Kyle Lowry was well enough to play through a sore elbow, DeMarre Carroll announced that he is indeed planning a regular-season return and the Toronto Raptors hit the 50-win plateau for the first time in franchise history.
There was much to discuss on Wednesday night as the Raptors officially reached their best-ever regular-season record – 50-24 – with a 105-97 win over the Atlanta Hawks. Lowry had another poor shooting night – playing with an aggravated right elbow – but found other ways to lead. There was other team news coming off the court as well.
Carroll met reporters before Wednesday night's game, intent on setting the record straight: He does plan to play for the Raptors again before the regular season ends and to make an impact in the playoffs.
The Raptors' starting small forward has played only 23 games this season and hasn't been in the lineup since he had knee surgery back in early January. He hadn't spoken with media in months, had rarely been seen recently on game days or during practices, and the team was providing little information on his condition. There were recent varying reports speculating on his status, and he wanted to end the speculation.
"I hope to play a couple of games before the end of the season, that's the goal," Carroll said in the locker room before the game. "We're going to try to ramp it up a lot this week."
The Raptors signed Carroll in free agency to add much-needed defensive toughness. He had that in spades during last year's playoffs for the Atlanta Hawks, as they went all the way to the Eastern Conference finals.
Carroll was recovering well from January's arthroscopic surgery and had begun basketball-related activities. But he said that about three weeks ago, the knee began to swell, which concerned him. So he and Alex McKechnie, the Raptors' director of sports science, went to visit various knee specialists in the United States.
"I was playing one-on-one, then some four-on-four with some of the young guys. I played two sessions a day and after that second session, I got some swelling," Carroll said. "So I saw [more doctors] to make sure everything was under control. All of them gave the same reaction: It's good."
The Raptors, positioned second in the East, have eight games left in the regular season, which ends April 13. The team has precious little practice time remaining during that time, so Carroll said he will likely do much of his practice with some of the Raptors' younger developing players. He said he hasn't targeted any particular game for his return. He will make sure the knee is right first.
"When you play like a dog, you can't go out and be passive," Carroll said. "I don't want to be a poodle out there; I want to be a bulldog."
The Hawks visited Wednesday on a four-game win streak and sitting third in the East. Toronto was coming off a 119-100 crushing by the Oklahoma City Thunder two nights earlier.
Coach Dwane Casey gave Lowry the option to sit Wednesday's contest due to his sore right elbow, but the star point guard chose to play. He had fluid drained from it after Monday's loss to Oklahoma, which he said provided him a little relief, then he sat out Tuesday's practice. He wore a mini-sleeve on the elbow versus Atlanta.
Lowry had hit just 16 of 61 field goal attempts in his previous four games coming into Wednesday. He missed his first seven from the field versus the Hawks before draining two straight three-pointers late in the second quarter. He played 40 minutes and hit just 4-of-19 shots, but added 11 assists and six rebounds to his 17-point evening.
"One thing about Kyle – he's always going to figure out a way, no matter what," DeMar DeRozan said . "He could go 1-for-40 and it wouldn't seem like it because he does everything else."
DeRozan led the Raptors with 26 points while Jonas Valanciunas had 19. Terrence Ross, who missed the last game nursing a thumb injury, returned Wednesday and had 13. Luis Scola sat out the game with a sore left knee. Rookie Norman Powell continued to impress once again in his 16th start – 10 points, including a stunning cross-over dunk in transition.
The Raptors now head out on the road to face Memphis and San Antonio.
There wasn't much talk about the 50th win after the game as the team that was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs the last two years is squarely focused on much bigger improvements still ahead.
"We have the opportunity to build on this, and it says a lot, since we had a tough [finish] last year, and we want to come back and be a better team," DeRozan said. "To break franchise records [for wins] three years in a row, that means a lot to me."