December 28, 2014

The Toronto Raptors are riding a team-best winning streak, just wrapped up a perfect homestand and are solidifying themselves as a top Eastern Conference contender.

Still, coach Dwane Casey will continue to nitpick.

Casey was disappointed with the finish of his team's nearly two-week stay at home and cautioned that it could snowball into the Raptors' first loss in four weeks when they open a six-game road trip against the Denver Nuggets on Monday night.

Toronto (32-15) never trailed and led by 20 in Saturday's 111-107 victory over Detroit, concluding a 7-0 homestand and pushing the longest current winning streak in the league to 11.

However, the Raptors' 98-78 advantage with less than six minutes left was cut to four by the buzzer. Five of their 16 turnovers came in the final 4:39, and they shot 36.8 percent in the last 12 minutes.

''This game is fleeting,'' Casey said. ''You can win 11 in a row and also you can lose seven, eight in a row if you continue to play with the lack of focus we did in the fourth quarter. Hopefully we learn from it and continue to go. We have to learn from it.''

Toronto shot 49.5 percent through wins 3-8 on the streak - which started with four road victories - but has made 44.6 percent from the field in the last three. A disparity of 81 made free throws to opponents' 51 helped fill the gap.

The Raptors have held their last five opponents to 43.0 percent shooting and 92.8 points per game, but the Pistons scored 35 in the fourth quarter and hit 48.1 percent in that period - a stark contrast to the 42.6 mark they posted in the first 36 minutes.

''You give up 35 points, and turnovers and lack of focus, human nature letting human nature take over down the stretch is not winning basketball,'' Casey said.

DeMar DeRozan scored 29 and has reached that mark five times during Toronto's run. He had at least 29 points six times in 36 games previously - including a 106-105 home loss to Denver on Dec. 3.

DeRozan scored 34 in that contest, but Denver's Will Barton had 22 off the bench and Danilo Gallinari added 21 to snap the Raptors' three-game winning streak in the series.

Gallinari has averaged 23.0 points in the last seven games but Denver (18-30) has lost five of them, including defeats in three of four at the Pepsi Center.

The Nuggets were close to winning back-to-back games for the first time since Jan. 10-13 on Saturday against Indiana, but wilted down the stretch in a 109-105 overtime loss to close a 1-2 road trip.

Denver shot 37.5 percent and committed nine turnovers between the fourth quarter and OT.

"Yeah, poor, poor job. At the end of the day, that's my fault," coach Mike Malone said. "A team's ability to execute late under pressure starts with me as the head coach."

Toronto - winner of two straight in Denver following nine straight losses there - is averaging 26.0 points in the fourth quarter, among the top 10 marks in the league. Denver's 23.6 is one of the worst.

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