TORONTO — The Raptors put a winning punctuation mark on a stretch of games against struggling opponents. Their next six contests will provide a significantly greater challenge.
Lou Williams and Kyle Lowry each scored 22 points and Toronto beat the New York Knicks 118-108 on Dec. 21 for their sixth consecutive win, all against Eastern Conference teams with losing records.
Toronto, which leads the East at 22-6, visits Chicago on Dec. 22, the first game on a season-high, six-game road trip that finishes with five against Western Conference opponents.
“We’re looking forward to this challenge,” Toronto’s Greivis Vasquez said. “Any time you go to the West it’s not easy, but I think we’re good enough to come out with a couple of wins and do our job. We’ve got to remain humble and hungry and continue to work.”
With the World Junior Hockey Championships moving into Air Canada Centre over the holidays, the Raptors won’t play at home again until Jan. 8 against Charlotte. After Chicago, they’ll visit the Clippers, Denver, Portland, Golden State and Phoenix.
“We should be ready for it because we’ve been preaching it,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said.
The challenging stretch will be made even more difficult by the ongoing absence of leading scorer DeMar DeRozan, who remains sidelined with a torn tendon in his left groin. Toronto has gone 9-3 without DeRozan, whose return date is unknown.
“We’re playing for a lot of different things but mainly we want our franchise player back,” Vasquez said. “We need him. It’s unfair if you’re going to analyze us without our best scorer.”
Vasquez had 21 points and Terrence Ross scored 18 for the Raptors, who never trailed in matching their longest winning streak of the season. Toronto also won six straight from Nov. 15 to 26.
Carmelo Anthony scored 28 for the Knicks, who lost their fifth straight and have dropped 15 of 16 overall. Jason Smith had 16 points and Jose Calderon finished with 15 points and 10 assists.
Anthony acknowledged finding it hard to fathom that the Knicks are 20 games below .500 at 5-25. “It doesn’t seem real,” he said.
New York fell to 2-13 on the road and 1-6 in the second game of back-to-backs. The Knicks lost 99-90 at home to Phoenix on Dec. 20.
The Raptors improved to 14-3 in an NBA-high 17 home games. Toronto posted its 14th double-digit victory, matching Golden State and Portland for the league lead.
New York’s Samuel Dalembert was thrown out in the third for elbowing Jonas Valanciunas in the face. After a review, the referees ruled it a flagrant-2 foul, which means an automatic ejection.
Ross got off to a quick start, scoring 10 of Toronto’s first 15 points. Ross hit two 3-pointers and the Raptors went 5 for 11 from long range while building a 33-25 lead.
“They scored and they scored super-fast,” Anthony said. “They exploited a lot of things.”
New York trailed 58-51 at halftime, but Williams scored seven points in the third and Valanciunas had six as the Raptors took a 91-75 lead into the fourth.