The Toronto Raptors increased their lead over the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers in the race for the top spot in the NBA Eastern Conference standings. With both the Celtics and Cavaliers idle on Sunday night, the Raptors held on to a 103-98 win against the Charlotte Hornets at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto.
The Raptors leaned on a balanced attack, led by the double-double performances from Jonas Valanciunas and Kyle Lowry. Valanciunas racked up 18 points and 13 rebounds, while Lowry posted 14 points and 10 boards to go along with five assists for the Raptors.
DeMar DeRozan led the Raptors in scoring with 19 points, and also added eight assists and four rebounds. Serge Ibaka also had a big night with 17 points on top of eight rebounds and three blocks, while CJ Miles and Fred VanVleet added 12 points apiece off the bench.
Toronto led by as much as 13 points in the fourth quarter, but Charlotte managed to pull within two points with five minutes left in the game. Lowry and DeRozan came to rescue, hitting two consecutive three-pointers to break Charlotte’s momentum en route to the five-point victory.
“They’re playing as well as anyone in our league at this point,” Hornets guard Kemba Walker said of the Raptors, according to ESPN. “They move the ball really well, they trust each other.”
With the win, Toronto improved to 45-17 and remained on top of the East standings. The Raptors are now two games ahead of the third-running Celtics (44-20) and nine games ahead of the Cavaliers (36-26). They have won in nine of their last 10 games, including their last four assignments.
Meanwhile, the Indiana Pacers moved up to fourth place in the East. The Pacers escaped with a 98-95 road win over the Washington Wizards at the Capital One Arena. Victor Oladipo had a huge night with 33 points, while Myles Turned posted 12 points and 13 rebounds for Indiana.
The Wizards trailed by 15 points heading into the final period, but Bradley Beal, who finished with 22 points and 11 assists, led a late rally for Washington. They managed to trim the lead down to one point with 36.6 seconds left in the game, but the Pacers managed to hold on to the hard-earned victory.
The Pacers improved to 36-27 and took the fourth spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race from the Wizards. They are now just one-half game behind the Cavaliers, who lost in their last two games. Indiana will have a chance to claim the third spot with a win against the Milwaukee Bucks on Monday night in Indianapolis. The updated NBA standings are available on the league’s official website.