You knew the smooth sailing for the Toronto Raptors could not last indefinitely.
Playing their best and most consistent basketball of the season over the past six weeks, the Raptors may have hit the proverbial bump in the road at practice yesterday, when DeMar DeRozan came up lame.
The prized rookie, who along with Chris Bosh are the only members of the NBA team to start all 45 of Toronto's regular-season games this year, injured his right ankle when he stepped on the foot of a teammate during a drill.
The 20-year-old shooting guard, an arm draped around the shoulder of head athletic trainer Scott McCullough, was in obvious discomfort as he was led from the team's third-floor practice facility at the Air Canada Centre about an hour before the conclusion of practice.
DeRozan was later examined by a member of the team's medical staff and his injury is being described as a right ankle sprain.
In hockey parlance, that would be a lower-body injury. DeRozan's status for tonight's key game at the ACC against the Miami Heat is uncertain.
"Just evaluate overnight and see how the treatments go," is how Raptors head coach Jay Triano responded when asked about DeRozan's condition.
With the Raptors going so well of late, having won two in a row and 12 of their past 17 to finally make their presence felt in the Eastern Conference, it would be a shame if DeRozan had to miss much time.
Toronto will need all its able bodies to be able to douse the Heat and Dwayne Wade, their sublime guard who enters the game as the NBA's fifth-leading scorer (27.1 points a game).
DeRozan, the Raptors first-round pick (ninth overall) in the 2009 NBA draft, has been a solid contributor in his first season, averaging 8.2 points and 2.9 rebounds.
"We're no stranger to injuries but hopefully it's something that's a little sore and will be better [today]" said Bosh, the Raptors' top producer.
It's been a tough week for DeRozan's ankles.
The athletic high-flier twisted his left ankle during last Sunday's inspirational 106-105 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers and had to sit out Monday's workout as a result.
"I told him, 'DeMar, the best thing is, you've got to look at things positive,'." Triano said. "If you're going to have two ankle sprains, you might as well have them at the same time, get them out of the way."
Just past the midway point of the regular season, tonight's encounter with the Heat can be legitimately classified as a crucial outing for the Raptors.
Toronto is 23-22 on the season and enters the game in sixth place in the Eastern Conference, only half a game behind the Heat, who are 23-21.
A victory will not only vault the Raptors into sole possession of fifth place, but would also give them a 2-1 edge in the season series against the Heat with one game still to be played in March.
A team that holds the edge in head-to-head play over the course of the regular season will be awarded the higher seed in the playoffs in the event of a tie in the standing.
Triano, letting his Canadian roots shine through, said the Raptors have to take advantage of these opportunities.
"As we say in Canada, or in hockey, it's one of those four-pointers," Triano said. "It's two you get and two they don't.
"So it's got a little bit more value maybe even than the Lakers game."
Bosh, who sits eighth in NBA scoring with an average of 23.9 points and seventh in rebounds with 11.1, said whenever Wade and Miami come to town you can expect an "intensive environment."
"We're playing well at home; Miami's playing well," he said. "Any time Dwayne Wade is here a lot of Dwayne fans come out.
"There's just a lot of hype behind the game."
The last time the two clubs met, on Dec. 15 in Miami, the Heat rolled to a 115-95 victory.
And it wasn't Wade who led the way but Michael Beasley, who tied his career-high with 28 points, an outburst that allowed Wade to cool his heels on the bench for the entire fourth quarter after potting 19.
Triano vowed that the Raptors will do a better job this time around.
"I think that he hadn't been playing well and kind of surprised us a little bit and kind of got it rolling," he said of Beasley's performance back in December. "But he's definitely playing better now and we've got to make sure that we're aware of where he is all the time.
"He's a guy who can score and rebound. Obviously, Dwayne is the focal point, but he's a very, very good second option for them."
NOTES The Toronto Raptors will be wearing their Toronto Huskies replica jerseys again tonight. The Raptors are 2-0 when sporting the blue-and-white uniforms of the former Basketball Association of America club. … An abysmal 18-23 (.439) at home in 2008-09, the Raptors are finally making the Air Canada Centre an inhospitable venue for visitors. Toronto has won 15 of its 21 games at home this season and is 9-1 over the past 10 home games dating to Dec. 13.
NEXT Wednesday, Miami Heat at ACC, 7 p.m. (EST)
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