At 21-8, it might be time to keep an eye on Toronto

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -

NEW YORK: Pop quiz. Name the only team in the NBA to not lose a game by dou­ble dig­its this sea­son.

Golden State? Nope. San An­to­nio? Wrong. Cleve­land? In­cor­rect.

It’s the Toronto Rap­tors, who very qui­etly have stayed right in the Cava­liers’ rearview mir­ror in the Eastern Con­fer­ence and look like a club with the po­ten­tial for an­other deep play­off run.

At 21-8, the Rap­tors have sep­a­rated them­selves from the pack of those chas­ing one of the top spots in the East. They weren’t part of the NBA’s Christ­mas lineup, surely giv­ing Toronto fans more fuel for their no­body-re­spects-us fires, and in­stead they’ll take a fran­chise-record six-game road win­ning streak into Mon­day night at Port­land.

Toronto is a league-best 13-0 in games de­cided by 10 points or more this sea­son. All other teams in the league have been beaten by 10 or more at least three times al­ready. The Rap­tors’ largest mar­gin of de­feat so far is eight points, and the av­er­age size of its eight losses is 4.6 points.

“All the pretty 3-point shots and dunks and all of that, that’s good,” Rap­tors coach Dwane Casey said. “But when it gets to closegame-time down the stretch, you’ve got to have that com­pet­i­tive spirit. And that’s what we’re try­ing to build on, that tough­ness when it counts.” The Rap­tors took Cleve­land to six games in the Eastern Con­fer­ence fi­nals last sea­son. And while the Cavs have es­sen­tially been pre­or­dained as the 2017 East champs, Toronto thinks it has a bet­ter team this sea­son than it did a year ago.

It’s early, but the Rap­tors lead the East and rank No. 2 in the NBA in scor­ing dif­fer­en­tial 9.4 points per game. They av­er­age fewer turnovers than any­one in the NBA this sea­son, have the sec­ond -best shoot­ing per­cent­age and make nearly 81 per­cent of their free throws. “We’re not a fin­ished prod­uct,” Casey said. “There’s a lot we can im­prove on.”

VOT­ING BE­GINS

Vot­ing started Sun­day for the NBA All-Star Game and will con­tinue through Jan. 16. There are many ways to par­tic­i­pate. Fans can go to NBA.com/vote and cast a bal­lot once ev­ery 24 hours or do the same through the NBA app on their smart­phones. Those on Twit­ter and Face­book can vote by list­ing a player’s name with the hash­tag #NBAVOTE , or by search­ing for “NBA Vote Al­lS­tar” on Google and fill­ing out a vot­ing card.

Le­Bron James and Dwyane Wade are in line to be picked for the 13th time. Kobe Bryant’s run as an 18-time All-Star ended with his re­tire­ment af­ter last sea­son, and Chris Bosh’s streak of 11 con­sec­u­tive se­lec­tions will be halted while he con­tin­ues deal­ing with is­sues re­lated to blood clots that have kept him off the floor this sea­son.

Starters will be an­nounced Jan. 19. Re­serves will be re­vealed on Jan. 26. The Al­lS­tar Game is Feb. 19 in New Or­leans.

THE WEEK AHEAD

Here’s some of the games to watch this week:

Ok­la­homa City at Mi­ami, Tues­day: Only five op­pos­ing play­ers - Clyde Drexler, Magic John­son, Scot­tie Pip­pen, An­dre Miller and Ra­jon Rondo - have ever posted a triple-dou­ble in Mi­ami. Could Rus­sell West­brook be next?

Toronto at Golden State, Wed­nes­day: War­riors won in Toronto 127-121 in Novem­ber, in one of the most fun games so far this sea­son. Here’s the re­match.

Chicago at In­di­ana, Fri­day: It’s rare to find a 4 p.m. tip-off on the NBA sched­ule. The Pac­ers host two such games this sea­son, this one with the Bulls and Jan. 16 against New Or­leans as part of the NBA’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day lineup.

New York at Hous­ton, Satur­day: The Rock­ets, who get min­i­mal credit for any­thing done de­fen­sively, held Kristaps Porzingis to 0for-4 shoot­ing last month.

San An­to­nio at At­lanta, Sun­day: Happy New Year, Mike Bu­den­holzer. It’s still strange to see the former Spurs as­sis­tant coach­ing against Gregg Popovich.

DE­CIDED EARLY

Detroit hasn’t played many down-to-thewire games this sea­son. Out of the Pis­tons’ first 32 con­tests, 24 have been de­cided by at least 10 points. And that’s a good thing for the Pis­tons. They’re 13-11 in those games - and 17 in games de­cided by nine points or less.

STAT LINE OF THE WEEK

Kyle Lowry, Toronto: He went 11 for 12 from 2-point range, 15 for 20 over­all, in the Rap­tors’ 104-98 win in Utah on Fri­day night. Lowry scored 36 points and the only 2-pointer he missed was a play at the rim where he thought he was fouled in the sec­ond quar­ter. — AP

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