The Toronto Raptors know they are headed for another wake-up call, no matter how much they would like to sleep in.
They’ve had the noon start on the opening day of the NBA playoffs the last few years and expect it again. So while playing some no-name Knicks on Sunday might not get them ready for the calibre of competition, at least it provided a glimpse of the timing.
DeMar DeRozan scored 35 points and the Raptors overcame a slow start to wrap up at least the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference with a 110-97 victory over New York.
“We’ve got to get our bodies and minds ready and I told the guys remember how this felt, (who) had a tough time getting going because that’s probably going to be the game we have,” coach Dwane Casey said.
The Raptors pulled away in the fourth quarter to reach 50 victories for the second straight season. They can still finish second if they beat Cleveland in their regular-season finale and Boston loses its final two.
Kyle Lowry had 17 points and 11 assists for the Raptors, who swept the Knicks for the first time since 2009-10 in a strong follow-up to their franchise-record 56-win finish last season.
“A lot of teams don’t get the opportunity just to win 50 games,” DeRozan said. “For us to do it back-to-back years just shows the process and the progress that we made over the years.”
Rookie Willy Hernangomez tied his career high with 24 points and grabbed 11 rebounds for the Knicks, who despite playing without most of their top players trailed only 76-75 after three. But Toronto broke it open behind the 3-point line and won its third straight.
“I think they picked it up defensively and they put more pressure on us. They are a great team, a playoff team and that’s how we learned today,” Hernangomez said. “When the other team puts more pressure we have to learn how we have to improve our defence and offence at that point of the game.”
The three victories have come since Lowry returned after right wrist surgery sidelined him for 18 games. He played 38 minutes, and then begged the NBA not to give the Raptors the sleepy-start schedule again next Saturday.
“It’s a difference for us, but at the end of the day we’re still professionals, we’ve got to out there and do our job,” he said. “Tonight it seemed like it took a little longer to get going but we got going, we got a win and whatever comes at that time we’ll be ready to play.”
Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis sat out again for the Knicks, who had already lost Derrick Rose to knee surgery and Joakim Noah to an NBA suspension.
Raptors: Toronto finished 14-2 against the Atlantic Division for the second straight season. The Raptors are 61-14 against their divisional foes over the last four seasons.
Knicks: Coach Jeff Hornacek seemed to think Porzingis (sore lower back) would play Wednesday in the season finale and wasn’t sure about Anthony (sore left knee). ... Courtney Lee, the only player from the Knicks’ expected starting five still playing, scored 14 points.
DeRozan shot 11 for 15 from the field and became the second player in franchise history with a 2,000-point season. He now has 2,020 points.
Vince Carter scored 2,107 in 1999-00 and 2,070 in 2000-01.
Markelle Fultz from the University of Washington, expected to be one of the top picks in the draft, was at the game. So was Stephon Marbury, the New York native who played for the Knicks during a turbulent stretch from 2003-08 and has gone on to a successful career in China.
Raptors: Visit Cleveland on Wednesday. The Cavaliers have won all three meetings after beating the Raptors in six games in last year’s conference finals.
Knicks: Host Philadelphia on Wednesday in their season finale.Report Typo/Error