Jerry Lara/San Antonio Express-News
By now – that is, twenty or so games into the NBA season – we have seen enough of Kawhi Leonard in Toronto to buy into what he is post-injury to the Raptors. With LeBron gone, and the Celtics’ offense sputtering to the shoulder of the Eastern Conference, the Raptors have seized an opportunity to claim their place as the toast of the town. Leonard and Kyle Lowry have jelled in marvelous fashion, despite the latter’s evident dismay at the departure of his running mate and best friend in the course of Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri doing business. So what of Lowry’s erstwhile backcourt partner?
With just under three and a half minutes remaining in a game in which his team was clinging to a one-point lead over the all-galaxy (but notably Steph Curry- and Draymond Green-less) Golden State Warriors, DeMar DeRozan did what he does best: he went and got two points, with the kind of inspiring ease that makes you laugh, grit your teeth and shake your head simultaneously.
In stretching the lead to three, DeRozan jump-started a seven-point run that gave his San Antonio Spurs just enough of a buffer to hold against the two-time defending NBA champions. He added a trio of free throws down the stretch before Patty Mills hit a clinching three-pointer, and San Antonio beat Golden State 104-92. In his fraught discomfort, away from the organization that drafted and fostered him, DeRozan has found something like peace.
The NBA announced its All-Star starters this week, with a certain pair of Spanish hermanos at the forefront. Interestingly but not surprisingly, Steph Curry beat out LeBron James and Anthony Davis as the highest vote-getter, and the Eastern Conference has an entirely new backcourt for the first time since 2000. Elsewhere, Kobe Bryant, destroyer of efficiency ratings, has become Kobe Bryant, destroyer of his own rotator cuff, and LaMarcus Aldridge’s injury has the Blazers reeling.
Let’s talk about the playoffs. LaMarcus Aldridge is staking his claim as the best power forward in the game. Blake Griffin, meanwhile, is shakily maintaining his throne after a disappointing first game against the Golden State Warriors. Chris Paul’s family lineage indicates a history of assistance, but the fourth quarter is when he takes it all upon himself. The Mavs are stressing out the usually unflappable Spurs, whose now 38-year-old anchor must take more responsibility. Wizards gonna Wiz, and Grizzlies gonna Grizz. The Hawks are up on the toast of the East, the Indiana Pacers, and their defensive master has more in common with Russell Stover than Bill Russell. The Thunder are not dominating as usual. Even the Bobcats are pushing the mighty Heat, with Al Jefferson trying to do his best Willis Reed impersonation. This is the first round of the NBA playoffs. Does it get any better than this?