December 26, 2014

Both the Los Angeles Clippers and Toronto Raptors have had hot starts countered by frustrating extended cold stretches.

The Clippers try to avoid a third straight loss when the teams meet Sunday afternoon, while the Raptors now deal with a injury to a key player as they conclude an already trying road trip.

Los Angeles (6-6) has lost six of eight since a 4-0 start and Toronto (8-6) six of nine after winning a franchise-record five straight to begin the season. The Raptors opened this five-game western swing with three consecutive defeats before having Friday's 102-91 victory over the Lakers marred by a broken left hand to center Jonas Valanciunas.

The Raptors have yet to disclose the length of Valanciunas' absence, though he missed 18 games when fracturing his right hand as a rookie in 2012-13.

Valanciunas, signed to a four-year, $64 million extension in August, is averaging 12.7 points and a team-leading 9.3 rebounds as Toronto's top offensive post threat.

''It's unfortunate, and we're definitely going to miss him because of what we do, so it's next man up right now,'' guard Kyle Lowry said.

The Raptors were able to withstand the injury Friday, outscoring the lowly Lakers 53-41 with Valanciunas sidelined the second half. Lowry led five Toronto players in double figures with 25 points and Terrence Ross provided a lift off the bench, scoring eight points in 14 minutes in returning from a six-game absence caused by a sprained left thumb.

"We had a sluggish second quarter, but the third quarter and fourth quarter I thought we played well," Lowry said.

Closing out teams has been a problem of late for the Clippers. After blowing a 23-point third-quarter lead to unbeaten Golden State on Thursday, they were outscored 19-8 over the final 6 1/2 minutes of Friday's 102-91 setback at Portland. The Clippers went 8 for 24 and committed five turnovers during the pivotal fourth quarter.

''We're just not finishing games right now,'' guard Chris Paul said.

Blake Griffin's late struggles have been the most pronounced. The All-Star forward went 3 for 8 from the field in Friday's final period and was held to one fourth-quarter point in the 124-117 loss to Golden State.

Griffin is shooting 47.7 percent and averaging 5.9 points in the fourth, his lowest numbers of any quarter.

Conversely, the Raptors have often started slowly, having shot a league-low 35.9 percent while averaging 22.1 points in the first quarter.

One positive for the Clippers is that Paul played 61 minutes over the back-to-back sequence after sitting the previous two games with a sore groin and scored a season-high 35 points against Golden State.

J.J. Redick returned Friday after missing three straight with a back injury, though he finished 3 of 12 from the field for a season-low seven points. Paul Pierce is available as well after being rested against Portland.

Redick made five 3-pointers and totaled 23 points against Toronto on Dec. 27, but Lowry had 25 points and the Raptors halted a four-game series road skid with a 110-98 decision. Valanciunas tallied 22 points and 11 rebounds.

Toronto also posted a 123-107 home win Feb. 6 to complete its first season sweep over the Clippers since 2009-10.

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