The Toronto Raptors barely resemble the team that traded Rudy Gay in early December, a deal that preceded their rise to the top of the Atlantic Division.
Gay returns to Toronto for the first time since being dealt when the Sacramento Kings continue a seven-game road trip Friday night.
Since trading the small forward in a seven-player deal, the Raptors (33-26) have gone 26-14 behind an offense that is scoring 101.5 points per game after averaging 97.3 in the 18 games with Gay on the floor.
The Raptors had dropped five straight contests just prior to the trade, but they haven't lost more than two in a row since.
"(The trade) has allowed me to play more, get more accustomed to playing in games rather than just practicing," said Raptors small forward Terrence Ross, who moved into the starting lineup after Gay was moved. "It helped a lot. I got a lot more opportunity."
Point guard Greivis Vasquez and forwards Patrick Patterson, John Salmons and Chuck Hayes were acquired from the Kings in the deal, and Vasquez and Patterson have been key contributors with both averaging nearly 10 points for Toronto.
Gay had been shooting a career-worst 38.8 percent with Toronto, but his numbers have improved in Sacramento. The eighth-year veteran is shooting 50 percent and is averaging 20.8 points since the deal, but the Kings remain well out of playoff contention.
The Raptors enter this contest well-rested after beating Golden State 104-98 on Sunday for their seventh win in nine games. DeMar DeRozan scored 32 points to lead five Toronto players in double figures.
Ross, who is averaging 10.6 points, sat out with an ankle injury but returned to practice Thursday and will likely be in the lineup against Sacramento.
An issue for the team lately has been rebounding on the defensive end. Toronto has allowed averages of 14.0 offensive rebounds and 15.3 second-chance points over its last seven, and coach Dwane Casey wants that to change once the team enters the home stretch.
"Rebounding is our biggest bugaboo right now. Defensively we're not great but solid, and we have to get those rebounds once we do get stops," Casey said. "But I know rebounding is almost like shooting, some rebounders are born and its natural to have a first reaction to the ball."
The Kings (22-39) are looking to match a season best with a third straight victory after beating New Orleans at home and Milwaukee on the road.
Sacramento shot 52 percent from the field in a 116-102 win over the NBA-worst Bucks on Wednesday that kicked off the season-high trip.
"To start it off on a positive note is obviously the way that we prefer to start," coach Michael Malone said. "For us to come in here and beat the Bucks, who have been playing better as of late, is definitely a positive. Especially with how we played."
Isaiah Thomas scored 25 points to lead the Kings, while Gay added 22 and center DeMarcus Cousins had 21 points and 10 rebounds.
Sacramento has won its last two despite poor outside shooting. In the two games, the Kings are a combined 5 of 21 from 3-point range. However, they've been efficient with a 54.2 field-goal percentage from inside the arc.
The Kings have won four straight and six of their last seven against the Raptors, including the two most recent meetings in Toronto.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
All Rights Reserved