National Post

Raptors on roll heading into NBA playoffs

With latest win, team locks up at least No. 3 seed

- Mike Ganter mike. ganter@ sunmedia. ca

• Not a bad day’s work, all things considered for the final visit of the season to Madison Square Garden for the Toronto Raptors Sunday afternoon.

With their 110-97 win, the Raptors secured no worse than a No. 3 seed heading into the playoffs. With a little help from Boston, they could even squeak into second.

They also reached the 50win plateau for the second consecutiv­e year, a benchmark that the team can be justifiabl­y proud of considerin­g the unevenness of this rather rocky 2016-17 season.

Injuries forced the Raptors to start a rookie for 38 games this year in Pascal Siakam. They survived 21 games without starting point guard Kyle Lowry and another seven without DeMar DeRozan. On the fly, they integrated two key players in Serge Ibaka and P. J. Tucker.

Through it all they managed to win.

Sunday’s matinee was just the latest challenge to a team looking to close out the season on a high and head into the playoffs feeling good about themselves.

It took them the better part of three quarters to find their game but when they did, they pulled away from a Knicks team that had plenty of fight and energy but has been sapped of almost all of its veteran savvy thanks to injuries.

“We’ve got to play for r hythm,” Raptors’ head coach Dwane Casey said after DeRozan’s 35 points led the way to the victory. “We’ve got new guys, we got Kyle coming back after being off a month, we’ve got a lot of things to work on. We’re not a well- oiled machine as we saw today. We did it today on grit and grind and hustle and work, not from execution and togetherne­ss on both ends of the floor. This week is going to be big for us and that game Wednesday night, win or lose, working on our team together is going to be important for us.”

DeRozan was locked in early putting together another big first quarter with 15 points but defensivel­y the entire team felt and looked like they were one to two steps late for most of the first three quarters.

Toronto got down by as many as 11 early on, most of the damage done by Knicks rookies Willy Hernangome­z and Ron Baker.

But late in the third the lights came on for the Raps and they went from six down to one up over the final 2:35.

The fourth quarter was all Toronto as it got 13 points in the final frame from Patrick Patterson in a 34- 22 edge over the home side to salt the game away. “I think it was all about ending out the season the right way,” DeRozan said. “As long as we did that, we would have got 50- plus wins. We’ve got one game left to add to that and tighten up things we have to tighten up before this weekend so it’s great that we did.”

Securing at worst the third seed all but assures the Raptors of not seeing the defending Eastern Conference champion Cavaliers until at least the third round. They’ll get somewhat of a sneak peak at them Wednesday in the season finale but now this is all about just feeling as good as they possibly can heading into an expected playoff opener sometime on Saturday.

Even the possibilit­y of getting second, if that opportunit­y presents itself, takes a back seat to that.

“We play it out and whatever happens, happens,” Lowry said. “Don’t care about who we play, where we play. We just gotta go play.”

Lowry, in his third game since his return, played heavy minutes finishing just under 38 and was flirting with a triple double before settling for a 17-point, 11-assist, seven rebound night.

He looks like he’s making the expected progress and with each game, looks more and more comfortabl­e with starting power forward Serge Ibaka which is probably his biggest adjustment since returning.

Also looking healthier and a little more locked in these days is Patterson who had a 3-for- 6 day from three-point land and was aggressive­ly attacking the basket when the Knicks young kids ran him off the line.

 ?? SETH WENIG / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS ?? Toronto Raptors’ DeMar DeRozan drives to the basket during NBA action Sunday against the New York Knicks in New York. DeRozan had 35 points in Toronto’s 110-97 victory.
SETH WENIG / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Toronto Raptors’ DeMar DeRozan drives to the basket during NBA action Sunday against the New York Knicks in New York. DeRozan had 35 points in Toronto’s 110-97 victory.

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