Franchise history was made twice at Air Canada Centre on Thursday night.
Early in the evening, the Toronto Raptors learned they will have two players in the NBA all-star game – the first time the club has ever had more than one voted into the mid-season showcase.
The Raptors then went out and beat the under-manned New York Knicks 103-93, extending their win streak to 10 games, the longest in team history.
To no one’s surprise, DeMar DeRozan was selected to play in his second NBA all-star game – the result of a stellar start in which he has career highs in average points (23) and assists (4.1).
He joins his close friend and point guard Kyle Lowry, whom fans voted as a starter for the Eastern Conference team, alongside Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Paul George and LeBron James. The reserves were decided by votes from the NBA’s head coaches.
“This is big. I took pride in putting on this Toronto Raptors jersey ever since I’ve been here, and now to have the all-star game here and two guys in it, it don’t get no bigger than that, and it’s a blessing,” a reflective DeRozan said after the game, recalling the frustration of the groin injury that limited his season last year, and of the years he spent losing as a Raptor early on.
“Kyle and I, we sat down this past summer and said, ‘This is what we’re going to work on. We’re going to have to be great for this team to take the next step.’ Kyle did it with his weight loss, I did it by trying to elevate my game in new ways, and it’s definitely showing,” DeRozan said.
It’s been 15 years since two Raptors appeared in the same all-star game.
In 2001, Vince Carter was voted in and then joined by Antonio Davis when the NBA added him as a late injury replacement.
When Toronto plays host to the showcase on Feb. 14, Lowry and DeRozan will become the first starting backcourt to play in the all-star game in their home city since the Los Angeles Lakers’ Jerry West and Gail Goodrich in 1972.
“I don’t think if you looked in a crystal ball, you would’ve said you’d have two all-stars starting for the Toronto Raptors four or five years ago,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said with a chuckle, harkening back to a time before the Raptors became a perennial playoff team. “Some of you were saying different things.”
Few could have anticipated what this duo has become – currently the highest-scoring backcourt in the Eastern Conference. Lowry, who had floundered in Memphis and Houston before exploding in his second season as a Raptor two years ago, has flourished with DeRozan, the ninth overall draft pick out of USC in 2009 who has seen Toronto through lean days.
“A few guys have bailed [from Toronto]. He stuck with it,” Casey said. “He’s a loyal young man. He loves the city, loves the organization, and loves his teammates. I think this is a testament to that and a reward for that. And most of all a reward for how hard he’s worked, and those hot afternoons in Compton [Calif.] in his high school gym down there, working. It’s paying off.”
DeRozan is averaging more points a game than everyone in the Eastern Conference except Cleveland’s James (25) and Indiana’s George (23.9). The Raptors guard was last selected an all-star in the 2013-14 season, but a groin injury sidelined him for much of last year, hurting his chances of a nod.
The other Eastern Conference reserves joining DeRozan are Paul Millsap, Chris Bosh, Jimmy Butler, John Wall, Isaiah Thomas, and Andre Drummond. Coaches voted Draymond Green, Anthony Davis, Chris Paul, DeMarcus Cousins, Klay Thompson, James Harden and LaMarcus Aldridge as Western Conference reserves to join starters Stephen Curry, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard and Russell Westbrook.
Still the second-place team in the East, the Raptors improved to 31-15 with the win over a New York team sitting a couple of games out of a playoff spot (22-26) and missing Carmelo Anthony, Jose Calderon and Kristaps Porzingis.
The excitement about this streak is tempered a little by the fact that only three of the 10 wins came against teams sitting in playoff position. The schedule is about to get tougher.
Lowry started the game and had 26 points in 41 minutes, despite being listed as questionable since injuring his wrist late in Tuesday’s win over the Washington Wizards. The team said X-rays were negative.
Lowry was wrapping his left wrist in an ice pack any time he spent on the bench during Thursday’s game. DeRozan also scored 26 points.
The Raptors have one more game in this seven-game home-stand, a visit Saturday from the Detroit Pistons.
Toronto’s 10-game streak is the longest currently cooking in the NBA.Report Typo/Error