The best season of Kyle Lowry’s career has helped put the Toronto Raptors in position for their first playoff appearance in six years.
The Raptors continue their quest for the Eastern Conference’s third seed as they look to win a fourth straight meeting with the host Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday night.
Lowry has taken his game to another level in his second season with Toronto and eighth in the league, starting all 69 games while averaging career highs in points (17.5), rebounds (4.8) and assists (7.7). He’s a major reason the Raptors (39-30), who haven’t made the playoffs since 2007-08, lead the Atlantic Division and are in a tight battle with Chicago for third place in the East.
Lowry has scored at least 19 points in a career-high nine consecutive contests, including 25 in each of the last two. His latest effort helped Toronto overcome a 14-point deficit in the fourth quarter Sunday, scoring 13 points in the final nine minutes of a 96-86 win over Atlanta.
Toronto had lost three of its previous four.
"That’s what he does," said fellow guard DeMar DeRozan, averaging 28.5 points in the last four games. "To be honest, that’s Kyle. The hunger to win kicks in."
Though Lowry has been especially solid, he’s made it clear that it’s been a team effort.
"We’ve got a good team, man," Lowry said. "We’ve got a group of guys who are resilient. We want to win games, we’ve got a goal in mind and it’s just fun to win games."
Lowry played only 27 minutes Sunday after scoring 25 points in nearly 47 minutes of Friday’s double-overtime loss to Oklahoma City. Coach Dwane Casey said Lowry isn’t nursing an injury, but he’s trying not to over-extend his point guard as the regular season draws to a close.
"We just talked with the medical people and as an organization, we are going to try and keep his minutes down as much as possible," Casey said. "It’s hard, believe me, as a coach and for him as a competitor. It looks like we’re going at each other but we both understand the situation."
Cleveland, meanwhile, has been without its star point guard for the last four games, and Kyrie Irving is expected to miss about another week with a strained biceps tendon.
Jarrett Jack stepped up Sunday, scoring a season-high 31 points and adding 10 assists as the Cavaliers (27-44) ended a four-game skid with a 106-100 victory over a New York team which had won eight straight.
Dion Waiters finished with 22, and Luol Deng scored 13 in his return from a three-game absence due to an injured ankle.
"We have guys who can do a number of things, especially when you put the defense in rotation," Jack said. "There are a lot of guys who can create for themselves or create shots for other people. The guys are doing a good job of making the proper play based on the situation."
Cleveland likely is headed toward its fourth straight season without a playoff appearance but is trying to remain positive down the stretch.
"It’s just about making a stand and each individual person making a stand, and then collectively as a team us all bringing that same mindset to the table," Jack said.
Toronto has won both meetings with Cleveland this season, including a 99-93 road victory Feb. 25 as DeRozan scored 33 points.