Game Preview: Raptors at 76ers

Holly MacKenzie - Raptors.com

Fresh off a 119-109 victory against the Brooklyn Nets, the Raptors are in Philadelphia to take on the 76ers in a back-to-back. It will be the third meeting between the two teams this season with the Raptors winning each of the previous two contests.

Tip-off: 7:00 P.M. ET

Broadcast Info: TSN1, TSN4, TSN5 / TSN1050

TALKING POINTS

DeRozan continuing to shine

With Kyle Lowry resting against the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday night, DeMar DeRozan knew he’d have to shoulder a bigger load. He did so effortlessly, scoring 36 points to go with a team-high 11 rebounds and six assists in 37 minutes. Reading what the team needs from him and then providing it is nothing new for DeRozan this season.

On Monday afternoon, the NBA announced that DeRozan was the Eastern Conference Player of the Week for games played Jan. 9 through Jan. 15. DeRozan helped Toronto to a 3-0 week with averages of 30.7 points and 7.3 rebounds. He shot 52 percent from the floor and had a season-high 41 points and 13 rebounds in an important victory against the Boston Celtics. It was his third 40-point game of the season.

Although DeRozan had a tough shooting stretch in the first half against the Nets, he turned it on in the second when he scored 20 of his 36 points on 10-for-14 field goals. After the game he was asked about the difference in his performance after halftime.

“I just kept playing the same way,” DeRozan said. “You know, getting good looks and just going out there and I know it’s going to come, it’s just more so being patient, not really worrying about the misses. Just trying to be more aggressive, try to get rebounds, try to get easier stuff for me on transitions for me and my teammates.”

Playing with expectation

With winning comes expectation and with expectation can come pressure. After making it to the Eastern Conference Finals and losing to the Cleveland Cavaliers in six games a season ago, the Raptors are aware of heightened expectations this time around. Head coach Dwane Casey is hoping his team doesn’t feel pressure while continuing to instill the habits necessary to continue to improve.

Prior to Toronto’s victory in Brooklyn on Tuesday night, Casey was asked about the difference in expectation now that his team has had a taste of postseason success.

“People expect us to win now,” Casey said. “Fans expect us to win now, sometimes, not really understanding how hard it is to win in this league no matter who you are. Something we’re learning to do now is win when you’re expected to, the expectation level. We’re not just in this to win, we’re in it to build winning habits nightly. Being a young team, that’s something we preach. Everybody thinks I'm negative Nelly, but I understand what has to be each and every night to build those habits to get to where we want to go.

“We’re not there yet,” he continued. “That’s the difference between expecting to win and winning. It’s a challenge for us to still build those habits, build a style of play and do it yeah night to win with the expectations that people think it should be automatic that you go out and beat a team.”

Raptors benefit from Carroll playing free

While Cory Joseph scored a career-high 33 points and played the part of hero in Kyle Lowry’s absence during Toronto’s 119-109 victory against the Brooklyn Nets, DeMarre Carroll quietly pieced together another solid effort for the Raptors. Carroll played 26 minutes against the Nets, scoring nine points to go with three rebounds, an assist and two steals.

Since being cleared to play back-to-backs in the new year, Carroll has started looking more like himself on both ends of the floor. As his health has improved, so has his game, and for the first time this season, he’s getting to a point where he’s able to think about basketball first and foremost.

“The biggest thing [is], waking up knowing you can just focus on your game,” Carroll said. “You don't really have to worry about your knee, worry about what’s going on with your knee. I feel like that’s why I'm playing better and playing at a higher level now because I’m just focusing on basketball.”

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