After dropping three of four very winnable games, the Toronto Raptors saw their hard work pay off last time out.
Coach Dwane Casey believes his last-place team still has a chance to get back into contention with similar efforts going forward.
The Raptors look for their momentum to carry over Saturday night as they go for a seventh win in nine matchups against the visiting Cleveland Cavaliers.
Toronto (16-27) entered Thursday's game at Orlando mired in a 1-5 skid, with the last three of those losses each going to overtime. The Raptors nearly found themselves in another extra session before DeMar DeRozan made a game-winning fadeaway jumper as time expired, giving Toronto a 97-95 victory and a four-game season sweep.
"It does a lot," DeRozan, who finished with 22 points, said of the win. "Especially going back home, get ready to play Saturday. It does a lot for us. We understand we've been playing well for the last couple games, and we're just trying to get better, to get W's."
While Toronto surrendered an average of 102.6 points in winning just four of its first 23 games, it's since yielded 96.5 in going 12-8. The Raptors still have a ways to go if they hope to contend, sitting four games back of Boston for the Eastern Conference's final playoff spot, but they appear to be headed in the right direction.
"Down the stretch everybody's questioned our toughness and how tough we are," Casey said. "I've seen resolve and toughness the last couple of weeks. And for anybody who doesn't feel like we're in this to win it, they are totally wrong.
"These guys are competing their butts off, have been every game. Whether it's my fault, or whoever's fault it is, they have been competing. That's one thing you can't question."
The Raptors have more than held their own in this series of late, allowing 91.8 points per game during their 6-2 run. Jose Calderon scored a season-high 23 on 10-of-15 shooting as Toronto pulled out a 113-99 road win over Cleveland on Dec. 18.
Sitting at the bottom of the Central Division, the Cavaliers (12-32) have also picked up the pace of late. Cleveland shot a season-high 52.3 percent and erased a 20-point, third-quarter deficit in Friday's 113-108 win over Milwaukee, its third victory in four games.
Kyrie Irving, who had 40 points three nights earlier in a 95-90 win over Boston, scored 35 against the Bucks.
"He's a hell of a young player," coach Byron Scott said of Irving, the No. 1 overall pick in 2011. "When we drafted him we knew that."
Named Thursday as a reserve in next month's All-Star game, Irving is averaging 31.0 points and shooting 56.5 percent over his last four contests, a stretch during which he's made all 22 of his free-throw attempts.
"The second half (of the season) is real important for us. The wins, that's the main attitude right now, is just getting wins," said Irving, who scored 23 against the Raptors in December.
"These last couple games have been fun, and I've said it to the guys multiple times, even in practice, our whole moral, we just know when to be focused and when it's time to dial in."
Marreese Speights, acquired from Memphis in a four-player trade Tuesday, had 10 points and six rebounds in 18 minutes off the bench in his team debut.
"That's the great thing about him. ... Mo really did a heck of a job of communicating and talking tonight, and that's something I didn't know about him," Scott said.
The Associated Press News Service
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