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Raptors roll to victory over lowly Knicks

By Mike Ganter, Toronto Sun

Raptors' Terrence Ross drives against New York Knicks' Pablo Prigioni on Dec. 20. (Ernest Doroszuk, Toronto Sun)

Raptors' Terrence Ross drives against New York Knicks' Pablo Prigioni on Dec. 20. (Ernest Doroszuk, Toronto Sun)

And now the tough sledding begins.

The Raptors did what they needed to do through the easy early part of the schedule that was heavy with home games and now they’ve just completed six consecutive games against sub-.500 teams who all reside in the woeful Eastern Conference with a perfect 6-0 record.

The capper was Sunday’s 118-108 win over the Knicks, which improved Toronto’s record to 22-6.

The next six, though, are all on the road and outside of the Denver Nuggets — who they get on the back end of a back-to-back at altitude which is never easy — there are no gimmes in the bunch.

The Raptors don’t play again at home until Jan 8 when they begin another six in a row at home against mostly beatable competition.

Getting there with a large chunk of the cushion they’ve built up will be a huge challenge and they all know it.

Beginning Monday night in Chicago, the Raptors will face teams with a combined record of 106-55 over the next two weeks. In those six arenas, the Raptors have an all-time record of 42-80.

Again, it’s not going to be a cakewalk.

The Raptors bid farewell to the Air Canada Centre for 2014 much the way they began it on New Year’s Day — with a convincing win.

Then it was a win over the Indiana Pacers, a formidable team at the time. Sunday, it was a less-formidable foe providing the opposition.

The Raptors never really felt like they were in trouble in this one, getting out to an early lead that was never seriously threatened the rest of the way.

Kyle Lowry and Lou Williams led the way with 22 points each but as has been the case through most of this six-game stretch against some of the NBA’s lesser lights, the workload was spread out.

Greivis Vasquez had 21 while Terrence Ross chipped in with 18 as the Raptors didn’t allow the Knicks to even sniff a lead past the five-minute mark of the first quarter.

If there was a concern in this one it came early when James Johnson, who was filling in for Landry Fields in the starting five, got two early fouls and had to come out.

Fields, who failed to pass the secondary concussion test and therefore was ruled out of the game, would normally just go back in the game when the ultra-aggressive Johnson’s fouls started to add up.

But without him, coach Dwane Casey had to mess with this rotation and while it didn’t wind up coming back to bite him, it certainly highlighted the need to have both Johnson and Fields healthy.

“My fears came true,” Casey said. “That’s why Landry is so crucial to us in these situations. Landry does a good job when he’s in there but it also (a critical time) for JJ. He’s such an aggressive player but he just has to be smart in those situations.”

Casey got through the rest of the first quarter and a good chunk of the second before it was safe to go back to Johnson and order was restored but other than that the game held very little in the way of suspense.

Much of that is because the Knicks just aren’t a very good team right now.

Carmelo Anthony got his offence as he usually does with a game-high 28 points but other than him, there really isn’t a threat in this lineup.

Amare Stoudemire sat out his second consecutive “maintenance” day which left the Knicks starting Cole Aldrich at centre. J.R. Smith also sat out, leaving another potential scorer on the outside looking in.

If Anthony isn’t scoring or former Raptor Jose Calderon isn’t bombing away from three-point land, offence for this team becomes almost an impossibility.

Combine that with the indifferent defence a team that has lost 20 of its first 25 games brings to the mix and you get games like you saw Sunday.

Casey’s concerns, though, remain with his own team and the trip that lies ahead.

“I’m ready for it,” Casey said of the upcoming trip. “I’ve been preaching it and we should all be ready for it.”

Casey was asked if he felt the team is past the point of fearing a six-game trip against some of the best teams in the NBA.

“Yeah, we’re past that point,” he said. “We are going in with positive vibes, with winning on our minds. If something happens where we don’t come out (with wins) let’s learn from it, continue to grow and move forward. We are a growing team and we are going to hit rough spots in the road. It hasn’t hit yet but it has in certain games and in certain areas. That is going to happen but we have to continue to grow and get better in those areas.”

The hope is the recent run through the dregs of the Eastern Conference hasn’t removed whatever edge the Raptors will need to compete against the tough teams that are coming up on the schedule.

mike.ganter@sunmedia.ca


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