NEW YORK—With Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan not around, a rookie was one of the most experienced players for the Toronto Raptors.
Norman Powell may be carrying a Disney “Princess” backpack as a first-year player’s initiation, but he’s got 24 starts in the NBA.
And he gave the Raptors all the leadership they needed last night.
Powell scored a career-high 30 points as the Raptors wrapped up the best regular season in franchise history by beating the Brooklyn Nets 103-96.
With the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference already secured, the Raptors didn’t even bring all-star guards Lowry and DeRozan, plus Jonas Valanciunas, James Johnson, and DeMarre Carroll, to the game.
So Bruno Caboclo, Lucas Nogueria, and Delon Wright all made their first starts, and quickly trailed 12-0 and 21-4.
“I was just trying to talk to them, help them out in a way I saw because I know how it feels to be getting that first start and being just thrown into the fire like that,” said Powell.
“So it was tough first couple of minutes, but [I] calmed everybody down and we just focused on making plays.”
The Raptors finished 56-26 after coming into the season as the only NBA team that never previously had won even 50.
They will open the post-season at home against the seventh-seeded Indiana Pacers this weekend, and coach Dwane Casey said the victory was important to keep the momentum going into it.
“You want to go in with positive vibe, with your defence playing a certain way, your offence playing a certain way,” he noted.
“You don’t want to go in the way we started the game, and so the positives always outweigh the negatives and winning is always a positive.”
Powell added nine rebounds and five assists while Terrence Ross had 24 points and 10 rebounds.
Wright scored 18 points.
Bojan Bogdanovic scored 29 points for the Nets, who lost their final 10 games to finish 21-61.
“Somebody’s got to lose. It just so happened to be us,” noted rookie Rondae Hollis-Jefferson said.
Powell responded from his scoreless first quarter by making all six shots, including four three-pointers, in a 16-point second.
The Raptors outscored the Nets 33-21 in the period and led 49-47 at halftime.
Toronto then pulled away in the third quarter and stymied a Nets’ rally in the fourth.
Casey predicted a tough series with the Pacers, saying “they spanked us really good at their place” and calling Monta Ellis a “human scoring machine.”
“So we have our work cut for us,” he warned.
“I think it’ll be an exciting series from both sides,” Casey added. “I think we’re prepared, they’re prepared, so it’s going to be an exciting series.”