ORLANDO, Fla. — Helping the Toronto Raptors make the playoffs for the first time since 2008 isn’t enough to satisfy guard DeMar DeRozan.
He already wants more.
DeRozan made his intentions clear Sunday night when he scored a game-high 28 points, leading the Raptors to a tougher-than-expected, 98-93 victory over the lowly Orlando Magic.
With the playoffs three weeks away and a Monday night game against the defending champions Miami Heat on the horizon, DeRozan refused to let the Raptors relax, imposing his will and making sure the winning would continue.
He made 15 of 16 free throws, and he challenged the Magic defense every time he touched the ball.
“We’ve come too far to take a step back now. We’re on a mission,” DeRozan said. “I’m thrilled to help this organization get back where it belongs — in the playoffs — but we haven’t accomplished anything yet. We’re going to keep driving because we’re not going to happy to just get in (the playoffs).”
The victory Sunday assured the Raptors (42-31) of their first winning season in seven years, and they maintained a 2 1/2-game lead over Brooklyn Nets in the Atlantic Division race. The Raptors, with their third consecutive victory, also won their 20th road game this season, matching the franchise record with four games remaining away from home.
Center Jonas Valanciunas had 20 points and nine rebounds for Toronto. Guard Kyle Lowry contributed 16 points, including nine in the decisive fourth quarter when the Magic made a run.
Center Nikola Vucevic led Orlando with 22 points and 10 rebounds. It was his third consecutive 20-point game. Reserve guard Victor Oladipo contributed 16 points, as did point guard Jameer Nelson.
Magic guard Arron Afflalo, who averages a team-high 19.1 points, didn’t score his first point until midway in the third quarter Sunday night. He finished with eight.
After trailing by as many as 21 points early in the second half, the Magic tied the game at 76 on a 3-pointer by Oladipo and tied it again at 80 on a basket by center Dewayne Dedmon. Orlando never led in the second half.
After the tie at 80, the Raptors went on a 11-2 run, which included seven points by Lowry. The Magic pulled within 96-93 with 8.9 seconds left and had possession, but they failed to inbound the ball before a five-second violation was called.
DeRozan hit two free throws with five seconds remaining to ice the victory. He also made a 3-point basket for a 96-88 lead with 1:03 remaining.
“That’s something we’ve got to learn, how to play with a lead, keep your foot on their neck and keep it down,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “We’re happy about the win, but we can’t be satisfied at the way we got it. The hardest thing to do in this league is play with a lead.”
The Raptors dominated early in the third quarter, but the Magic cut the deficit to seven later in the period. The Raptors led 73-64 going into the fourth.
“We still haven’t learned how to put away teams when we get them down,” DeRozan said. “We’re not satisfied where we’re at. We still haven’t done anything in this league. We haven’t been to the playoffs yet. We haven’t won a playoff game. I can’t wait.”
The Magic (21-53) erased a 16-point lead to beat the Charlotte Bobcats on Friday, but couldn’t finish their comeback Sunday. Oladipo sparked the late charge with 12 points in the fourth quarter.
“We’re kind of getting known for digging ourselves a hole early,” Oladipo said. “But we had confidence we could come back and make it a game. We just came up short.”
The Raptors scored 30 points in the second quarter to open a 57-38 lead at intermission. Valanciunas had 16 points by halftime in just 16 minutes. Vucevic had 18 points and six rebounds in the first two periods.
The Magic led 22-21 early, but the Raptors ended the first period with a 6-0 run and dominated the rest of the half. The Magic made only five of 18 shots in the second quarter and missed all seven of their 3-point shots in the first half.
Raptors reserve guard Greivis Vasquez needed five stitches to close a cut below his eye when he was hit in the face early in the game by Dedmon. He returned in the second half, and he finished with five points.
NOTES: The Raptors are headed to the playoffs, but coach Dwane Casey said Sunday there would be no move to reduce the amount of playing time for his starters in the rest of the regular season. “We’re still fighting for playoff position,” Casey said. … All-Star G DeMar DeRozan appeared Sunday in his 375th game for the Raptors since the team’s last playoff appearance. … Raptors reserve F Patrick Patterson is expected to play Monday in Miami after missing his 13th consecutive game Sunday with a right arm injury. … In both earlier meetings this season, the Magic lost by 15 points to the Raptors, shooting 41 percent and 33 percent from the field. … Toronto prevented the Magic from posting their third three-game winning streak of the season. … Despite averaging just 32.5 minutes per game, Magic PG Jameer Nelson came into the night eighth in the NBA in assists (6.9 per game). He had four assists Sunday in the first seven minutes, but he recorded just one more the rest of the game.
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