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DeMar DeRozan passes into the key while being defended by Luke Babbitt on Friday. (Jon Blacker/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
DeMar DeRozan passes into the key while being defended by Luke Babbitt on Friday. (Jon Blacker/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

DeRozan, Ross lead Raptors to win over Heat Add to ...

Who cares if DeMar DeRozan is hoisting more shots than a Bay Street businessman during happy hour at the local watering hole?

Although it is still early in the NBA season, the Toronto Raptors are playing well and DeRozan appears intent on proving to his detractors – and they are out there – that he has to be included in any conversation regarding the league’s elite performers.

DeRozan entered Friday night’s game against the Miami Heat at the Air Canada Centre as the NBA’s leading scorer, averaging 36.3 points through Toronto’s first four games. He averaged 23.5 points last season.

He has tied a franchise record by scoring 30-plus points in each of those games, including two 40-point outbursts against Washington and Detroit.

To earn those gaudy totals, DeRozan has hoisted an average of 25.3 shots a game, ranking him No. 2 in the NBA, about a shot per game behind Russell Westbrook of Oklahoma City.

The 27-year-old shooting guard scoffed that he must already be getting arm weary putting up that many shots on a regular basis, suggesting he is like an electric car that never needs to fill up with fuel. “I’m like a Tesla,” DeRozan said.

After an uneven start on Friday night – for both DeRozan and Toronto – the Raptors eventually found their stride and wore down Miami for a 96-87 victory to improve to 4-1.

And DeRozan came through with a game-high 34 points, his fifth consecutive 30-plus outing to set a franchise record that he had shared with Mike James, on 14 of 26 shooting.

Not only that, DeRozan is the first player to start a season with five successive games with at least 30 points since Michael Jordan in 1986.

“Those are big names,” said Toronto coach Dwane Casey. “Those are names that are in the hall of fame.

“I think DeMar is still evolving, I don’t want to put that kind of pressure on him. I think he’s still evolving as a player with his three-ball and his ball handling and his defence. If you can call his name in that group of people, he’s doing something special.”

The game against the Heat was the first meeting between the two teams since the 2016 Eastern Conference best-of-seven semi-finals, which the Raptors won 4-3.

From Miami’s perspective, a lot has changed since then.

Chris Bosh, the former Raptor, is not playing with the Heat – and probably won’t play again – battling a health issue.

And, more jarringly, perennial all-star Dwyane Wade is no longer patrolling the backcourt after 13 seasons, bolting to his hometown Chicago Bulls as a free agent during the off-season.

DeRozan, for one, said it will be strange playing a Miami unit without Wade’s omnipresence on the floor.

“It’s up there, it’s up there high,” DeRozan said, attempting to rank the moment on his weirdness scale.

In the absence of Wade, eighth-year pro Goran Dragic has stepped in nicely to pick up the pieces, carting an average of 20 points, seven assists and 5.3 rebounds while playing starter’s minutes for Miami heading into Friday’s game.

A two-time all-star, DeRozan was a key component of Toronto’s alluring run into the Eastern Conference final last season. In the off-season, he was a member of the U.S. Olympic squad that captured the gold medal in Rio, an experience he obviously came out of toting a ton of confidence.

Still, not everybody remains impressed with his basketball-playing acumen.

Sports Illustrated, for one, provided the biggest slap, pegging DeRozan at No. 46 in their preseason ranking of the top 100 players in the NBA.

Casey said that to him DeRozan is playing the same way he did last season, only better. The mid-range shots that often missed the mark last season are starting to fall with more regularity.

“Now he’s making those same shots and he’s playing with a tremendous amount of confidence, mixing it up with getting it to the basket,” Casey said. “In the post-up game, in the pick-and-roll game, he’s doing the same things. But he’s just far more efficient in what he’s doing than he was in the past.”

DeRozan did not have a good start, committing four turnovers in the opening quarter where the Heat opened up a 27-25 advantage after leading by as many as 12.

Terrence Ross played a big role in reducing that margin, coming off the bench and scoring eight points over the final two minutes of the frame. Ross finished with a season high 20 points.

In the second quarter Toronto continued its surge with Ross connecting on a no-look shot over his shoulder from the paint while being fouled. Ross made his freebie and the score was knotted at 32-32.

The Raptors led 52-46 at the half.

Despite leading by as many as 16 points in the third quarter, the Heat finished with a flourish to cut Toronto’s lead to 75-72 heading into the fourth.

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