Roberson, Thunder aim to slow Raptors

OKLAHOMA CITY — Thunder guard Andre Roberson did a solid job slowing down James Harden on Monday in Oklahoma City’s win over the Houston Rockets.

On Wednesday night, Roberson will draw another tough assignment when he will be asked to control Toronto Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan.

While Roberson has played high-level defense all season, his recent work on the other end is drawing the attention of Thunder coach Billy Donovan.

After a rough start this season on the offensive end, highlighted by stagnation and an overreliance on isolation plays with Thunder newcomer Carmelo Anthony, Oklahoma City took a step forward during its current five-game winning streak.

A part of that improvement was Anthony accepting his role as more of a catch-and-shoot player with Russell Westbrook handling the ball most often, but Roberson’s offensive development was a factor as well.

While Roberson still struggles at the free-throw line and won’t consistently take open shots from outside, he is still finding ways to make plays on offense.

“Instinctively, when you start to attack the basket, people are going to at least protect the rim,” Donovan said. “Somebody’s not gonna give him a layup. Now the next thing is that next pass, that next read. He’s done a really good job of that.”

In the Christmas win, Roberson locked in on Harden defensively on the last possession, not allowing a good look at a game-tying 3-pointer, then finished at the rim on the other end after Westbrook picked up a rebound and pushed the ball up the floor.

The Raptors, on the other hand, came up short at the end in their latest game. They had a six-game winning streak snapped Tuesday night with a loss at Dallas, yet they still arrive in Oklahoma City having won 12 of their past 14.

One of the biggest factors in the 98-93 defeat to the Mavericks was DeRozan’s struggles.

The All-NBA guard was just 3 of 16 from the floor for eight points. It was just the second time this season that DeRozan was held below 10 points. Over the previous six games, DeRozan averaged nearly 32 points.

The winning streak came to a disappointing end considering the Raptors were facing the team with the second-worst record in the NBA.

“We’re still on Christmas break,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “It’s on all of us. If we’re serious about competing for a championship, I don’t care who we play, we’ve got to come in here with the right approach.”

On the positive side, Toronto did get C.J. Miles back after the forward missed three games following a dental procedure. Miles scored three points in 10 minutes against the Mavericks, but he figures to get an increased workload quickly.

Casey wasn’t much in the mood for positivity after the loss on the first night of a back-to-back.

“It should,” Casey said when asked if the defeat could serve as a wake-up call for his team. “We have no right — no way should we ever look at a team’s record. If we don’t come out with a certain way, a certain style, offensively and defensively, move the ball, make our shots, it’s not like we’re going to come out and dominate anybody.”