After going more than a month without a win against a team over .500, the Toronto Raptors desperately needed to prove to themselves that they could still compete with the league’s best.

DeMar DeRozan helped them do exactly that.

Toronto’s shooting guard posted a career-high 42 points and 11 rebounds as the Raps knocked off the visiting Houston Rockets by a final score of 99-96 on Monday.

Going without Kyle Lowry and getting double-figure scoring from just two other players (Jonas Valanciunas and Louis Williams had 15 and 13 points, respectively), Toronto leaned heavily on DeRozan. In addition to taking 27 shots and getting to the foul line 17 times, he also had to tangle with scoring dynamo and MVP candidate James Harden.

The Beard got his 31 points, but DeRozan made him work for them.

Raptors head coach Dwane Casey was duly impressed, according to James Herbert of CBSSports.com:

The win was huge for the Raps, but any honest assessment of the result has to acknowledge that there were nearly as many caveats as DeRozan had points.

Houston was playing its second game in as many nights, and Dwight Howard spent the evening on the bench resting. Starting point guard Patrick Beverley didn’t play either; he’s out for the season with wrist surgery.

Neither Terrence Jones nor Donatas Motiejunas suited up, which meant rookie Clint Capela, who had never scored a single NBA point, logged 19 minutes as the Rockets’ only backup big man. It’s safe to say the Raptors didn’t realize the scouting report on him was “he dunks a lot.”

To repeat, though, Lowry didn’t play, either. So it’s not like the Raptors took advantage of a vulnerable opponent with their full arsenal. Realistically, Toronto isn’t going to make playoff noise unless Lowry gets right.

And according to Casey, per Josh Lewenberg of TSN, the signs aren’t encouraging on that front:

The Raps didn’t solve the issues that have hampered them in recent months with this win, but they made the kind of symbolic progress that can galvanize a team going forward. That’s no small thing, as Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun observed:

The most encouraging aspect of the Raptors’ modest breakthrough is that the driving force behind it—DeRozan—has been building toward a performance like this for a while, per Lewenberg:

More good news: Toronto won’t see another winning team until the postseason.

DeRozan doesn’t make the Raps into world-beaters, but he can help them return to respectability. He proved that on Monday.

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