Raptors 96, Cavaliers 88
Nobody can explain it. DeMar DeRozan, though, has a theory.
''LeBron ain't here,'' the Raptors guard joked.
Jerryd Bayless scored 20 points, Andrea Bargnani added 19 and Toronto slowed Cleveland's unexpected playoff push with a 96-88 victory Tuesday night, the Raptors' third win in three tries against the Cavaliers this season.
Bayless, starting in place of injured point guard Jose Calderon, added seven assists and helped contain rookie Kyrie Irving in 37 minutes while leading the Raptors to just their 14th win.
Leandro Barbosa added 17 points as Toronto won for only the fifth time in 14 games.
The Cavaliers had their winning streak stopped at three and blew a chance to move into a virtual tie with idle New York and Milwaukee for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Antawn Jamison, who has been mentioned in trade rumors all season, led the Cavs with 20 points. Irving scored 14 and Alonzo Gee 16.
Jamison can't understand why the Raptors have been such an unsolvable riddle this season.
''Man, I don't know,'' Jamison said. ''I'm so frustrated right now. I can't put my finger on it.''
The Cavs were still within six points in the final minute when the mobile 7-foot Bargnani, who has been a matchup nightmare for Cleveland in the past, rebounded his own miss and dunked to close the scoring.
Toronto has had a disappointing season - except against Cleveland.
''I have no answers,'' Cavs coach Byron Scott said. ''Certain teams just have your number. I guess they have our number.''
Bayless' 3-pointer and two free throws gave the Raptors an 88-75 lead with 6:02 remaining. The Cavs kept plugging away and got within six on Gee's 3-pointer. But on Toronto's next possession, Bayless was unable to get Irving to leave his feet with several ball fakes before burying a stone-cold jumper to make it 90-82.
The Cavs were still within 94-88 when Bargnani missed his shot, grabbed his rebound with one hand in the lane and slammed it home to end Cleveland's night.
For good measure, Toronto's Amir Johnson rejected Irving's 3-point try at the horn.
Irving was unable to conjure up some of the fourth-quarter magic he has shown recently, and with Bayless guarding him most of the game, the talented 19-year-old finished just 5 of 17 from the floor. In three games against Toronto, the likely NBA Rookie of the Year went 10 of 42. Irving did add seven rebounds and seven assists.
''Layups that I normally make weren't falling,'' said Irving, who refused to credit Toronto's defense for his misses. ''It wasn't anything they were doing defensively. It was just me not hitting shots.''
Raptors coach Dwayne Casey came in fearing Irving would be able to solve his team's defense.
''He was my biggest nightmare,'' Casey said. ''I woke up last night thinking about him going to the basket. He's going to be one of the bright young players in the league. Jerryd did a good job containing him.''
After containing him, Bayless did allow Irving some high praise.
''I can't say enough about him,'' Bayless said. ''I'm sure sooner or later he'll have a good game against us. We're trying to stay in front of him and make him take tough shots.''
Cleveland's recent surge, coupled with a slide by the Knicks, has pushed the Cavaliers into the playoff race, a place they never dreamed of being just a few weeks ago.
It's put the Cavs in a tricky spot. With the NBA's trading deadline at 3 p.m. on Thursday, they have to decide whether to keep this team together or plan for the future.
Jamison and backup point guard Ramon Sessions have been involved in trade rumors for months.
Scott would prefer to keep this squad intact, but understands the league's business side.
''I like this team,'' Scott said. ''I like the guys we have. The guys who have been rumored to be going from here to there, I love the way these guys have been able to play with this team and what they give to this organization, but I've been in this league long enough to understand things might happen.
''For me, I'm good either way it goes because I know anything we're going to do will be for the betterment of this organization.''
For now, what's best is to avoid the Raptors.
Like everyone else, Casey is mystified by his team's stranglehold over the Cavs.
''I don't know,'' Casey said. ''They just went out West and beat Denver and Oklahoma City. I've been in the West long enough to know you don't walk into those places back to back and win games. This is a very solid team.''
Notes: Cleveland will visit Toronto on April 6. ... Jamison didn't get a rebound in 36 minutes, but scored more than 20 for the eighth straight game. ... Bargnani played his third consecutive game after missing 26 of 28 with a strained calf. ... Scott filled out his NCAA brackets with Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Missouri and Kansas making the Final Four. He's picking Kentucky to win it. ... Calderon sat on the end of Toronto's bench in a walking boot. There's no timetable on his return. A team spokesman said the seventh-year pro is ''improving and will continue receiving treatment.'' Calderon was injured Saturday in Toronto's 105-86 loss at Detroit.