Having overcome injuries to capture a pair of impressive victories, the Toronto Raptors hope to seize an opportunity to move closer to their first division title in seven years.
Toronto could again be missing two-fifths of its starting lineup when it begins a favorable two-game stretch Saturday night against the league-worst Milwaukee Bucks.
The Raptors (44-32) didn’t seem discouraged Monday after dropping the opener of a difficult portion of the schedule, 93-83 at Miami. They’ve responded with two statement-making wins, getting past visiting Houston 107-103 on Wednesday before holding off Indiana 102-94 on Friday.
Terrence Ross finished with 24 points, Jonas Valanciunas added 22 and DeMar DeRozan had 20 on Friday as Toronto earned its fifth win in six games despite missing starters Kyle Lowry and Amir Johnson.
Lowry is questionable after suffering a bruised left kneecap when he collided with LeBron James in Miami. Lowry, averaging 17.4 points and 7.6 assists, led the way with 23 points in a 116-94 home win over Milwaukee on Jan. 13.
Johnson, averaging 10.7 points and 6.7 rebounds, also might be sidelined after leaving Wednesday with an ankle injury.
”The most important thing is keeping guys healthy,” coach Dwane Casey said. ”We’re still fighting, we’re still scratching to maintain where we are right now.”
With a 2 1/2-game lead on Brooklyn, the Raptors continue to close in on their first Atlantic Division crown since 2006-07. They’re also tied with Chicago for the third seed in the Eastern Conference.
Toronto might not need its full lineup with matchups against Milwaukee and Philadelphia in its next two games. The Raptors have gone 5-0 against the league’s worst two clubs.
The Bucks (14-62) dropped their fourth in a row and 12th in 13 games Friday with a 102-90 loss at Chicago. Brandon Knight had 22 points before fouling out with just over two minutes left, while Jeff Adrien added 21.
Since opening the season with a 10-game winning streak in the series, the Bucks have lost both meetings with the Raptors. Toronto has dominated those matchups on the glass with a 106-78 rebounding advantage.
DeRozan scored 17 to help the Raptors pull out a 97-90 win in Milwaukee on Nov. 2 and added 19 in January’s matchup.
Ersan Ilyasova was a bright spot with 29 points and nine rebounds in that contest, but he’s since been ruled out for the season because of an ankle injury. The Bucks, who played with just eight healthy players Friday, also could be missing O.J. Mayo (ankle), while Nate Wolters (broken hand) and Larry Sanders (injury, suspension) are out.
”We’ll just have to play the hand that’s dealt to us," coach Larry Drew said. "We’ll have to do some things to compensate for some bodies being missed.”
The Raptors have averaged just 93.3 points over their last three road games, though they might be able to find open looks against a Milwaukee team that has given up 108.4 points per game in its last 17.
Valanciunas has stepped up with 16.5 points and 9.3 rebounds per game while shooting 66.1 percent in his last six. The 7-foot center had 17 points and 10 boards in the last meeting with the Bucks.