For the first time in franchise history, the Toronto Raptors have won 11 consecutive home games.
They kept the streak alive Wednesday night with the first of three straight contests against Western Conference teams that are fighting for their playoff lives.
The Raptors tipped off a seven-game homestand with a 104-94 win over the Utah Jazz behind more heavy points from Toronto’s all-star backcourt – 32 from Kyle Lowry and 31 from DeMar DeRozan.
The Raptors (40-19) were trying to stabilize after a roller-coaster few days in which they toppled Cleveland – the top team in the Eastern Conference – in a dramatic Friday-night contest, and then lost a stinker two nights later in Detroit.
Lowry, who scored 43 points against Cleveland, was back after sitting out Sunday’s game. Even before Wednesday’s victory, he and DeRozan had combined to average 48.1 points in the previous 10 home wins.
Utah (28-32), which won the last meeting between the two teams this season, in Salt Lake City, is battling for the eighth playoff spot in the West, shooting for its first postseason appearance since 2012. The loss in Toronto was the fourth in a row for the Jazz.
Utah led by as much as 12 in the first half – at times shooting nearly 60 per cent from the field.
“Our give-a-crap level was low [in the first half], it was very low,” Toronto coach Dwane Casey said . “It’s very comfortable to have the two all-stars but again it’s a 48 minute game. We can’t live on the roller coaster going up and down. We got to get some consistency.”
The Raptors went on a run right before halftime and took a 52-49 lead into the break. The Raptors – with an offence ranked fifth in the NBA and a defence ranked 11th – held on to the lead throughout the second half.
“[We’re] extremely dangerous, especially once [Kyle and I] get going – it’s easier to get our teammates involved and get them going as well,” DeRozan said. “We can pick and choose who we want to attack a team [with]. It’s tough to defend a team when we get going like that.”
For a third game in a row at Air Canada Centre, the Raptors faced a young Canadian opponent. This time it was Jazz rookie Trey Lyles, who was born in Saskatoon to a Canadian mother and American father. He lived there until the age of seven, while his dad played for the Saskatoon Storm of the World Basketball League. After that, Lyles lived in Indiana, had some stints with Canada’s national-team programs, and played a single season at the University of Kentucky.
Playing time for the 20-year-old has come in spurts, but the No. 12 overall draft pick has capitalized on his opportunities and has turned heads, most recently with 18 points and 10 rebounds Monday against the Boston Celtics. The 6-foot-10, 234-pound forward spent all-star weekend in Toronto after being named to the World Team in the Rising Stars Challenge.
“He played a lot early [in the season] and then didn’t play for a while, and that’s life in the NBA – it’s hard, but he’s been ready,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “This has made him much tougher mentally; it’s challenged him defensively to just not have minutes taken for granted. There’s an appreciation for it, and you see it in his aggressiveness on the glass. One of the things that bodes well for Trey as he develops is how he can react to when people cover him.”
Playing for Canada in the Olympic qualifier and then possibly the Rio Olympics are very much on Lyles’s radar this summer.
The Jazz brought him off the bench early in Wednesday’s game. He had six points and three rebounds over 25 minutes. Gordon Hayward led the way with 26 for the rising Utah squad.
Terrence Ross, who has contributed 13 points a night in his last ten games for Toronto, added 11.
Jason Thompson, signed by the Raptors Tuesday after the team waived Anthony Bennett, didn’t get any minutes in his first game on Toronto’s roster.
As the team continues to try working its young developing players into the action wherever possible, Lucas Nogueira played four minutes on Wednesday, grabbing four quick rebounds and a dunk. The Brazilian centre was called upon to neutralize Utah big man Rudy Gobert, and the young Raptor grabbed four quick rebounds and a dunk.
The Raptors now sit second in the East, two games behind the Cavaliers.
Next up for the Raptors is a visit from the Portland Trailblazers on Friday, and the Houston Rockets come to town on Sunday – two more times fighting for the post-season.Report Typo/Error