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Everything falls into place for red-hot Raptors Add to ...

BASKETBALL REPORTER

If schedule is destiny the Toronto Raptors have finally found themselves on the right side of fate.

And to their credit the Raptors are taking full advantage.

Showing no signs of too much turkey or other holiday season distractions, Toronto kept their winning ways going with a 102-95 win over the Detroit Pistons yesterday.

The win was their fourth in a row, a season high, and improved Toronto to 15-17, firming up its grip on the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference as it swept the season series over the Pistons, 11-19.

"I think we're playing with a little more confidence," said Raptors head coach Jay Triano. "We're getting more guys involved; we're starting to help each other and understand our defensive roles a lot better and as a result we get more stops, we get run-outs and that gives us confidence and everything starts rolling."

The Raptors play host to the Charlotte Bobcats on Wednesday and have a chance to run the table in a five-game block of games against Eastern Conference teams with losing records.

This current stretch of the schedule was a beacon of hope early in the season when the Raptors led the league in games played, road games played and seemingly games against teams rested and waiting while the Raptors came to town on the second-night of back-to-backs.

Toronto has played just three times in the past seven days and now has time for practice and rest that was missing in its compressed schedule early on.

"Everyone is fresher," said Raptors forward Hedo Turkoglu.

Removed from that burden the Raptors have begun to shows signs of finding their feet. They held Detroit to just 40-per-cent shooting even though the Pistons were able to pull themselves into the game by winning the third quarter 28-14 on 57.9-per-cent shooting, helped by five Toronto turnovers.

But with some winning experiences to draw on and some fresh legs to throw into the fray, the Raptors showed their composure down the stretch getting scores from Andrea Bargnani, Chris Bosh, Turkoglu and Sonny Weems in the final four minutes as the Pistons pulled within a point only to fall away again.

"We're starting to realize how good we can be," said Turkoglu, who had six assists including a key helper when he found a cutting Weems for a dunk to put Toronto up seven with 49 seconds to play. "We're still progressing and need to learn about playing 48 minutes ... when we figure that out too I think we're going to be really good and you'll see more [streaks]like this, 4-0 and 5-0 and even more."

The Pistons in Toronto yesterday weren't the same sorry crew the Raptors blew out in Michigan before Christmas. With the return of Tayshaun Prince (back), Richard Hamilton (hamstring) and Ben Gordon (ankle) they were at full strength for the first time since early in the season, a reminder that the Raptors haven't been the only team not to have everything break their way this season.

But to their credit Toronto has been grinding enough lately to make its own breaks.

Yesterday the Raptors shook off any signs of holiday lethargy by holding the Pistons to 32.6-per-cent shooting in the first half as they jumped out to a 60-41 lead.

There were numerous examples of Toronto's new-found competitiveness. Just before half Jarrett Jack and Antoine Wright hit the floor to corral a loose ball before a Turkoglu triple and first-quarter breakaway dunk by Weems came together when Amir Johnson and DeMar DeRozan cobbled together a perfect trap on the sideline and Weems jumped the passing lane on the inevitable kick-out. Bosh led all scorers with 25 points and 16 rebounds, but there were plenty of contributions from throughout the lineup, big and small.

Doing the right thing over the past 10 days has seen the Raptors rewarded with convincing victories - albeit against struggling opponents - and glistening defensive statistics. They've held opponents to 38-per-cent shooting over their past four games, no small feat for the worst-rated defensive team in the NBA.

"We're in a rhythm right now," said Jack who had 17 points and five assists. "Everyone is in sync with one another. We've got to try and keep it going."

*****

TIP SHEET

NOTES The sold-out crowd of 19,800 at the Air Canada Centre got their money's worth as the Raptors not only secured them free pizza by scoring 100 points but held the longest non-overtime game in franchise history at 2 hours 49 minutes, eclipsing the 2:45 in took Toronto to play the first game in franchise history in 1995. ... The Raptors didn't get their starting point guard back for Christmas, not yet at least. Jose Calderon has been working out off the floor but did not join his teammates for practice on Saturday and his return from his hip injury is still undetermined. He's been out since Dec. 8 with the exception of a seven-minute stint against the Atlanta Hawks when he re-aggravated the injury. The Raptors have gone 8-4 in his absence. ... The Raptors' Marco Belinelli fouled out halfway through the fourth quarter; the first time he's been disqualified in his NBA career. ... Detroit rookie Jonas Jerebko is the first Swedish-born and Swedish-trained player in NBA history.

NEXT Wednesday against Charlotte at the ACC at 7 p.m.

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Michael Grange

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