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DeMarre Carroll returns to Raptors lineup Thursday after missing 41 games

DeMarre Carroll

DeMarre Carroll


This is excellent news for Toronto Raptors fans.

After missing 41 games following having his knee scoped in January, DeMarre Carroll is returning to the Toronto Raptors lineup Thursday.

While it will take a little while for Carroll to get back to form (there are four regular season games left), this is exactly what the Raptors needed heading into the playoffs. Carroll is expected to play 15 minutes Thursday.

Toronto’s weakness has been the four spot. The Raptors have started Luis Scola there most of the season, with Patrick Patterson playing behind him. If one of those guys were getting bench minutes as a backup it would be workable, but as starters they are a big hole in the lineup. One Carroll can fill if healthy and able to play a small-ball four. That’s a key reason the Raptors paid him $60 million this past offseason (four-year deal). Carroll is a “3&D” guy who can space the floor on offense and, when healthy, lock up the best wing defender on the other team. He was a force for the Hawks in last year’s playoffs.

The Raptors, even without Carroll, set a franchise record for wins with 52 — but that’s not how their season will be judged. This team hasn’t gotten out of the first round since the Vince Carter/purple jersey era, and fans expect at least that if not a trip to the conference finals.

If Carroll is right, the Raptors get closer to that goal. And if he’s all the way back — and the backcourt of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan is healthy and playing well — the conference finals against Cleveland (most likely) would be far more interesting.