At 21-8, it might be time to keep an eye on Toronto
Pop quiz. Name the only team in the NBA to not lose a game by double digits this season.
Golden State? Nope.
San Antonio? Wrong.
It's the Toronto Raptors, who very quietly have stayed right in the Cavaliers' rearview mirror in the Eastern Conference and look like a club that has the potential for another deep playoff run.
At 21-8, the Raptors have separated themselves from the pack of those chasing one of the top spots in the East. They weren't part of the NBA's Christmas lineup, surely giving Toronto fans more fuel for their nobody-respects-us fires, and instead they'll take a franchise-record six-game road winning streak into Monday night at Portland.
Toronto is a league-best 13-0 in games decided by 10 points or more this season. All other teams in the league have been beaten by 10 or more at least three times already. The Raptors' largest margin of defeat so far is eight points, and the average size of its eight losses is 4.6 points.
''All the pretty 3-point shots and dunks and all of that, that's good,'' Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. ''But when it gets to close-game-time down the stretch, you've got to have that competitive spirit. And that's what we're trying to build on, that toughness when it counts.''
The Raptors took Cleveland to six games in the Eastern Conference finals last season. And while the Cavs have essentially been preordained as the 2017 East champs, Toronto thinks it has a better team this season than it did a year ago.
It's early, but the Raptors lead the East and rank No. 2 in the NBA in scoring differential - 9.4 points per game. They average fewer turnovers than anyone in the NBA this season, have the second-best shooting percentage and make nearly 81 percent of their free throws.
''We're not a finished product,'' Casey said. ''There's a lot we can improve on.''
Voting started Sunday for the NBA All-Star Game and will continue through Jan. 16.
There are many ways to participate.
Fans can go to NBA.com/vote and cast a ballot once every 24 hours or do the same through the NBA app on their smartphones. Those on Twitter and Facebook can vote by listing a player's name with the hashtag #NBAVOTE , or by searching for ''NBA Vote All-Star'' on Google and filling out a voting card.
LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are in line to be picked for the 13th time. Kobe Bryant's run as an 18-time All-Star ended with his retirement after last season, and Chris Bosh's streak of 11 consecutive selections will be halted while he continues dealing with issues related to blood clots that have kept him off the floor this season.
Starters will be announced Jan. 19. Reserves will be revealed on Jan. 26. The All-Star Game is Feb. 19 in New Orleans.
THE WEEK AHEAD
Here's some of the games to watch this week:
Oklahoma City at Miami, Tuesday: Only five opposing players - Clyde Drexler, Magic Johnson, Scottie Pippen, Andre Miller and Rajon Rondo - have ever posted a triple-double in Miami. Could Russell Westbrook be next?
Toronto at Golden State, Wednesday: Warriors won in Toronto 127-121 in November, in one of the most fun games so far this season. Here's the rematch.
Chicago at Indiana, Friday: It's rare to find a 4 p.m. tip-off on the NBA schedule. The Pacers host two such games this season, this one with the Bulls and Jan. 16 against New Orleans as part of the NBA's Martin Luther King Jr. Day lineup.
New York at Houston, Saturday: The Rockets, who get minimal credit for anything done defensively, held Kristaps Porzingis to 0-for-4 shooting last month.
San Antonio at Atlanta, Sunday: Happy New Year, Mike Budenholzer. It's still strange to see the former Spurs assistant coaching against Gregg Popovich.
Detroit hasn't played many down-to-the-wire games this season. Out of the Pistons' first 32 contests, 24 have been decided by at least 10 points.
And that's a good thing for the Pistons.
They're 13-11 in those games - and 1-7 in games decided by nine points or less.
STAT LINE OF THE WEEK
Kyle Lowry, Toronto: He went 11 for 12 from 2-point range, 15 for 20 overall, in the Raptors' 104-98 win in Utah on Friday night. Lowry scored 36 points and the only 2-pointer he missed was a play at the rim where he thought he was fouled in the second quarter.