Raptors-Spurs Preview

The San Antonio Spurs caught a break earlier this month when

they faced a short-handed Toronto Raptors team.

A new-look Toronto club figures to be a more formidable

opponent.

The visiting Raptors figure to be brimming with confidence after

knocking off one of the league’s best teams as they try to end a

six-game losing streak against the Spurs on Monday night.

San Antonio (21-6) won 116-103 at Toronto on Dec. 10. The

Raptors (11-14) used a makeshift lineup since that contest came one

day after their blockbuster trade with Sacramento.

Patrick Patterson, Greivis Vasquez, John Salmons and Chuck Hayes

hadn’t yet joined the team for that contest. The Raptors, though,

are 4-1 since Patterson, Vasquez, Salmons made their Toronto debuts

three days later in a win over Philadelphia.

“We got guys who are coming in here who are going to keep

playing, keep trying to get it done,” guard Kyle Lowry said.

“Greivis, Pat, Chuck and John, they all got that mental toughness,

and that just added to what we were building.”

Toronto was impressive in rallying from a 19-point deficit in

Friday’s 109-108 overtime win at Dallas before an even more notable

victory Sunday.

Lowry scored 22 points and Amir Johnson had 17 and 13 rebounds

as the Raptors used a 29-14 scoring edge in the fourth quarter for

a 104-98 victory that ended Oklahoma City’s nine-game win streak

and 13-0 home start.

Toronto is seeking its first five-game road win streak since

Nov. 14-Dec. 1, 2001. The Raptors are 7-6 on the road compared to

4-8 at home.

”It’s one of those mysteries we have, of our focus on the

road,” coach Dwane Casey said. ”We’re a different team. I see it

in our eyes before the game.”

The Spurs will have Kawhi Leonard back in the lineup after he

missed Saturday’s 113-100 home loss to the Thunder following a

dental procedure. Coach Gregg Popovich did not use Leonard’s

absence as an excuse.

”Well, I’m sure we’d like to have Kawhi, but that happens to

every NBA team at some point in the season,” Popovich said. ”You

don’t lose just because of that. We would have loved to have had

him, but they played better than we did (Saturday) for more of the

game.”

The Spurs turned in their worst defensive quarter of the season

as they gave up 40 points in the second. One of their poorer such

efforts came in the first meeting with the Raptors, who led 36-24

after 12 minutes.

Tony Parker, who returned Saturday and scored 23 points after

missing two games with a shin bruise, believes that San Antonio

will bounce back against the Raptors and Wednesday against

Houston.

“We’ll just regroup and we’ll play better on Monday and (then)

get ready for the big one on Christmas Day,” Parker said.

The Spurs, who are shooting 48.9 percent to lead the Western

Conference, are 9-1 against East foes.

Only three of the nine Raptors who logged at least 12 minutes

Sunday have won at San Antonio in their careers – Johnson, Salmons

and Lowry.