 29. He missed all three of his fourth-quarter shots, but he continued to get to the line and hit five more free throws, which were crucial in the three-point win.
After the game, Raptors head coach Dwane Casey had heaps of praise for DeRozan’s ability to manufacture points even when his shot wasn’t falling all night.
“He’s been efficient getting to the rim, drawing contact, taking hits, and that’s not including the hits that he took still completing the play,” Casey said. “He’s doing a heck of a job of doing that, of carrying us offensively, getting to the free-throw line, creating contact.”
DeRozan said being aggressive was his goal for the night.
“That’s my goal every night, honestly,” he said. “Just try to get teams in foul trouble. Try to slow down the game and keep it to our pace and get to the line. I think that’s big and I always try to take advantage of it as much as I can.”
DeRozan’s contribution was all the more necessary considering the rest of the team’s offensive output—the Raptors shot just 34 percent as a whole.
Granted, the team got a nice bounceback game from Terrence Ross as he went for 14 points and six boards on 50-percent shooting. And Bismack Biyombo played like a man possessed, putting up 12 points and 12 rebounds, and had a huge putback dunk off an offensive rebound with five minutes remaining.
But three Raptors starters—Lowry, DeMarre Carroll and Luis Scola—shot just five-for-28 combined. Even with the Raptors’ solid defensive effort keeping the Wizards to just 40-percent shooting themselves, the team was going to need some scoring, and it came from DeRozan.
The game caps off a stellar December for the Raptors’ veteran, as he averaged 25 points per game and scored 20 or more in 11 of 15 games in the month. More than that, for the season he’s putting up career bests in just about every advanced stat you can name—offensive and defensive rating, player efficiency rating, Win Shares per 48 minutes, you name it.
At the end of the day, though, whether or not DeRozan’s recent run of play means he’ll get an all-star nod over the likes of Wall or Rose is more than likely a matter for assistant coaches to decide as they vote to fill out the rosters once fans get done with the starters. But he’s showing he’s not going to shy away from the competition. Or the contact.