TORONTO -- In the immediate moments after the Raptors 101-87 victory over Detroit on Wednesday, Toronto coach Dwane Casey sat down to watch the dying minutes of the Miami-Brooklyn game. Amir Johnson checked the result on his phone. With 20 games left on a thrilling season that sees Toronto poised for a playoff position for the first time in six years, the Raptors are excited, and thinking about little else. "Hell, yeah. Without a doubt, man," DeMar DeRozan said. "Thats why I work so hard, and it always bugged me going home early, and just sitting there doing nothing. It used to make me so hungry just watching." DeRozan poured in 25 points, while Johnson scored 20 and grabbed nine rebounds in a game that was no thriller but served its purpose -- one step closer to the teams second Atlantic Division title and its first playoff berth since 2008. The Nets, who edged Miami 96-95 on Wednesday, are three games behind Toronto for the division title. "Ive got a lot of friends that play in the playoffs and I had to hear all summer them talking about their experience in the playoffs. It always pushed me even further," DeRozan said. "You just want to get there. Not even for myself, just for this organization as well. It definitely feels good that were moving in the right direction now." Kyle Lowry had 19 points and six assists, while Jonas Valanciunas had 13 rebounds to go with eight points for the Raptors (36-27), whove won 10 of their last 13 games. The affair wasnt pretty. The Raptors coughed up double-digit leads a couple of times -- including an 18-point third-quarter advantage that the Pistons whittled down to just five -- in a game they could have put out of reach far earlier. The Raptors went into the fourth quarter with a narrow 74-69 lead in front of the 18,247 fans at the Air Canada Centre that braved the rare March snowstorm. They scored the first nine points of the fourth to go up by 14. A wide-open three by Kentavious Caldwell-Pope with 8:23 to go cut the Raptors lead to nine points, but that was as close as the struggling Pistons would come. Brandon Jennings topped Detroit (25-40) with 24 points, while Andre Drummond had 16 points and nine rebounds and Greg Monroe had 13 points to go with 10 boards. Ugly or not, the Raptors were happy to tick off another win. "Absolutely. Im ready," Johnson said, when asked if hes thinking post-season. "Were going to win as many games as we possibly can going down the home stretch, collect these wins." Casey said hes happy his players are enjoying their success, but warns that theyve got to focus on themselves down the stretch. "It is fun. But weve got to take care of our business. We can watch (what other teams are doing), but if we dont take care of our business, its not worth crap," the coach said. "Im more concerned with what we do, and how were playing, . . .and losing leads, moreso than anything else. "I hope (the Raptors) are enjoying it but still understand how hard it is, getting there first, and then after you get there, its even harder." DeRozan, whos in his fifth season in Toronto thus has never stepped on the court for a playoff game, said he has always forced himself to watch the post-season, regardless of how frustrating it was. "I had to, just to understand and see how it was," he said. "Youre playing the same team possibly seven times in a row. Seeing the different schemes. Just trying to get a knowledge of how its played every single day." He said hes particularly thrilled to be sharing this seasons success with Johnson, who last made the playoffs with Detroit in 2009. "Thats my dog, man. Its definitely cool," DeRozan said. "I knew Amir, and Amir knew me when I was running around with the same pair of dirty shoes on, playing basketball. Amir is a helluva dude, how hard he works, and how good of a person he is." Johnson was key Wednesday night in containing Detroits frontcourt -- what Casey had predicted would be a "huge test" for Toronto. The Pistons lead the league in points in the paint and offensive rebounds, thanks largely to Drummond. The Raptors were effective inside, outrebounding Detroit 