January 22, 2015

The Toronto Raptors have been outstanding defensively after a poor start to their current road trip. Another matchup with the Philadelphia 76ers could help them stay locked in.

Toronto aims for an 11th consecutive win in the series when the Atlantic Division rivals square off Saturday night.

The Raptors (23-15) have been among the NBA's better defensive teams in building a three-game lead atop the division, though that wasn't the case when Cleveland shot an opponent-season high 55.4 percent to hand them a 122-100 loss in Monday's opener to a five-game trek. Toronto has since bounced back, limiting Brooklyn to 39.7 percent shooting in Wednesday's 91-74 win and stifling Washington during the second half of Friday's 97-88 victory.

Toronto offset a season-high 23 turnovers by holding the Wizards to 41 points and 37.2 percent over the final two quarters.

"This team plays so fast, it does speed you up," Raptors coach Dwane Casey said of Washington. "We made up for it with our defense in the second half, but again we've got to do a better job of taking care of the basketball."

DeMar DeRozan provided an offensive lift by recording 21 of his season-high 35 points in the second half, including 11 during a third quarter in which Toronto outscored Washington 26-14.

Toronto dominated defensively in its most recent meeting with Philadelphia (4-34), holding the 76ers to 33.3 percent and forcing 22 turnovers in a 96-76 home rout on Dec. 13. Philadelphia shot 32.1 percent from inside the arc despite Toronto center Jonas Valanciunas missing the game with a broken hand.

The 76ers rank last in the NBA in scoring (93.1 points per game) and 29th in field goal percentage (42.5), though they've improved in both categories since acquiring Ish Smith from New Orleans on Dec. 24. With the journeyman point guard in the lineup, Philadelphia has averaged 100.3 points and shot 45.1 percent while going 3-4 following a historically bad 1-30 start.

Smith tallied 21 points and 11 assists as the Sixers began a season-high six-game homestand with Monday's 109-99 victory over Minnesota, but they struggled badly on the defensive end in Thursday's 126-98 loss to Atlanta.

''We played with no spirit tonight. We played with no fight tonight," coach Brett Brown said afterward. "I give them a lot of credit in how they shared and moved the ball, but I thought that our defense was poor.''

Opponents have shot 55.7 percent overall and 45.8 percent on 3-pointers while averaging 118.3 points in Philadelphia's last three.

The 76ers did receive 21 points from Jahlil Okafor in the rookie center's second game back in the starting lineup. Okafor has totaled 49 points in two matchups with Toronto, tying a career high with 26 in a 119-103 loss at Wells Fargo Center on Nov. 11.

Luis Scola has hurt Philadelphia in this season's two meetings, averaging 21.5 points on 20-of-29 shooting.

The Raptors have averaged 107.2 points over five straight wins in Philadelphia since a 108-101 overtime loss on Jan. 18, 2013 - their last defeat in the series.

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