Toronto (51-17) have opened a five-game lead over Boston for both the Atlantic Division lead and top spot in the Eastern Conference with 14 games remaining. Given how the Celtics are resting All-Star guard Kyrie Irving for the next few games, coupled with an injury riddled roster overall, that five-game bulge is a commanding advantage.
The Raptors pushed their winning streak to a season-high ten games and have won 17 of 18 overall following a 106-99 win at Indiana on Thursday night that completed a three-game road sweep and set a franchise record for consecutive road wins with eight. DeMar DeRozan had 24 points and seven assists while center Jonas Valanciunas continued his recent strong play with 16 points and 17 rebounds.
The Mavericks (22-46) are facing back-to-back seasons without the playoffs for the first time since a ten-year drought from 1991 to 2000 but have won three of their last four after beating the New York Knicks 110-97 on Tuesday night.
Harrison Barnes scored 30 points, one off his season high, and rookie Dennis Smith Jr. added 17 as Dallas hit 14 3-pointers and snapped a five-game road losing streak. The Mavericks won the first game between the teams 98-93 on December 26 and are looking for the first series sweep since the 2014/15 season.
Three keys to the game
An old dog teaches the young Raptors bench new tricks - The vaunted Toronto bench mob had 36 points and contributed heavily to a 58-35 edge in rebounds that helped lead to 18 second-chance points. But the second five also struggled at times as Pacers veteran forward Al Jefferson, who had not played in the previous nine games, let up Jakob Poeltl and Toronto's second frontcourt for 20 points and 12 rebounds in 26 minutes.
Ferrell trying to find rhythm at shooting guard - With Wesley Matthews done for the season with a broken leg, Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle has restored Yogi Ferrell to the starting backcourt. Ferrell has totaled 12 points in the two games he has started, hitting five of 16, but the second-year pro has maintained his 3-point stroke, hitting 38.8 percent from beyond the arc, and his 43.1 percent overall shooting is an improvement on his rookie mark of 40.6 percent while averaging roughly the same as last season with 10.1 points per game.
Raptors can match a club record for consecutive wins - Toronto set a club record for consecutive wins back in the 2015/16 season with 11 from January 6-30, 2016. The Raptors have had 16 streaks of at least four wins since that run, including this current ten-game stretch in which they have averaged 113.4 points while outscoring opponents by 12.2 per game.
Matchup to watch
Dallas' bench vs Toronto's bench - Before the second unit of the Raptors became one of the unsung parts of their team, they struggled with cohesion at times. Nowhere was that more apparent than in the first game between the teams in which the Mavericks rode a 20-point effort by reserve J.J. Barea to a 98-93 victory.
Toronto's reserves scored 37 points in that game, but their defense left much to be desired as Delon Wright was a minus-20 in just 16 minutes, C. J. Miles was a minus-16 in less than 11 minutes and Pascal Siakam was a minus-13 in 20 minutes.
Barea had 12 points in Wednesday's win and has averaged 10.4 in his last seven games coming off the bench. Expect to see a lot of Fred VanVleet chasing around Barea this time around.
Dallas Mavericks projected starting lineup
PG - Dennis Smith Jr. | SG - Yogi Ferrell | C - Dorian Finney-Smith | SF - Harrison Barnes | PF - Dirk Nowitzki
Toronto Raptors projected starting lineup
PG - Kyle Lowry | SG - DeMar DeRozan | C - Jonas Valanciunas | SF - Norman Powell | PF - Serge Ibaka
Barnes has played well since the All-Star break, averaging 20.3 points and 5.5 rebounds in ten games and has scored 25 or more in four of his last seven. He had 16 points and ten rebounds in the first meeting, his first in ten career matchups with the Raptors in which he has averaged 12.8 points and 4.7 rebounds while shooting 49.0 percent.
Veteran forward Dirk Nowitzki was a key contributor in the December victory with 18 points and seven rebounds while hitting eight of 13 shots. In 15 previous trips north of the border, Nowitzki has averaged 22.3 points and 8.3 rebounds while hitting 37.3 percent of his 3-point shots.
Overall, Nowitzki has totaled 22.1 points and 7.5 rebounds per game in 31 matchups with Toronto and needs 16 points for 700 lifetime against them.
DeRozan had his second-worst shooting night of the season at Dallas, hitting just three of 16 shots and finishing with eight points. It was one of five games he failed to reach double figures this season, but the All-Star has averaged 22.1 points and 4.9 assists during this winning streak.
He has averaged 16.6 points and 3.6 assists in 16 lifetime matchups with the Mavericks but has scored 23.3 per game in his last four at home against them. That includes a game in which he went zero for eight and was shut out.
Kyle Lowry had 23 points, eight rebounds and six assists in the December loss, hitting four of eight from 3-point range but going six of 17 overall. He has averaged 13.0 points and 5.1 assists in 26 games, compiling a 2.81 assist-to-turnover ratio.
The Raptors are 11.5-point favorites, with the line sliding down one point since it opened. Toronto have covered in four of their last five versus Western Conference teams and in their last five overall. Toronto have been good to bettors against the league's lightweights, covering in 21 of their last 27 when facing teams with a sub-.400 winning percentage and 20 of their last 28 versus teams with a sub.-500 record.
Dallas have gone 11-5 against the spread in their last 16 road games and covered in five of their last seven games versus Eastern Conference opponents. The Mavericks, though, are 4-9 against the number in their last 13 playing Atlantic Division teams and are 2-13-1 against the spread in their last 16 Friday games.
The over/under is 213 points, and the under has been the strong play in this series of late, going 7-1 in the last eight meetings between the teams and 8-2-1 in the last 11 at Toronto. The under has hit in Dallas' last four games versus Atlantic Division teams and gone 4-1 in their last five on the road.
The under has posted a 9-1-1 mark in Toronto's last 11 home games versus teams with a sub-.400 record and 12-3-1 in the last 16 there when they are sub-.500.
The Raptors continue to answer every challenge thrown at them, and Thursday night was no different. The Pacers tried to be physical with them, and the Raptors were physical right back, which pleased coach Dwane Casey after his team was manhandled in November. He had told the Toronto Sun before the game, “They kicked our butts. They outfought us, out-physicalled us, stood over us after they knocked us down. It should motivate us as to what type of game it’s going to be.”
Now they get the Mavericks, which is another grudge match, and the December defeat also marks the last time Toronto lost to a team with a losing record. The Raptors are at the top of the East because they have taken care of business and been versatile in doing so. Playing on back-to-back nights means the bench will log extra minutes, and they also have a point to prove after Barea ran rampant.
This game may take a bit to unfold as Toronto find their footing, but look for them to match a club record with their 11th consecutive victory and put away the Mavericks late for a 103-91 result.
The game will be televised locally on Fox Sports Southwest and nationally in Canada on TSN4. Tip-off time is 7:30 pm EDT.
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