54-39 and outscoring their visitors in the paint 44-38. Casey wasnt thrilled with the second unit, saying it was "playing in mud a little bit." "We needed to keep the pace going, I thought the pace slowed down," he said. "For whatever reason we got stagnant and lost a couple of leads and thats something we have to work on." The Raptors raced out to a nine-point lead four minutes into the game, stretching it to 14 on a pullup jumper by John Salmons before ending the first quarter up 29-21. The Raptors went almost five minutes without a point to open the second, and Bynum drained a three with 8:37 left in the half to tie the game 29-29. The Raptors managed to cobble together another 10-point lead and took a 52-45 advantage into the dressing room at halftime. A three-pointer by Lowry stretched Torontos lead to 18 points just four-and-a-half minutes into the third but the Raptors couldnt maintain it. The Pistons ended the quarter on a 14-2 run to send the game into the fourth with Toronto leading 74-69. NOTES: Patrick Patterson missed his third straight game with an elbow injury. . . The game was the first of three straight at home. The Raptors host the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday and the Phoenix Suns on Sunday before playing a pair on the road at Atlanta and New Orleans. . . The Raptors have won four of their last five against the Pistons. Timofey Mozgov Jersey
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. His Chicago Blackhawks teammates werent shocked when he found it. Kanes career has been defined by his brilliance in the Blackhawks biggest moments, and his tiebreaking goal with 3:45 to play in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals will rank among the best.Pittsburgh’s forward depth comes through, Callahan keeps producing, and backup goalies deliver shutouts. Lineup news, Fantasy tips and more in Scott Cullen’s Statistically Speaking. HEROES Blake Comeau – The Penguins winger had a hat trick in a 4-3 overtime win against Toronto. With eight goals in 20 games this season, he was one of the best bargain signings of the off-season, made all the more important by Pascal Dupuis absence from the lineup due to blood clots. Here are the highest scoring veteran forwards – minimum 200 GP and have been eligible for unrestricted free agency – with a cap hit of a million dollars or less this season: Bargain Shopping PLAYER TEAM POS GP G A PTS CAP HIT Blake Comeau Pittsburgh LW/RW 20 8 5 13 $700,000 Steve Downie Pittsburgh RW 21 3 7 10 $1,000,000 Derek Roy Nashville C 21 1 9 10 $1,000,000 Ryan Carter Minnesota C 20 2 7 9 $725,000 Lee Stempniak N.Y. Rangers RW 18 4 4 8 $900,000 Patrick Eaves Dallas RW 16 2 5 7 $650,000 Ryan Callahan – On a night that marked Martin St. Louis’ return to Tampa Bay, the player for whom he was traded scored two goals and added an assist in a 4-3 win for the Lightning. Playing with Steven Stamkos (who had a goal and two assists against the Rangers) seems to agree with Callahan, as he has 19 points (10 G, 9 A) in 18 games for the season to go with strong (56.5% Corsi) possession stats. Backups with Shutouts Martin Jones – The Kings’ second-stringer recorded a 28-save shutout in a 4-0 win at Minnesota. Through his first 25 career appearances, Jones has a .935 save percentage. Since the start of last season, that’s the best save percentage among goaltenders with at least 25 games played. Karri Ramo – Calgary’s backup stopped all 32 shots he faced in a 2-0 shutout win at San Jose, the first time this season that he’s allowed fewer than two goals against. ZEROES Mark Scheifele – The Jets centre had no shot attempts and 33.3% (7 shot attempts for, 14 against) possession in 18:43 at Buffalo and has two points (1 G, 1 A) in his past seven games. Troy Brouwer – The Capitals winger had no shot attempts and was buried in the defensive zone (4 shot attempts for, 21 against, 16.0%) in 17:38 against the Islanders. Red Light District Darcy Kuemper – Surrendered four goals on 10 shots and was pulled after the first period in a 4-0 loss to Los Angeles. Steve Mason – Two days after getting lauded