Two lackluster efforts around Toronto's hosting of All-Star festivities were enough to convince the Raptors to get back to business and buckle down defensively.
After accomplishing that goal while avoiding their longest losing streak in three months, they're hoping to build on it in their first visit to Madison Square Garden.
Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan look to continue their success in this series Monday night when the Atlantic Division leaders try to avoid a season high-tying third straight road loss and deny the Knicks their first back-to-back wins in more than a month.
Toronto ranks in the NBA's top five with 97.7 points allowed per game, but that solid defense didn't show up in a 117-112 loss at Minnesota on Feb. 10 prior to the break or a 116-106 road defeat to a previously struggling Chicago team on Friday.
That changed Sunday, however, when the Raptors (36-18) held Memphis to 36.8 percent shooting, including 3 for 20 from 3-point range, in a 98-85 home victory.
“For sure, it felt like that,” said Lowry, who played with DeRozan in his second All-Star Game on Feb. 14 at Air Canada Centre. “…But now we're back to winning ways.”
Toronto avoided its first three-game losing streak since Nov. 15-18 with its 15th victory in 18 games. DeRozan scored 21 in the team's first home game since Jan. 30 and Jonas Valanciunas had his second straight double-double with 10 points and 12 boards.
“Everyone's knees were bent, down in the stance, ready to play and out of the vacation mode I think,” coach Dwane Casey said. “I think the whole league has to get used to that long week of time off and get back into game shape, get the sea legs back, get the mentality back.”
Casey's club will try to stay focused on defense against New York, which has shot 50 percent or better in two of its past three but has a 42.8 mark while dropping 11 of 13.
The Knicks (24-33) hit at a 50.6 percent clip Saturday to snap a season-high seven-game losing streak with a 103-95 win at Minnesota. Carmelo Anthony led the way with 30 points and Robin Lopez matched season highs with 26 points and 16 rebounds.
New York outrebounded Minnesota 51-31 and led by 24 in the fourth quarter en route to giving interim coach Kurt Rambis his first win in three games since taking over for the fired Derek Fisher.
Anthony's sore knee seems to be improving as the All-Star forward is averaging 28.3 points and 10.3 rebounds while playing at least 37 minutes in the last three games. He's played well when he's been able to go against Toronto, scoring 30.6 per game over his last seven meetings.
“Whatever I got to do to get these wins up I'm going to do it,” Anthony said.
Anthony finished with 25 points to key a 111-109 win at Toronto on Nov. 10 before having to sit out last month's meeting when Arron Afflalo scored 20 in a 103-93 loss north of the border.
Lowry has totaled 49 points in the season series, while DeRozan has scored 55.
DeRozan can pass Chris Bosh and Morris Peterson with a franchise-record 233rd win in a Toronto uniform.