The slumping Toronto Raptors still sit comfortably atop the otherwise deplorable Atlantic Division, but they haven’t resembled a first-place team of late.
Toronto tries to avoid its longest skid of the season Saturday night as it goes for a third consecutive win over the NBA-worst New York Knicks.
The Raptors (37-21) have followed a four-game winning streak with four straight defeats, a stretch over which they’ve managed 88.5 points per game. DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry have been limited to an average of 14.0 and 12.0 points, respectively, while shooting a combined 30.0 percent during the slide.
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Toronto saw its woes continue in Friday’s 113-89 loss to Golden State, its second 20-point defeat in the last week and most lopsided of the season. The Raptors shot 1 of 19 in the first quarter, missing their final 16 attempts and setting a record for the worst single-quarter mark in team history at 5.3 percent.
Coach Dwane Casey took out all five starters just over three minutes into the third quarter, and Toronto entered the fourth trailing 98-57. Lowry, who finished with four points on 1 of 7 from the floor, was the only starter who didn’t return.
"We have to start making the game fun again," said Lowry, whose team owns a 13-game division lead and the East’s second-best record. "Basketball is fun in general, but the losing kind of sucks the life out of you a little bit."
Casey was understandably upset with his team’s performance, but he was pleased with Tyler Hansbrough’s response after getting pushed in the throat by Festus Ezeli in the closing seconds in the third. Both players received double technical fouls and were ejected.
"I love it," Casey said. "I don’t want to see a guy get in a fight, but I was glad to see somebody ready to hit somebody. That was a positive. We get 13, 14 other guys to have that kind of fight and fire and passion, we’ll go with that."
The Raptors took this season’s first two matchups against New York, 95-90 in overtime Dec. 14 and 118-108 on Dec. 21. Lowry scored a combined 43 to go with 20 assists and nine steals in those victories, and he’s averaging 24.4 points on 52.6 percent shooting over a five-game stretch in the series.
The Knicks (11-46) had been outscored by an average of 14.0 points during an eight-game losing streak before winning 121-115 in double-overtime at Detroit on Friday. Andrea Bargnani turned in a vintage performance with 25 points and 12 rebounds as New York erased an 18-point deficit in the second quarter and recorded its first win in 15 games this season without Carmelo Anthony.
"No matter what happened the night before, they’re coming back with the right effort and playing with the right mindset," coach Derek Fisher said. "That’s the only way you can win a game like tonight."
Also coming up big was Louis Amundson, who matched a season high with 17 points and a career high with 14 boards. Shane Larkin had a season-best 16 points off the bench after scoring nine of the team’s 11 over the final 1:51 in the second OT.
The Knicks have dropped 12 straight on the second of back-to-backs, while the Raptors are 8-5 in such games.
Toronto is giving up an average of 104.0 points on the road for one of the NBA’s worst marks, but New York is by far the league’s lowest-scoring home team at 91.4 per game.
Knicks point guard Jose Calderon is unlikely to be available after sitting out Friday with a sore left Achilles.