for improved play in Philadelphia, Mason gave up three goals in 14 shots against Detroit. Easy come, easy go. LINEUP NEED TO KNOW Roberto Luongo – Florida’s ace puck-stopper suffered an upper-body injury and left after stopping all 11 shots he faced in Florida’s 1-0 win over Carolina. With Luongo sidelined, Al Montoya will get more starts and Dan Ellis has been called up from the AHL. Pavel Datsyuk – Returned to the Red Wings’ lineup and scored two goals in a 5-2 win over Philadelphia. Andrew Shaw – Was back in the Chicago lineup, and scored a goal, in a 3-2 win at Colorado. Karl Alzner – With Mike Green out with an upper-body injury, Alzner played 22:42 against the Islanders, his first timme over 22 minutes since the third game of the season.dddddddddddd Erik Johnson – The Colorado defenceman was out of the lineup after getting an elbow in the head the previous game. Karl Stollery was plugged into the Avalanche lineup with Johnson out. David Booth – The veteran winger played his first game of the season for the Maple Leafs, playing 9:33 at Pittsburgh. Luke Schenn – Was a healthy scratch for the Flyers at Detroit. He’s been averaging a career-low 16:21 per game this season, but has serviceable possession (49.0% Corsi) stats in that limited role. Michal Jordan – The 24-year-old has been putting in time in the AHL, and was called up after putting up seven points (2 G, 5 A) in 15 games this season. He was inserted into the Carolina lineup at Florida and played 14:59. SHORT SHIFTS Capitals LW Alex Ovechkin scored a pair of goals in a 3-2 loss to the Islanders…The league’s most efficient point producer at even-strength, Islanders RW Ryan Strome picked up a couple of assists in a 3-2 win over the Capitals…Maple Leafs LW Leo Komarov had a pair of goals in a 4-3 loss at Pittsburgh. Komarov has nine points (4 G, 5 A) in the past nine games…Penguins C Evgeni Malkin had a goal and two assists in Pittsburgh’s 4-3 win over Toronto…C Sidney Crosby and D Kris Letang each had a pair of assists…Flyers C Claude Giroux had a goal and an assist in a 5-2 loss at Detroit, giving him 13 points (5 G, 8 A) in the past 10 games. Rangers LW Rick Nash had a goal and an assist in a 4-3 loss at Tampa Bay; with 23 points (15 G, 8 A) in 21 games, he’s averaging a career-best 1.10 points per game…Red Wings LW Stephen Weiss picked up a goal and an assist in Detroit’s 5-2 win against Philadelphia, the second straight game in which he’s recorded two points, giving him four points in three games this season…Sharks D Brent Burns attempted 10 shots against Calgary and none made it on net. Nine were blocked and one missed the target…Kings RW Dustin Brown scored a goal and added an assist in a 4-0 win at Minnesota. He now has five points (2 G, 3 A) in the past five games, after scoring two points in the first 18 games of the season…Blackhawks RW Patrick Kane assisted on all three of Chicago’s goals in a 3-2 win at Colorado. Kane has 11 points (4 G, 7 A) in the past six games… Flames RW Jiri Hudler scored both of Calgary’s goals in a 2-0 win at San Jose, giving him 10 points (7 G, 3 A) in the past 10 games…Flames D T.J. Brodie assisted on both goals and now has 20 points (5 G, 15 A) in 24 games on the season, second only to defence partner Mark Giordano…Jets LW Andrew Ladd spent a lot of the night in Buffalo’s zone, with 16 shot attempts for and 4 against (80.0%)…Tampa Bay’s fourth line – Brenden Morrow, Brian Boyle and Cedric Paquette – were all on for better than 80% of even-strength shot attempts against the Rangers. Paquette (11 shot attempts for, 2 against) led the trio with 84.6%...N.Y. Rangers fourth line – Jesper Fast, Tanner Glass and Dominic Moore – were the mirror image, all under 20%, with Fast at the low end (1 shot attempt for, 11 against, 8.3%)…Sharks RW Matt Nieto has just one assist in the past 10 games, but had San Jose’s best possession stats (25 shot attempts for, 8 against, 75.8%) in San Jose’s 2-0 loss to Calgary. Much of the data included comes from www.war-on-ice.com
Scott Cullen can be reached at email@example.com
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