The Boston Celtics and the Cleveland Cavaliers still get most of the headlines and the Christmas Day showcases, but it’s the Toronto Raptors who own the fewest losses and the longest winning streak in the Eastern Conference. The Raptors will try to extend their run to seven straight victories and keep the pressure on the Celtics and Cavaliers when they visit the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday.
Toronto earned a win in 12 of its last 13 games and just swept a home-and-home set from an up-and-coming East team that was awarded a Christmas showcase with a pair of wins over the Philadelphia 76ers. The Raptors are averaging 111.3 points and lead the East in point differential (plus-8.9) as they prepare to face a Dallas squad that owns the worst record in the West. The Mavericks are making a one-game stop at home before three straight on the road and just finished losing at a pair of East teams, including a 112-107 setback on Saturday at the only team in the NBA with a worse record — the Atlanta Hawks. “Tough losses, but we’ve got to learn how to close out games,” Dallas forward Dirk Nowitzki told reporters. “If that’s not the case, then we’re going to keep losing. We’re going to be in this position a lot more times for the rest of the season, and we’ve got to find ways that work.”
TV: 7 p.m. ET, Sportsnet One (Toronto). FSN Southwest (Dallas)
ABOUT THE RAPTORS (23-8): All-Star shooting guard DeMar DeRozan is adding 3-point shooting to his game this season, and the results are impressive. The 28-year-old is 13-of-20 from beyond the arc over the last three games and is averaging 34 points in that span. “It’s something I’ve always worked on,” DeRozan told reporters of his 3-point shooting. “I’ve just always got caught up in my comfort zone of being dominant in my mid-range and getting to my spots. Now, having that mentality from the 3-point line as well, that’s all it is. You can tell by the way I shoot it, by the way I let it go. It’s the same way if it was a mid-range. That’s my mentality now when I shoot ‘em.”
ABOUT THE MAVERICKS (9-25): Dallas guard J.J. Barea is one of the few bright spots on the team of late, and the 33-year-old recorded a double-double with 15 points and 12 assists in 29 minutes off the bench in Friday’s loss. Barea leads the team in assists (5.8) and is third in scoring (12 per game) despite logging an average of only 22.9 minutes. The Mavericks are beginning to get a similar efficiency out of small forward Harrison Barnes, who leads the team in scoring (18.7 points) and posted an average of 23.3 points on 51.4 percent shooting over the last four contests.
1. Mavericks SG Wesley Matthews is 8-of-34 from 3-point range in his last six games.
2. Raptors PG Kyle Lowry recorded more turnovers (11) than assists (nine) in his last two games.
3. Toronto swept the two-game series in each of the previous two seasons.
PREDICTION: Raptors 113, Mavericks 102