SPORTS

Bargnani scores 31, DeRozan adds 25 as Raptors beat Cavaliers 92-77

01/04/2012 09:30 EST | Updated 03/05/2012 05:12 EST
TORONTO - Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey isn't convinced that his team is a playoff contender yet, but he doesn't think they would look out of place in the post-season.

"We're playing playoff style basketball," said the first-year coach after the Raptors defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers 92-77 on Wednesday for their second win in a row. "Whether we're a playoff team or not, I venture to say we're not right now.

"But we're playing the style of defence that it takes to play in the playoffs."

The Raptors (3-3) showed their defensive toughness by holding Cleveland to just under 30 per cent shooting from the field while shooting nearly 47 per cent themselves. It all added up to Toronto's second victory this season over the Cavaliers (3-3).

Strong defence is the style that Casey is trying to instil in the team in what he calls a culture change for the club.

"Believe me, we're nowhere near where we need to be," he said. "Defensively we're making strides. We're thinking defensively and thinking in terms of getting stops, which is a part of the culture change."

Casey also feels there is work to be done offensively. "We need to clean up some things, timing, spacing, cut down on turnovers, which we did tonight (11)," he said.

It helps when Andrea Bargnani plays the way he has been, leading all scorers with 31 points on 11-for-16 shooting while grabbing seven rebounds.

It also doesn't hurt when DeMar DeRozan scores 25 points on 9-for-18 shooting that included five three-pointers, a skill that he has developed this season after hitting five all last season.

"It's showing me that my hard work is paying off," DeRozan said.

When DeRozan makes threes, it opens up space for other players on the court.

"That's the one thing the team and I wanted to accomplish coming in this season, being able to do that, not just for myself but for my teammates so we can get easy buckets," DeRozan said.

Then there was Jose Calderon running the team, dishing out 11 assists to go with 13 points.

"He's much better than people give him credit for," Casey said of his point guard. "Solid play, running the team, shooting the basketball. He's one of our best three-point shooters.

"He and Andrea have thing going on with their pick and rolls."

Antawn Jamison led Cleveland with 19 points with Kyrie Irving adding 12 and Omri Casspi scoring 10. Anderson Varejao led all rebounders with 13.

The game was an underwhelming homecoming for Cleveland rookie forward Tristan Thompson, a native of Brampton, Ont., who scored one point in just under 17 minutes and was 0 for 5 from the field.

The Cavaliers took Thompson with the fourth pick overall in the first round in the 2011 draft. He is the highest picked Canadian in the modern history of the NBA draft.

"I thought he didn't play well at all," Cleveland's head coach Byron Scott said. "But he isn't the only one. We had a bunch of guys that just didn't play well tonight."

Thompson, 20, entered the game with 1:09 left in the first quarter and received a round of applause. He left 26 tickets for friends and family and figured that he had a contingent of about 200 supporters cheering for him.

"Coach Scott is honest and he's played this game," Thompson said. "And he knows what me and Kyrie are capable of so him saying that we didn't play well is the truth, we didn't play well. Coach is great, him getting on me that is what I like. I like a coach that wants to push me to my limit. That is good."

Scott gave credit to the Raptors defence but felt his team was off after playing two nights in a row.

"I think it was a combination of both," Scott said. "I give them a lot of credit for the way they were scrambling and playing defence. We seemed a step slow tonight on both ends of the floor and I don't know if that was because of our first back-to-back game."

Bargnani had 21 points in the second half, 11 in the third quarter.

"It felt good in the second half, obviously," Bargnani said. "I think we played great defence. That is what we're working for here, very good defence."

The Raptors took a 15-point lead into the fourth quarter but learned in games earlier this season that a big lead was no guarantee of a win.

The Cavaliers scored the first five points of the fourth but Leandro Barbosa responded by hitting a 34-footer for three points that brought a gasp from the crowd.

The Raptors beat the Cavs 104-96 in the opening game of the season for both teams on Dec. 26 in Cleveland. But Cleveland won three of their next four games before Wednesday's game while Toronto lost three in a row before beating the New York Knicks 90-85 on Monday.

Notes: Attendance at Air Canada Centre was 14,468. ...The Raptors assigned centre Solomon Alabi to Bakersfield of the NBA Development League on Wednesday. ...Cleveland's 19-year-old rookie guard Irving was announced Wednesday as one of three Cavaliers placed on the ballot for voting for the NBA all-star game with veterans Jamison and Varejao. ... Calderon, Bargnani and DeRozan were the Toronto players put on the ballot. ...Forward Samardo Samuels was not with the Cavs because of problems with his visa and passport. ...Cleveland assigned forward Christian Eyenga to the NBA Development League.

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