Raptors widen lead atop division

The Canadian Press
Dhiren Mahiban

TORONTO–Dwane Casey admitted it wasn’t pretty but yesterday’s 103-98 victory over the visiting Charlotte Hornets showed the growth of his group.
DeMar DeRozan had a team-high 19 points, eight assists, and four rebounds as the Toronto Raptors stretched their winning streak to four games while improving to a league-best 26-5 at home this season.
“A year ago, we would’ve probably lost the game,” Casey noted. “But I think our guys are mature enough to make plays, the right plays–they’re dog days of the year right now.
You can’t see the end of it, but it’s quite a few games to go and we’re playing like it.
“[Charlotte] didn’t play exactly their style of play, either,” Casey added.
“Both teams were kind of sloppy.”
Jonas Valanciunas chipped in 18 points and 13 rebounds for the Raptors (45-17) while Kyle Lowry added 14 and 10.
C.J. Miles and Fred VanVleet each had 12 points off the bench.
The victory gave Toronto a two-game lead on idle Boston atop the Eastern Conference standings.
The Raptors swept the season series, winning all four games against the Hornets.
“There’s going to be moments like that when we feel like nothing’s going our way,” said DeRozan.
“The feel for the game wasn’t all the way there for us, but we still managed to do the things we needed to do to get the win.
“You find yourself playing the exact same way as them and you kind of get caught up in it, they kind of lure you that way,” he noted.
“We got out of character a little bit but we still managed.”
Kemba Walker had a game-high 27 points, six rebounds, and four assists to lead the Hornets (28-36), who now have lost three-straight.
Framk Kaminsky III added 15 points and four rebounds off the bench while Jeremy Lamb added 16 points.
Charlotte cut Toronto’s lead to two with 5:11 to go but Kyle Lowry responded for the Raptors by draining a 27-foot three-pointer.
Toronto led by at least three the rest of the way.
“Fourth quarter, purpose of play at both ends of the floor,” said Hornets’ head coach Steve Clifford.
“Purposeful offence, smart play, and very good defence. That’s what we’re capable of,” he added.
“If we are serious about making a run here, that’s what we’re capable of.”
The Hornets opened the second half on a 13-6 surge, cutting Toronto’s lead to two, prompting Casey to call a time-out with 6:58 to play.
The Raptors responded as Ibaka and Valanciunas hit back-to-back “threes” while Lowry got a layup to fall.
Toronto used a 19-8 run to push their lead to 13 with 2:28 to play in the quarter.
Ibaka led the way with 11 points and four rebounds as the Raptors held a 52-43 lead at the break.
Valanciunas and DeRozan each had nine points while Miles added nine off the bench after two quarters.
Elsewhere in the NBA, Atlanta nipped Phoenix 113-112, Indiana beat Washington 98-95, New Orleans dumped Dallas 126-109, Milwaukee downed Philadelphia 118-110, the L.A. Clippers topped Brooklyn 123-120, and Sacramento shaded New York 102-99.