Blazers too strong for Raps
By MIKE GANTER, QMI Agency
|Trail Blazers forward Craig Smith and Raptors forward Amir Johnson scramble for a loose ball at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ont., Jan. 20, 2012. (FRED THORNHILL/Reuters)
TORONTO - In a season where the losses are coming fast and furious, there are moments a Raptors' fan has to latch on to and savour like it's the last piece of Halloween candy left in the bag.
DeMar DeRozan's third quarter was one of those.
DeRozan didn't do it on his own -- few ever do in a team game -- but the third quarter for DeRozan was exactly what has been missing from his game for too much of the season.
In the end it didn't alter the result -- a 94-84 Portland Trail Blazers win to stretch the Raptors losing streak to seven games -- but it did salvage what was looking even too one-sided for the most forgiving of Raptors fans in this season of development.
DeRozan came out of the locker room following a four-point first half attacking like he has seldom attacked the basket in his young career.
His first touch of the half he went right at LaMarcus Aldridge -- a guy who had already done a game's worth of work in the first half with 23 points and 11 rebounds and wound up with an astounding 33 points and 23 rebounds -- and was rewarded with his first trip to the free throw line.
By the end of the third, DeRozan was 6-for-6 from the line and his four-point first-half effort was at 18 heading into the fourth. He finished the night with 22.
"It's just going to contact and not trying to avoid it," DeRozan said of his successful approach in the second half.
It's no secret DeRozan isn't getting much in the way of calls, so instead of getting frustrated with it, DeRozan spent a good half hour after practice getting swatted and bumped by the huge pads assistant Eric Hughes was wearing on his arms and focussing on finishing the play after contact.
DeRozan said it's a drill he just started but one he'll continue with seeing what it did for his game.
Riding DeRozan's aggressiveness that was matched by the kind of defence that Dwane Casey has been preaching since he got here, the Raps got within five points of the Blazers before the visitors turned it on and got it back up to double digits.
TONE IT DOWN
Casey made a bit of a pre-game plea to back off DeRozan a little bit.
The third-year shooting guard has become the lightning road for the Raptors offensive woes of late with Andrea Bargnani sidelined.
Casey feels the expectations from the beginning of the year have been too high where DeRozan is concerned.
"He's a young kid," Casey began. "I think the expectations of DeMar were way, way high. Yes he's young, yes he's talented, but I think everybody thought he was going to come in and play like an all-star. To be honest, I had high expectations of him but I didn't have expectations of him playing like an all-star. I think that's too unrealistic at the moment."
Casey's not saying he can't reach that level or that he and his staff aren't aiming for that goal, just that he's not there yet and to ask that level of play of him at this stage is a bit much.
Casey said DeRozan, like the bulk of the roster, is being asked much more of on the defensive end than he ever has before.
"Last year I thought offensively he put up big numbers but again didn't do his job on the defensive end. Now we have to put it all together and take it to the next level."
AROUND THE RIM
Typical Jose Calderon. DeRozan gets off to a horrible start missing his first four shots. The Raptors get out on the run and DeRozan gets the ball ahead to Calderon who has an open layup but instead takes the ball to the rim and with the defence up in the air tosses it back to DeRozan to get his shooting guard on the board. It's a little thing, but for a guy like DeRozan who has been struggling with his shot lately, every little bit helps ... Marcus Camby returned to the Blazers lineup after a three-game absence with a left ankle sprain. At one point in the first half his nine rebounds were more than the entire Raptors roster ... There was some international basketball royalty in the building Friday night and we're not referring to Raps assistant GM Maurizio Gherardini who was back in Toronto if only briefly. The big wigs were with Canada Basketball president Wayne Parrish in the front row and included FIBA secretary general Patrick Baumann. The way the Blazers dominated the first half, we're not totally surprised the group didn't come back for the second ... James Johnson might not always make the best basketball decisions, but you can't fault his effort. The now starting small forward doesn't know how to give up. His team was down 15 with only a few ticks left on the clock before halftime and Johnson sprinted the length of the floor to deny Wesley Matthews a gimme layup. Maybe it was karma, but Johnson finished up the game with a career high 23 points.