The Toronto Raptors hoped to have two NBA All-Stars this season, but DeMar DeRozan started slow and then tore his adductor longus tendon (groin injury) just 16 games into the season. He missed a month and a half recovering from his injury and it took another month and a half to shake off the rust, but since the beginning of March, the Raptors guard has recovered his All-Star form and then some – just in time for the playoffs.
The Raptors starting shooting guard has scored over 30 points four times since the beginning of March and collected 10 or more rebounds three times as he has put up what is arguably the best stretch of games in his young career. Head coach Dwane Casey is adamant that DeRozan is finally back 100 percent from his injury.
“Yes he is,” Casey said. “I think that’s a beautiful thing to see is DeMar is back. Not only is he scoring, but passing the ball, defensively he is playing at a high level – challenging the ball, getting through pick-and-rolls, doing all the things he needs to do.
“He has confidence in his (groin) injury where he can explode, get separation without the fear of re-injuring his (groin) injury.”
DeRozan’s biggest test came against Houston at the Air Canada Center at the end of March. He took on the challenge of guarding the NBA’s leading scorer James Harden while leading his team offensively in the 99-96 Raptors win. DeRozan scored a career high 42 points, tied his career high of 11 rebounds and was a game-high +11 points while he was on the court. Harden scored 31 points, but he was a game-worst -13 points while he was on the court.
In the 19 games since the beginning of March DeRozan has found the shooting stroke that had be missing all season.
To start the year DeRozan was shooting under 40 percent from the field and just 25 percent from three-point range. He was getting to the free throw line almost 8 times per game and scoring almost 20 points, but something was off and then came the groin injury at the end of November.
Rust was to be expected when DeRozan came back mid-January, but not the depth of rust that was evident. Shooting under 38 percent from the field and under 18 percent from beyond the arc, DeRozan was firing bricks and his trips to the charity stripe dipped to just 6.3 times per game as a lot of his aggressiveness was gone too. This wasn’t the All-Star the Raptors needed or expected. Fortunately, things were about to change.
Once again this season the Philadelphia 76ers are the tonic a struggling player can/should be using to get their mojo going and DeRozan opened the month of March by scoring 35 points and grabbing 9 rebounds in the City of Brotherly Love.
DeRozan hasn’t looked back since, averaging 24.1 points per game, shooting 45 percent from the field and an unexpected 36.7 percent from three-point range. He is getting to the stripe over 8 times per game again, grabbing over 5 boards, dishing over 4 assists and looking every bit the focal point of the Raptors offense each night.
Toronto has been coasting for a long time now. The Atlantic Division fell to them early this season and a top four playoff spot has been in the bag since before the All-Star break. However, repeating as Atlantic Division leaders was never the real goal, the Raptors sights are firmly set on the playoffs and bettering last year’s first round exit. DeRozan’s return to form couldn’t have been more timely. Now they just need to get Kyle Lowry back and playing at the level that earned him an All-Star nod this season.
photo credit Paul Saini Fylmm.com
The Raptors Are Finding Their Winning Form Again
By Frank McLean
“I just want to go out there and win,’’ DeRozan said. “The crowd was into it and the last time we played these guys they got us pretty good. We are really just trying to go out there and be ourselves and understand that we can use these next few games to get ready for the playoffs.”