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Raptors, DeRozan hope to push past Nets

On May 4, 2014, Raptors guard Kyle Lowry drove the lane with the backing of a raucous crowd in Toronto only to have his shot blocked by Paul Pierce. The play ended Game 7 of an exciting first-round series with the Brooklyn Nets advancing with a 104-103 win.

Since Lowry and the Raptors experienced the disappointment of getting a shot blocked in a playoff elimination game, the fortunes of both teams have been drastically different.

The evidence of how different things have gone for both teams since their postseason series will be on display when the Toronto Raptors host the league-worst Nets Friday night.

The Raptors won the Atlantic Division in 2013-14 to get homecourt advantage against the Nets. The Raptors then won the last two division titles and are vying for another division crown while fending off the Boston Celtics.

In the regular season, Toronto is 130-72 since Pierce's block while the Nets are 67-135.

Besides Lowry, four other players remain from that series for Toronto, including DeMar DeRozan. DeRozan is averaging a career-best 28.2 points and 5.4 rebounds per game. He also is shooting 47.4 percent this season, the second-highest mark of his eight-year career.

DeRozan's latest big game occurred Tuesday night in a 114-106 home win over the Boston Celtics. Besides scoring a season-high 41 points on 16-of-29 shooting, DeRozan grabbed a career-high 13 rebounds.

It was DeRozan's 11th career double-digit rebounding game and the significance of that was not lost on coach Dwane Casey, who played Patrick Patterson 21 minutes after the forward missed four games with a strained left knee.

The Raptors average 42.7 rebounds per game and are near the bottom of the league with 31.6 defensive rebounds per game. Tuesday was the sixth time Toronto finished with at least 50 boards and that included Jonas Valanciunas getting a career-high 23 rebounds.

"More than anything else, the 41 points is nice, but 13 rebounds, the 11 defensive rebounds when we needed it with Pat not being 100 percent and (Boston) putting two guys on JV trying to keep him out.

"DeMar came in and got some big rebounds, tough rebounds so that was impressive. That was more of a sign of grit and grind as much as the 41 points."

Toronto is 5-5 in its last 10 games since getting a 116-104 win over Brooklyn on Dec. 20. The Raptors won their next two after beating the Nets but dropped five of seven before Tuesday.

Friday will begin four straight games against sub-.500 teams, and 12 of Toronto's next 20 games through the All-Star break will be against teams at or under .500.

Brooklyn takes a 15-game road losing streak into Friday and is 1-17 overall on the road. The Nets' lone road win was Nov. 12 in Phoenix, and since then the average margin of defeat away from home is 13.2 points.

Brook Lopez is the lone holdover for the Nets from the classic series but seems to get his name mentioned in trade rumors annually.

Lopez scored 20 points but also committed six turnovers in a 104-95 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans Thursday. Brooklyn often struggles in the third quarter, but Thursday it was the fourth quarter that resulted in a season-high eighth straight loss.

The Nets held a six-point lead through three but shot 6 of 18 and committed seven of their 16 turnovers in the fourth.

"We really struggled to score the ball," Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said. "We had a few turnovers and just didn't make the plays."

"We just turn the ball over," Lopez said. "It's kind of the story. That's really it. You got to do a better job taking care of it, myself first and foremost."

Toronto is on a five-game winning streak over the Nets and its next win matches its longest winning streak in the series. The Raptors won six straight over the Nets from Jan. 28, 2009, to Dec. 17, 2010.

In the most recent meeting, the Raptors picked up a 116-104 home win on Dec. 20. Lowry scored 23 points and Norman Powell's 21 points compensated for DeRozan shooting 6 of 20.
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