If the Toronto Raptors hope to head into this season riding the momentum built during last season's playoff run, it appears DeRozan already is.
The Raptors all-star scored 21 points in 21 minutes to lead the Raptors to a 99-94 victory over the Sacramento Kings in their pre-season opener as the NBA returned to Vancouver for one day.
"Efficient," said Raptors coach Dwane Casey. "He's smart, under control, he really did a good job just being efficient with his play."
DeRozan, who spent a good chunk of his summer helping the United States to gold at the FIBA World Cup, wasn't quite as kind in his self-assessment.
"I felt rusty, man," said DeRozan — although there was no discernable rust.
"I've been playing different type of international rules for a month and a half. . . A lot of my moves that I usually do, especially now that I added so many counters to a lot of the moves that I did, I was second-guessing," he explained. "It probably didn't look like it, but I was out there second-guessing a lot of things, I could have made it a little bit easier.
"It's something I'll get more comfortable with as I continue playing."
Jonas Valanciunas and newcomer Lou Williams, a nine-year veteran acquired by Toronto in June, added 12 points apiece. Terrence Ross and Tyler Hansbrough finished with 11 points each in front of a sellout Rogers Arena crowd of 18,630 that included former Canucks star Trevor Linden and B.C. premier Christy Clark.
Ramon Sessions led the Kings with 14 points, while DeMarcus Cousins and Darren Collison had 13 points each, and Canadian Nik Stauskas had 12 in his NBA debut.
The Raptors trailed the Kings 75-68 heading into the fourth quarter, but an unlikely three-pointer by Tyler Hansbrough — that brought the Toronto players off the bench in celebration —— tied the game 75-75.
"He been working on it," DeRozan said of Hansbrough's three. "I called him (former Raptors three-point specialist) Steve Novak the other day."
"We really value the corner three," Hansbrough explained of his decision to add the long-range shot to his game. "To be honest with you, it was a long process, especially for a guy who didn't shoot threes. I'm definitely not a three-point shooter. I worked with a shooting coach (Mike Hollis in North Carolina) all summer. It was almost like we kind of changed a lot of what I was doing. A lot of it is just having the confidence to be able to do it."
Hansbrough connected on a pair of free throws with 1:40 to play to put Toronto up by one, then Williams converted a three-point play and Toronto led by four with just over a minute to go, as the Raptors romped to victory.
The Raptors went a franchise-best 48-34 and made their first post-season appearance in six seasons. Their thrilling series against the Brooklyn Nets ended in a heartbreak — a one-point loss in Game 7.
The Raptors hope to go into this season riding the wave of momentum established last season, and coach Casey said the goal Sunday was to establish a habit of playing hard, especially on the defensive end.
"Whether we win lose or draw is not important in these types of games," Casey said. "What is important is our defensive approach and I thought we didn't come out in the third quarter with our starters with that defensive intensity, that zeal that you have to have."
The Kings outrebounded the Raptors 45-30, with former Raptor Reggie Evans leading the way with 13.
The Raptors are trying to firmly entrench the squad as Canada's team, and there was a real sense the team was in town this week with Raptors billboards overlooking downtown Vancouver streets and ads playing on TV screens.
"We The North" T-shirts and flags dotted Rogers Arena — normally home to the Vancouver Canucks — along with numerous teal Vancouver Grizzlies jerseys from the city's old team that moved to Memphis in 2001.
"It was amazing," DeRozan said. "I was on the bench with Amir (Johnson) and Amir said 'This is crazy, it sounds like a playoff game,' and it really did. The energy in here tonight for a pre-season game was definitely amazing, and we are very appreciative of it because we are Canada's team. To come to the other side of Canada and get this kind of reception is amazing."
One row of fans held a big "Vancouver Wants NBA" banner.
The game marked a decent debut for Stauskas. The 20-year-old shooting guard from Mississauga, Ont., picked No. 8 by the Kings in last summer's NBA draft, played 26 minutes, connecting on his first shot attempt, a three-pointer.
Sim Bhullar, a seven-foot-five centre from Toronto, is in camp with the Kings, becoming the first player of Indian descent to sign an NBA contract. Bhullar subbed in for the final 19 seconds of the game.
The game capped the Raptors' west coast training camp. The team had spent the better part of the week training at Fortius Sport & Health in Burnaby, B.C.
Casey went with last year's starters — Lowry, Ross, DeRozan, Amir Johnson and Valanciunas — and the Raptors led 20-17 to end the first quarter.
Ross came off the bench to score eight points in the second — treating the crowd to a thunderous dunk — and the Raptors took a 47-42 into the halftime break.
Raptors rookies Bruno Caboclo, picked 20th overall in the draft last June, and Lucas Nogueira, didn't play.
They'll head to Sacramento to face the Kings again on Tuesday. They host the Boston Celtics at the Air Canada Centre on Friday. They'll host Atlanta in their regular-season opener on Oct. 29.Suggest a correction