MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Toronto Raptors have had every excuse to give in this season. They’ve had injuries to key players, turned the roster over significantly with an early season trade and had low expectations after a regime change portended a possible tear down and rebuild.
Kyle Lowry doesn’t make excuses. Dwane Casey doesn’t make excuses. And the Raptors haven’t given an inch while climbing the Eastern Conference ladder.
Lowry had 20 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists for his fourth career triple-double, lifting the Raptors to a 111-104 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday night.
DeMar DeRozan added 25 points and seven rebounds and Steve Novak hit five 3-pointers for the surprising Raptors (35-26), who have won nine of their last 11 games to surge to third place in the East. They are nine games over .500 for the first time since 2006-07.
"We try to keep everybody’s spirits high even if it’s not going well on the basketball court and we don’t let nothing get down on us," said DeRozan, whose team shot 58.3 percent (14 for 24) on 3-pointers. "That’s the cool thing about our team. We continue to keep it going."
Kevin Love had 26 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists, and Nikola Pekovic added 17 points and 11 rebounds for the Timberwolves. Minnesota has started a crucial four-game homestand with two losses in three games, and the team’s hopes of climbing from 10th in the West into the playoff picture are looking bleak.
"We’ve got to go out and win games we’re not supposed to win," Wolves coach Rick Adelman said. "That’s the approach you have to take. If you’re going to get down and you start moping about it, you’re going to lose again."
The Raptors got some bad news early in the day when they learned Patrick Patterson, a key member of the bench during their post-Rudy Gay trade surge, would miss the next seven to 10 days with a sprained right elbow. But just as they have done over the last two months, the Raptors found someone else to step up.
Novak had played less than 13 minutes over the last month, but he scored a season-high in 18 minutes and Terrence Ross (15), Amir Johnson (15) and Greivis Vasquez (12) all reached double figures in scoring as well to earn a tough road win.
"I can’t say enough good things about those guys cause it’s going to take all of us, especially with Patrick being out," Casey said.
The Wolves entered the night five games behind Dallas and Phoenix for the eighth and final spot in the West. They’ve now lost two of the first three games of a crucial four-game homestand.
They put up a fight in this one, trimming a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit to 93-91 with five minutes to play. But Lowry drilled a 3-pointer, the Raptors locked down with the kind of defense that has gotten them this far and DeRozan finished the Wolves off with a 3-pointer from the left wing to improve Toronto to 26-2 when leading after three quarters.
"Twenty games left, anything can happen," Love said. "We obviously have to go on some sort of a run. But if those other teams keep winning and pulling games out of their you-know-what, we’re in trouble."
When Love sat down for a rest in the second quarter, the Raptors blasted Minnesota with a 15-0 run to take a 46-33 lead.
Love ended the run with a jumper, fed Pekovic three straight times with pinpoint entry passes and also drew a charge during a 17-2 run that gave Minnesota a 50-48 lead.
DeRozan and Ross both went to the bench early in the third quarter when they each picked up their fourth fouls and that’s when Lowry took over. He was tenacious in his attack, hitting two jumpers and feeding Vasquez for a 3 to put Toronto up 75-68. He also played a big role in getting Wolves point guards Ricky Rubio and J.J. Barea in foul trouble with his aggressive penetration.
"We needed all of his assists. He did a good job getting in there, penetrating, finding people," Casey said. We needed all his rebounds, especially with the way they crash the boards. He just had an all-around game."
Notes: Love made four 3-pointers, including one in the third quarter that broke Rashad McCants’ franchise record for 3s in a season. McCants made 142 3-pointers in 2007-08 to set the previous franchise record. . . . The Raptors’ reserves outscored Minnesota’s 32-16 for the game. . . . Barea had another tough night, going 2 for 8 for five points. . . . The Raptors recalled Dwight Buycks from the NBDL’s Bakersfield Jam on Sunday.