Photo by Torrey Purvey
By Michael Kinney
DeMar DeRozan has been on an impressive run for the Toronto Raptors. The 27-year-old guard out of USC has averaged 33.7 points on 52 percent shooting to kick off the season.
Even more impressive is that DeRozan is averaging more than nine free throw attempts a game, which is putting opposing defenses in trouble.
“DeMar DeRozan? He’s mine. He’s ours. He belongs to the Raptors,” Toronto coach Dwayne Casey told NBA.com. “He’s been great, he’s been a great leader, his approach has been very professional. But he’s been superb, and we just gotta make sure we continue with a defensive focus.”
When Toronto travels to Oklahoma City on Wednesday to take on the surging Thunder, DeRozan will be the responsibility of guard Andre Roberson.
At 6-foot-7, 210 pounds, Roberson has the height and length to bother DeRozan’s shot and the athletic ability to keep in front of him and out of the lane.
“He’s hot,” Roberson said of DeRozan. “He’s come out with a lot of confidence this year. We are just going to do our best to come out there and shut him down a little bit, get in our coverages, get back in transition, stick a hand in his face. I think we’ll be ready.”
The Raptors head into the game coming off a loss to Sacramento on Sunday night. It was a game in which the Kings’ DeMarcus Cousins pummeled Toronto’s interior defense to the tune of 22 points, 14 rebounds and three blocked shots.
Toronto was without Jonas Valanciunas, who had a left knee contusion. He has not been ruled out against Oklahoma City.
If Valanciunas is unable to go, that leaves rookies Jakob Poeltl and Pascal Siakam to deal with the Thunder frontline of Steven Adams, Enes Kanter and Domantas Sabonis. The trio combined for 45 points and 26 points Monday in a win over Miami. But it was their ability to protect the rim that impressed Thunder coach Billy Donovan the most.
“We had great length at the basket. I thought Steven’s length at the basket, Jerami’s (Grant) length at the basket, Domantas at times,” Donovan said. “We had length at the basket, which really helped alter some shots. Numbers wise, it looks like a great defensive night. Overall, I think our defense continues to get better.”
Oklahoma City is fourth in the NBA in defensive efficiency at 94.6 points allowed per 100 possessions. The starting five is even better at 92.3.
It’s one of the reasons Oklahoma City has been able to rest its starters in back-to-back games.
“Great, man, great. If I could do that all year, that would be great with me,” Russell Westbrook said. “Rest is always good, but it’s always good to see that we’re doing a good job putting teams away early. We’re doing a good job of coming out and being defense-minded.”
The Raptors will need more than DeRozan to break through the stifling Oklahoma City defense.
“We’ve got to shoot the ball better,” Raptors guard Kyle Lowry told Raptors.com. “That’s not a concern, I just think we have to find a way to make the shots. We’ve got to shoot more and get in the gym and shoot even more, get even more extra shots up. But we’ll see what happens. I think our confidence is there.”