The offseason chatter was that 32-year-old DeMar DeRozan was on the downside of his career, and that he was no longer a player who could play a leading role.
Apparently, nobody alerted DeRozan to his downgraded status.
The veteran DeRozan has been one of the best players in the NBA so far this season and has energized the Chicago Bulls to a strong start entering their road matchup Wednesday night in Portland.
DeRozan ranks third in the NBA with a 26.9 scoring average and the Bulls are a surprisingly good 10-4 as they face the Trail Blazers.
Chicago is 2-1 on a five-game road trip that includes wins on back-to-back nights in Los Angeles. DeRozan scored 35 points in Sunday’s 100-90 victory over the Clippers and had a season-best 38 in Monday’s 121-103 blowout of the Lakers.
DeRozan knocked down 27 of 39 shots (69.2 percent) in the two games, and has topped 30 points in five of the past nine.
“I think (DeMar) is playing with a chip on his shoulder,” said point guard Lonzo Ball, also in his first season with the Bulls. “I think a lot of people were counting him out, saying he was on the back end of his career. This is probably one of the best years he’s had in the NBA and we’re just happy to have him on the team.
“He got lost in the shuffle in San Antonio (the last three seasons). But he’s one of the best players in this game and I think he’s going out and proving it every night.”
DeRozan was a four-time All-Star in nine seasons in Toronto prior to his time with the Spurs, where he averaged 21.6 points last season. He sports a 20.3 career scoring average and has always had the reputation of a high-level team player.
But the offseason was cool in terms of interest with the hometown Lakers not all that sold on adding another 32-year-old body. So DeRozan eventually was sent to the Bulls in a sign-and-trade deal in which he received a three-year, $85 million deal.
“People saying I was washed up for the last few years, the narrative won’t fit,” DeRozan told reporters after the win over the Lakers. “I can find all types of chips I use as motivation.
“I can go down the list, being counted out, being looked over, so many chips on my shoulder that I carry. Just want to be a winner and just want to enjoy this ride.”
DeRozan will look to help the Bulls find some rare success against the Trail Blazers. Chicago has lost eight of the past nine meetings.
Portland also is playing well at home, where the Blazers have won six in a row and are entering the second contest of a four-game homestand after notching a 118-113 win over the Toronto Raptors on Monday.
“I think we need every home game considering how bad we’re playing on the road,” Portland guard CJ McCollum told reporters, alluding to their 1-7 road mark. “You just got to have a sense of urgency, especially at home.
“You don’t get these games back and you’re going to wish you got them later on in the season.”
McCollum scored 29 points against Toronto for his 10th 20-point outing of the season. He averages a team-best 21.3 points per game.
Star guard Damian Lillard recorded 24 points and eight assists as he continues to round into form. Lillard has scored 20 or more points in nine of his last 11 appearances, but his 20.3 average and 38.7 field-goal percentage are well below career norms.
Lillard is among the players perplexed over the difference in performance at home and on the road.
“When we play at home, it’s a different team than when we play on the road,” Lillard said. “That’s just the truth. And I’m not sure what it is.
“I think when you’re at home there’s just a level of comfort and support that you feel from the fans. But at the same time, we’re NBA players. We play on the road a lot.”