More D, more minutes

MIKE GANTER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:12 AM ET

DeMar DeRozan is proof that even a winless road trip can reap some benefits.

DeRozan, mired in a funk going into the Raptors trip, was one of the few who returned on better ground than he left.

And once home, DeRozan took things to another level, going off for 19 points in the win over the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday.

The easy explanation is that DeRozan is back to driving to the basket like he was when he was most effective earlier in the season. When he drives, he opens up the offence for everyone, gets to the free-throw line and scores. It's a win-win-win scenario and with his athleticism, defences have a hard time dealing with him.

And while that isn't the whole explanation for DeRozan's resurgence, it's a chunk of it.

The other part is DeRozan is now earning minutes based on his defence. That's a very big thing for the Raptors given he is almost invariably the Raptor who sets the defensive tone for a night because almost without fail, he's matched up against the opposing team's most dangerous scorer.

"If you let a guy like Kevin Durant making his first five shots, it's going to be difficult for Sonny (Weems) and I to come in and put that fire out," Antoine Wright says of DeRozan's tone-setting. "You have to pass the baton. You have to go out and make him go 2-for-5 and then I'll come in and make him 4-for-12. It's the way you pass the baton and keep a guy from going off for big points in one quarter."

Friday night will be no different as DeRozan will be getting a steady dose of Durant and while it would be an insult to the likes of Jeff Green and Russell Westbrook to suggest that stopping Durant stops the Thunder, even those gifted players would be hard-pressed to argue that as goes Durant, so go the Thunder.

DeRozan's defence has not received much attention but that changed on the recent road trip.

Head coach Jay Triano and teammates alike took notice of the job DeRozan did on both Tyreke Evans in Sacramento and Monta Ellis in Golden State. Their stat lines would indicate DeRozan wasn't much of a factor at all, but that's not what Triano's eyes or those of Wright told them.

"I thought he did a very good job with Evans in Sacramento and then Monta Ellis," Triano said. "All those guys that he is normally going past , now he is running into DeMar's chest. I think (DeMar) has really made a conscious effort to try and stop these guys and that's what made him better."

Wright saw it too.

In fact DeRozan did such a good job on Evans that when Wright came into the game and was expecting to be told to switch on to Evans, DeRozan stayed with the high-scoring rookie and Wright was told to take someone else.

Wright, though, says there's more in the tank defensively for both the young Raptors, DeRozan and Weems. DeRozan in particular gets singled out by the veteran.

"I never knew a dude that jumped that high who has the amount of blocks he has," Wright said of DeRozan's 16 career blocks. "It's a shame because you're cheating our team by not using that athletic ability at both ends of the court."

Triano has seen more of this from DeRozan of late and it's why he's getting more minutes than he has seen at the end of games.

"He has earned the ability to play in late game situations because he has gotten much better defensively," Triano said. "He has had a tough guy to guard pretty much every single night and we've been very pleased with what he has done."

mike.ganter@sunmedia.ca


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