Things are so good these days for the Toronto Raptors (30-15) that the NBA injury Gods are even cutting them some slack. Kyle Lowry, in the midst of a stellar 29-point showing against John Wall and the Washington Wizards, jammed his left wrist against a pick-setting Marcin Gortat and immediately sprinted to the locker room, causing a collective panic on the part of the ACC faithful during an otherwise exceptional fourth quarter. In the aftermath of a record-tying 106-89 win, however, Lowry was sporting a negative x-ray and no visible wrist support while declaring himself fine.
The Lowry scare momentarily tempered the enthusiasm for a balanced, dominant outing against the Wizards, one that helped them match a franchise record with nine consecutive wins. Their ninth in a row came courtesy of a solid, if uneven, performance that saw them blow an early 14-point lead before sealing the deal with a key 9-0 run in the fourth quarter. Beyond Lowry’s efficient 7-14 shooting from the field that included a 5-9 night from three and an 8-8 effort from the free throw line, the Raps also got a 13 and 12 double-double out of Jonas Valanciunas and strong bench contributions from Terrence Ross, Cory Joseph, Patrick Patterson and Bismack Biyombo.
The Raps will now look to set a new franchise mark as part of the marquee early tilt on TNT Thursday night, welcoming the Atlantic division rival New York Knicks. Before tip-off, the TNT crew will announce the All-Star reserves for the West and East, finally telling Raptor fans whether or not DeMar DeRozan, who has been quiet over the past two games after enjoying a 30+ scoring streak, will join Lowry on the East squad in two and a half weeks.
The fourth awakens
Knowing that your club thrives in crunch time can offer a major confidence boost for an NBA team. That swagger has been on display of late for the Raps, knowing that the final 12 minutes seems to bring out the best in them. Over the nine-game win streak, Toronto has outscored their opposition by 41 points in the fourth quarter. On Tuesday night, after stumbling out to missing their first five missed shots of the fourth, they went 9-15 (60%) the rest of the way while holding the Wizards to 6-17 (35.3%) shooting in the final frame.
Don’t look now, but Ross has been a valuable bench contributor and a key component of the team’s recent torrid run. After adding to the stretch with 15 points on 6-12 shooting in 31:28 of floor time on Tuesday, he has now scored 14.4 points per game over his past six contests while shooting 65% (26-40) from the field. In wins this season, Ross has averaged 9.9 points per game with a plus/minus of +14.1, compared to just 5.7 points and a -9.5 in losses.
The Lowry scare
I won’t be completely at ease with the situation surrounding Lowry’s wrist until I see him suited up and playing with no limitations on Thursday night against the Knicks. Sure, he said he was fine, but he also acknowledged that he probably would tell media the same thing if he wasn’t. There’s also the scary sight of him high-tailing it to the locker room immediately upon having been bumped by Gortat. It could be nothing, but the looming sense of dread – both for his continued role as the floor general for the Raps and for his All-Star starting spot – won’t go away completely until he’s back on court.
Something lost in the post-Lowry injury meaninglessness of garbage time was a three-pointer by Lucas “Bebe” Nogueira. Bebe for three!
Wall is pretty much a lock to be named as one of the Eastern reserves on Thursday night, owing to a career high 19.6 points and 9.8 assists per game that has him sitting second in the NBA (Rajon Rondo is first). The Wizards’ franchise point guard has been the lone first half highlight for a club that remains two games out of eighth in the East and three games below .500. He’s kept them afloat despite an injury-marred, under-performing campaign to date. With Bradley Beal back (well, after he recovers from yet another injury setback in the form of a concussion and broken nose suffered against the Celtics), Wall has done just enough to make for an interesting battle alongside the Pacers, Pistons, Hornets and Knicks at the back end of the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
All-Star host, owner of the league’s longest win streak and now a TNT featured team. Things are trending in the right direction for the Raps as they get set to host the Knicks (8:00pm, SN1).
Prediction: Raps 110, Knicks 97 (record this season: 26-18)