The Raptors (42-28) have only 12 games to go in the regular season, they do have a guaranteed playoff birth basically locked down, but to go the distance the Toronto Raptors have to maintain an energetic intensity. Those were the words in DeMar DeRozan’s message shortly after the Raptors beat the lowly New York Knicks 106-89 on Sunday afternoon. “We’ve just got to stay focused and understand every game still matters,” DeRozan said. “We’ve got to take something from every game, even though we’re still going to the playoffs, we can’t relax, we’ve still got to keep focused and understand we’ve still got to get better every time we step on the court.”
Against the Knicks, Lou Williams had a good game with 13 points, Greivis Vasquez had 12, and Terrence Ross added in 11 for the Raptors who played without all-star Kyle Lowry for the second straight game. Lowry has a sore back, an injury he sustained when he fell hard on his back in last Wednesday’s win over the Timberwolves. DeRozan was the star of the game, leading his teammates by example with a team-high 23 points, that included some massive dunks. Tyler Hansbrough added in his season-high 18 points, another big game for the Raptors off the bench. And Jonas Valanciunas had a double-double with 17 points and 10 rebounds. They came together as a team to spread out the responsibilities of winning with Lowry out, and that’s the kind if attitude the guys will need to push them through the playoffs: every game must count.
“We’ve got to realize what we want to do,” Hansbrough said. “I think a lot of guys have the playoffs in the back of their mind, just because we know what we want to get right before we get to the playoffs, try to have some momentum going into there.” And showing improvement is just as important as winning, said coach Dwane Casey. “The win’s important. . . we had a few lapses, but overall there was good intensity and good focus on both ends of the floor.”
Tuesday evening will be yet another test at the Palace of Auburn Hills, as the Raps head down the 401 highway to meet their rivals. The Detroit Pistons (26-44) will welcome the Raptors after having won three of their last four match-ups, including a big win over the Chicago Bulls Saturday night. Their bright spot through this last stretch has been shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. He drained 27 points in an overtime victory over the Boston Celtics on Sunday, scoring 21.5 points on average over the past four games. So the Raps need to shut him don. Greg Monroe, will probably not suit up against the Raptors, and sit out due to his injured leg.
With the regular season almost over, DeRozan has chosen the right time to reignite his season. Heading into Tuesday’s night’s game, DeRozan has attempted double-digit free throw attempts in 5 of the 11 games played in March. He has been perfecting his game of late, so more will be expected from him because he is, after all, the team’s second-best player after Lowry. So expect him to answer the call and step up against the Pistons.
Our Pick: Raptors over Pistons, 108-101