TORONTO (CP) – DeMar DeRozan is playing the part of the all-star perfectly.
In Toronto’s last game before the NBA all-star break this weekend, DeRozan, who was named a reserve on the Eastern Conference team, scored 31 points – including 14 in the third quarter – to lead the Raptors over the Atlanta Hawks 104-83 on Wednesday.
Raptors coach Dwane Casey says he’s been pleased with his all-star’s constant improvements.
“He’s done a great job every year of getting better,” Casey said. “I know he won’t (get complacent), because he’s such a conscientious (guy). He’s a basketball junkie. I don’t see him taking time off this summer just because he made the all-star team.”
Kyle Lowry delivered another solid performance, scoring 16 points and 13 assists.
While he won’t be heading to New Orleans for all-star festivities, Lowry’s strong play this season has helped Toronto go into the break leading the Atlantic Division for just the second time in franchise history.
“Kyle’s an all-star on and off the court in my opinion,” DeRozan said. “My opinion, he should be in New Orleans as well. We wouldn’t be where we are today if it wasn’t for Kyle. I wouldn’t be where I am now if it wasn’t for Kyle, to be honest. We all understand that.”
Patrick Patterson started for the Raptors in place of Amir Johnson, who missed his second consecutive game to rest a sore right ankle, and scored 14 points in his second start of the season.
While the Raptors got off to a slow start on Wednesday night, they found themselves trailing by only five after the first quarter, despite shooting just 29 per cent from the floor. They woke up in the second quarter and took a 45-44 lead into the half.
Toronto had a strong start to the third quarter, opening on a 7-0 run to take an eight-point lead and force the Hawks into a timeout. The Raptors didn’t look back from there.
Thanks to a brilliant quarter from DeRozan, the Raptors stretched their lead to double figures midway through the third and outscored the Hawks 33-21 to take a 78-65 advantage into the fourth quarter.
After scoring 11 points in the first half, DeRozan exploded for 14 in the quarter, on 5-for-6 shooting including two three-pointers and a three-point play.
Toronto continued to dominate in the fourth quarter and easily rolled to the victory from there.
“I commend our guys for coming out and focusing in the second half,” Casey said.
Point guard Greivis Vasquez says he saw the victory as part of an overall goal that extends beyond this regular season.
“(We’re) third in the East, leading our division,” Vasquez said. “If that’s not a motivation then you’ve got to get the heck out of here. You don’t see these opportunities very often. We’re committed to the team and we understand what we’re playing for.
“We want to be third. We want to win our division. We want to make a run in the playoffs but we’ve got to finish the season strong and keep building confidence.”
The Hawks were led by Gustavo Ayon’s 18 points and 10 rebounds, with Paul Millsap adding 17 points. Toronto’s Jonas Valanciunas struggled from the floor, connecting on just 1-for-9 field goals, but grabbed a game-high 14 rebounds.
Atlanta was without starter DeMarre Carroll after he strained his left hamstring in a 100-85 loss to the Chicago Bulls on Tuesday. Lou Williams started in his place.
Kyle Korver extended his NBA record for most consecutive games with a made three-point field goal to 120 games, connecting on 2-of-4 attempts from beyond the arc against the Raptors.
The Raptors will resume their season in Washington against the Wizards next Tuesday.
Toronto will send three players to New Orleans for all-star festivities, headlined by DeRozan playing in Sunday’s all-star Game as well as in the skills competition on Saturday night. Terrence Ross will defend his Slam Dunk title and Jonas Valanciunas will represent the team in the Rising Stars game between the league’s best rookie and sophomore players.
NOTE: Canadian snowboarder Mark McMorris was at the game, and the Regina native showed off the bronze medal he won at the Sochi Olympics.