SPORTS

Raptors guard DeRozan says injury fully healed but he needs more practice time

01/07/2015 01:07 EST | Updated 03/09/2015 05:59 EDT
TORONTO - DeMar DeRozan has become a student of the game in his absence with a groin injury, soaking in lessons from the sidelines that he says will make him a better player.

The Toronto Raptors, however, will have to wait a little while longer to see the fruits of his labour.

The Raptors are playing it safe with DeRozan, who originally had hoped to play Thursday versus the visiting Charlotte Hornets, but said he is now targeting "some time next week" for his return.

"Just coming and practising the last couple of days, just getting back involved, letting my teammates know I'm back out there, I owe that to them not to just jump back in a game, I want to get a couple more practices in over these next couple of days, then come back," DeRozan said Wednesday.

DeRozan has been out of the lineup since he tore his groin tendon Nov. 28 against the Dallas Mavericks. He underwent more diagnostic tests on Tuesday and was cleared by doctors. He said he is pain free.

It hasn't been an easy six weeks for the Raptors all-star, who had missed just 11 games total over his previous five seasons in the NBA.

But the 25-year-old is always looking at ways to improve his game — including writing out his ABCs with his left hand last summer in an effort to improve his weaker hand.

"It's definitely been tough, but it's a new challenge for me," DeRozan said. "I've grown more mentally, when it comes to basketball, (than) if I hadn't been hurt. . . Just watching the game and really understanding the game from a different level, understanding the things that I could do out there on the court that could affect the game, other ways I could figure out how to be better on the court."

The Raptors (24-10) are third in the NBA's Eastern Conference behind first-place Atlanta and Chicago. In DeRozan's absence, they've plummetted from ninth place in the league defensively to 28th.

Coach Dwane Casey said he had hoped to see DeRozan back Thursday — "fingers crossed, toes crossed" — but agrees with the decision to play it safe.

"He looks good in practice, but just for his safety and his future health, and his career, we're going to be prudent as far as making sure we go at the right pace, bring him back at the right time, and it's the right thing to do," Casey said. "I know it kills him because he's champing at the bit, but I've seen so many players have this same injury in their career, and you think you're back, but if those fibres have not grown back and matured in the right way, the least little torque could pull it out and he's out the rest of the year. So we want to be smart."

DeRozan, who is averaging 19.4 points and 4.2 rebounds a game, rejoined practice last week, but said he would like about seven under his belt before stepping into a game.

"I think it's bigger than me," he said. "And, besides the last couple games the team lost, they've been playing well. They have their rhythm and like I said, I don't just want to hop back out there.

"There's a lot of new plays they put in that I've still got to get down pat — plays for (Terrence Ross), plays for Kyle (Lowry) . . . So I want to make sure I get all that down pat before I come back."

DeRozan had kind words for Lowry, who was named the Eastern Conference player of the month for December.

"He's been amazing, man, honestly," DeRozan said. "I can't even say words that can explain how he's been playing. He definitely took the team on his back."

DeRozan said it's been funny to watch Lowry running plays that would normally be his.

"He's playing my position, so next game, every play he runs is my play. . . Just tell him, stop running my plays," DeRozan said. "It kind of (makes) me happy though. . . but I tell them 'One thing y'all can't do is get to the free throw line.'"

The Raptors are averaging about seven fewer free throw attempts per game without DeRozan.

His value in getting to the free throw line is one of those lessons that he said has really sunk in, watching his team from the sidelines.

"Especially in late-game situations with the game going too fast, I understand you've got to get to the free throw line, slow down the momentum, try to switch the momentum to our end," DeRozan said.

DeRozan will rejoin the Raptors right before the balloting for the NBA all-star game concludes. He believes he and Lowry would have both been all-stars if not for his injury, but is certain Lowry will be named to the East team. Lowry was fourth among Eastern Conference guards on the most recent balloting.

"He's in there. If he don't get in there with votes, he'll get in there no matter what," DeRozan said, in reference to the fact coaches vote in the reserves. "He's been snubbed a couple of times in his career. I know he's in there so I don't need to send a vote or nothing. I know he's going to be in there."

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