TORONTO - It was a career night for DeMar DeRozan.
But the Toronto Raptors guard was more focused on getting the victory and preparing for the post-season.
"I just wanted to go out there and win," DeRozan said after pouring in a career-best 42 points and adding 11 rebounds to match a career high as the Raptors defeated the Houston Rockets 99-96 on Monday. "We were just trying to go out there and be ourselves and use these next couple of games to get ourselves ready for the playoffs."
Toronto (44-30) clinched the Atlantic Division with a win over the lowly Los Angeles Lakers Friday night.
But DeRozan saw Monday's victory over the Rockets (50-24), Toronto's last game of the regular season against a team with a winning record, as a chance to show that the Raptors are rounding into form after struggling over the past couple of months.
It was the first time the Raptors, who have eight games remaining, have defeated an opponent with a winning record since Feb. 20 in Atlanta.
"I just try to tell the guys this is a critical moment where we can get some rhythm going," DeRozan said. "We've got to get back to us and how we were playing in the beginning of the season.
"We're playing for something bigger and that's getting in the playoffs and making something happen."
It was a great show by two superb shooting guards — DeRozan and Houston's MVP candidate, James Harden, who had 31 points to lead the Rockets. The two friends, who first played against each in grade school, guarded each other much of the night, leading the way as the game see-sawed back and forth.
In the end, DeRozan had the final four points of the night as the Raptors won their second straight.
DeRozan scored with 1:27 remaining to put the Raptors up for good at 97-96. He then missed two free throws that would have widened the lead but redeemed himself by backing down Harden and hitting an 18-footer with 18 seconds to go.
"He came up big. He stepped up," said Amir Johnson, who had eight points and 16 rebounds. "He's one of our leaders on the team and it was a career game for him.
"His shot was falling from everywhere and a big shot at the end. He closed the game for us."
Harden, who had five rebounds and five assists to go along with his team-leading 31 points, had no second thoughts about how he played DeRozan in the dying seconds.
"Tough shot. Contested shot," Harden said. "He had it going and when you have it going like that, shots are going to fall."
DeRozan, who was 14-for-27 from the field and 12-for-17 from the free-throw line, was one of three Raptors to score in double figures. Jonas Valanciunas had 15 points and nine rebounds and Lou Williams added 13 points and five assists as the Raptors played their third straight game without all-star point guard Kyle Lowry, who is out with back spasms.
"Guys dug in," said Toronto head coach Dwane Casey. "I thought DeMar did a magnificent job defensively against Harden and I thought the way he played defence set the tone for everyone else."
The Rockets were up by 11 with just over five minutes to go in the first half before DeRozan and Valanciunas combined to re-energize their team — and the crowd — late in the second quarter.
The pair scored Toronto's final 15 points of the half as the Raptors trimmed it 52-48 at the break.