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WASHINGTON - Fresh off his first All-Star Game appearance, DeMar DeRozan - heading into uncharted waters as the Raptors ready for a rare playoff push - addressed his teammates following Tuesday morning shoot around. "Each and every single game matters from here on out, especially if we want to do something special," he told them, as the third-seeded Raptors prepared to begin the unofficial second half of their season against the sixth place Washington Wizards. "We cant take [any] nights off," he stressed. "These 30 games are going to be big and weve got to start tonight." Message received, at least in the first of those final 30 games. It took just over four minutes for all five Raptors starters to get on the board. In the end, six players scored in double figures and the teams bench totaled 43 points on an impressive 18-for-26 shooting, as Toronto came away with a 103-93 win, its third in three games against the Wizards this season. "Thats whats great about our team, everybody understands their role and thats real big," said DeRozan, who had a quiet night by his recent standards, scoring 14 points. "We have anybody that can [step up], it can be anybody. If one guys not playing well, somebody else always picks it up." DeRozans uplifting words were not a surprise to Dwane Casey. The Raptors leading scorer had told his coach that he intended to make the speech on the flight to Washington the day prior. "[I] sat with him and talked about the second half of the season, what to expect, and he said he was going to do that," Casey said. "We talked [Monday] night as a team, talked about the next 30 games, what to expect as a team. Now weve got to follow it up with action. Every team coming out is going to be gunning for him - hes achieved All-Star status - and us as a team, were in the playoff hunt. So weve got to meet those expectations." As a team, the Raptors were expectedly rusty early on, specifically on defence. Washington scored 27 first-quarter points, shooting 57 per cent in the frame, while Wizards All-Star John Wall had 11, matching his game total from the Raptors last visit to Verizon Center, Torontos 101-88 win to begin the month of January. "Its always tough to find a rhythm when youre coming off the All-Star break," said Kyle Lowry, who vacationed in an undisclosed location this past weekend after being passed up for the All-Star Game. "Its always tough but we figured it out in the second half and third quarter, for me especially to get going a little bit." In a matchup between two of the best point guards in the Eastern Conference - arguably the two best - Lowry connected on just two of his eight first-half attempts, scoring six points as Wall exploded for 19, making nine of 12 shots. The Raptors lead guard came out of intermission looking like a man on a mission, scoring 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting in the third, draining long jumpers, getting into the paint at will and knocking down a series of tricky step backs. Lowry finished with a double-double, leading his team with 24 points and 10 assists and Wall was held to three points, without a single field goal, in the second half. "I was trying to attack a little bit more," Lowry, the scorned should-be-All-Star, said of his third-quarter clinic. "That first game out of the break is always tough and I didnt want to let that be an excuse for us to lose this game." "He took the game over in the third quarter and willed us to a win," Casey said of his point guard. "Just his aggressiveness. He attacked their feet, didnt settle for the three, got into the paint and kept attacking." The Raptors recorded 25 assists, 17 from their point guards - Lowry and Greivis Vasquez - and shot 57 per cent on the night, holding Washington, one of the better three-point shooting teams, to 4-of-15 from beyond the arch. Although it looked like it was going to be smooth sailing for Toronto in the third quarter, leading by as much as 20, things got interesting down the stretch when Washington turned up its defensive intensity and the Raptors quickly went ice cold. Toronto was held without a field goal in the final 7:35 of the game, as the Wizards cut their deficit to six down but were unable to get any closer. "We just turned the ball over way too many times against their pressure," Casey said after this team committed eight of their 15 miscues in the final frame. "Thats just from rust and time off, timing, speed of the game." The rest seemed to do wonders for the Raptors, winners of their last three games, specifically Amir Johnson, who has had over 10 days off after missing two contests with a sore right ankle. The Raptors forward made his return off the bench, scoring 14 points and grabbing five rebounds in a spirited 25 minutes of action. Patrick Patterson made his third straight start - scoring 10 points in 34 minutes - and should stick with the first unit for the time being as Johnson works his way back to full health, though Casey wouldnt commit to the lineup change. The Raptors will go for the four-game sweep of Washington when the Wizards visit Toronto next week. They are now four games ahead of the Wizards and a game and a half in front of the fourth-place Chicago Bulls, Torontos Wednesday opponent at the Air Canada Centre. "Thats a tough team," Lowry said of the Bulls, who will be well rested having arrived in Toronto Tuesday, getting the night off. "A different type of game tomorrow night. 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Off-Season Game Plan looks at the Capitals possible summer plans, with the understanding that its tough to plot a direction without a general manager or head coach around which to set those expectations.The Chicago Bulls will try to knot up their series with the Washington Wizards Tuesday night as the two sides meet again at the United Center. The Wizards upset the Bulls, 102-93, Sunday night in Chicago. "After yesterdays practice I knew these guys were focused like they havent been before and thats a good sign," said Wizards coach Randy Wittman. Nene scored 24 points and the Wizards had big contributions from all five starters in their first playoff game in six years. They overcame a 13-point deficit and claimed home-court advantage from their much more-experienced foes. "Its always a game of runs," said Wittman. "I always tell our guys, Stay in the moment. When we got down 13, we stayed in the moment." The Bulls remained in the lead following a 14-4 run in second quarter until Trevor Arizas free throws with 4:17 remaining put the Wizards in front. The shots were part of a 14-3 run that gave the Wizards an eight-point lead with 25 seconds left. Nene rattled in a shot during the spurt but the biggest points might have been Marcin Gortats baseline jumper after he rebounded a John Wall miss, pushing Washingtons lead to six with 34.2 seconds remaining. Gortat totaled 15 points and 13 rebounds, Ariza had 18 points, Wall scored 16 with six reebounds and six assists and Bradley Beal had 13 points and seven assists for fifth-seeded Washington.dddddddddddd The Wizards also got a huge boost from veteran Andre Miller. He scored 10 off the bench and played brilliantly in the fourth quarter. The fourth-seeded Bulls, in the playoffs for the second straight year without injured star Derrick Rose, were led by 16 points apiece from Kirk Hinrich and D.J. Augustin. Joakim Noah added 10 points and 10 rebounds and Jimmy Butler scored 15. "Our defense wasnt very good; 102 points, 48 percent (shooting), outrebounded. Its hard to win like that," said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. Maybe the Bulls can garner some momentum from Mondays announcement that Noah was named Defensive Player of the Year. "This award is a team award," he said after accepting the trophy. The Bulls led the NBA in opponents scoring and finished second in opponents field-goal percentage. The defense should improve, but the offense remains a concern for the Bulls. Chicago was held to 39 points in the second half, where a pure scorer, which the Bulls dont have, could take over a game. Chicago also shot 42 percent from the field and 25 percent from long range. Washington will host Game 3 on Friday night. ' ' '
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