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The Toronto Raptors’ Kyle Lowry drives past the L.A. Clippers’ J.J. Redick (C) during the first half of their NBA basketball game in Toronto on Sunday January 24, 2016 . Toronto won, and now has its second-longest winning streak in history. (Mark Blinch for the Globe and Mail)
The Toronto Raptors’ Kyle Lowry drives past the L.A. Clippers’ J.J. Redick (C) during the first half of their NBA basketball game in Toronto on Sunday January 24, 2016 . Toronto won, and now has its second-longest winning streak in history. (Mark Blinch for the Globe and Mail)

BASKETBALL

Raptors extend streak to eight, inching closer to Cavs Add to ...

With their second win over the Los Angeles Clippers this season, the Toronto Raptors inched closer to the top of the Eastern Conference on Sunday, while stretching out their longest win streak in 14 years.

By beating the Clippers 112-94, the Raptors earned their eighth straight victory, the second-longest winning streak in franchise history. When the Washington Wizards come to town on Tuesday, the Raptors can try and match their best winning stretch ever – nine straight set in the spring of 2002.

Toronto improves to 9-7 against Western Conference opponents this season, and now sits just a game and a half back of the Cleveland Cavaliers for first place in the East (29-15).

The Raptors are in the midst of a seven-game stretch at Air Canada Centre, tallying decent wins of late over the plucky Boston Celtics, underperforming Brooklyn Nets, and an injury-depleted Miami Heat team that dressed just nine healthy players. Sunday’s victory seemed a more meaningful accomplishment.

The Clippers are a team that sits fourth in the Western Conference (now 28-16). They rank fourth in points per game and fifth in the NBA in three-point shooting percentage. They were missing star Blake Griffin. But Toronto still had to tangle with Chris Paul, Paul Pierce, hot-shooting J.J Redick and imposing DeAndre Jordan, who ranks second in the league in rebounding and third in blocked shots.

Led by 21 points from Kyle Lowry, 20 from DeMar DeRozan, and one of the best outings of the year from the bench – notably Terrence Ross – Toronto delivered one of their most significant wins of the season.

DeRozan jumped out to a fast start, dumping in 13 first-quarter points. His highlights included an incredible fade-away jump shot he made falling backwards while being fouled by Pierce – the veteran villain making his first visit to Toronto since he was a Washington Wizard in last year’s playoffs. DeRozan had little help from his cold-shooting teammates in the early-going.

The Los Angeles trio of Jordan, Redick and Paul were proving problematic for Toronto. Jordan dominated the boards early, nabbing eight rebounds in the first quarter alone, as the trio combined for 24 fast points and had the Clips up 34-27 before the second quarter began.

“We gave up 34 in the first quarter, and I thought it was going to be a long night,” said Toronto coach Dwane Casey. “The second unit came in and changed the game, started getting into bodies and being physical.”

The defence lacking in the first quarter surfaced to open the second, and Toronto went on a 12-2 run to move in front. DeRozan was held to just two points in the second, but Terrence Ross and Patrick Patterson both drained two apiece from beyond the arc. Bismack Biyombo and Luis Scola provided support on the boards, and Toronto evened up what had been a rebounding imbalance in the first quarter.

“It feels good, everyone was on the same page,” said Patterson. “I think tonight was one of our best games collectively as a second unit.”

A quarter that began with the Raptors down seven ended with them leading by 13.

Paul and Lowry went shot for shot in the third quarter. The Raptors point guard, just voted an Eastern Conference All-Star, had a ten-point quarter as Toronto took a 12-point lead into the fourth.

Inside the fourth, the lead stretched to as much as 23 points.

Ross, who had scored in double digits in the last three games, did so again, with 18, while also providing key defence on Redick. Jonas Valanciunas had 20 points and seven rebounds, Joseph 12, Patterson ten along with six boards and three assists, and Biyombo provided ten points to go with nine rebounds.

“We’re just playing together, playing team basketball,” said Ross. “I feel like I’m playing the same game, I’m just making the shots I’ve always been taking. And yes, there’s more confidence anytime you’re making shots.”

The Raptors had such a comfortable lead with three minutes left in the night, that rookie Delon Wright came in to run the floor, and Anthony Bennett saw two minutes of court time.

Paul had 23 for L.A., Redick 17, and Jordan had 15, along with 13 boards.

DeRozan, who had averaged 32 points per game in his last three outings, is making a strong case for one of the reserves spots on the Eastern Conference All-Star team, to be voted on by the NBA’s head coaches and announced on Jan. 28.

After the Wizards, the Raptors also get visits from the New York Knicks and Detroit Pistons this week, before they head back out for six straight road games, starting out West.

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