Kings 97, Raptors 113
With the band finally back together, the Toronto Raptors are starting to resemble the playoff team many predicted they would be.
Chris Bosh had 31 points and eight rebounds, and Andrea Bargnani poured in 13 of his 24 points in the third quarter as the Raptors routed the Sacramento Kings 113-97 Sunday evening.
The two starting big men had their way with a foul-ridden Kings frontcourt as the Raptors (18-28) won their second straight following a seven-game losing skid. The mini-hot streak couldn't have come at a better time for Toronto, with consecutive games against powerhouses Orlando, Cleveland, the L.A. Lakers and New Orleans looming in early February.
Bosh said having starting point guard Jose Calderon and six-time all-star centre Jermaine O'Neal back from injury is critical entering the team's most difficult stretch of the season.
"With Jose and (O'Neal) back in the lineup, it gives us a bit of confidence as a team," said Bosh, who went 12-for-22 from the field and 7-of-8 from the free-throw line. "We know that games are going to tougher as they go along, so we need to win the games we're supposed to win, and compete in the ones that are going to be tough."
Calderon had 16 points and eight assists in 28 productive minutes in his second game back from a hamstring injury. The Spaniard now has 18 assists - and zero turnovers - since returning to the lineup.
"I missed the game too much when I was out," said Calderon. "It's hard to be in a suit every night and just (say) 'Let's go guys, let's go guys."'
Anthony Parker and O'Neal added 11 points apiece, while O'Neal also had a game-high 10 rebounds.
Raptors head coach Jay Triano said he's happy with the current starting rotation, which features Bargnani in the middle in place of O'Neal. And he plans to keep it that way, at least for now - making O'Neal a US$21.3-million bench player.
"(O'Neal) realized that Andrea was rolling and (wanted) to keep that going," said Triano. "He is a veteran enough player, he will come off the bench and still contribute for us."
O'Neal said he doesn't mind playing the role of sixth man, as long as the Raptors keep winning.
"If this is the lineup that's good for our team, that's what we're going to do," said O'Neal. "I told (Triano) 'don't even drain your brain about who's going to be the starter and who's not.'
"As long as it equals out to wins, I'm fine with that."
John Salmons led the way with 21 points for the Kings (10-35), who have lost five in a row overall and are winless in 18 games against Eastern Conference opponents this season.
"We are losing each game differently," said Salmons, who added seven rebounds. "We've just got to put a whole game together and be more consistent with our effort in the game."
Francisco Garcia had 18 points and Brad Miller overcame foul trouble to add 15 in defeat.
Bargnani's big third quarter helped the Raptors turn a modest three-point halftime lead into a 13-point advantage after three.
The seven-footer hit a three-pointer early in the quarter and followed with a nifty layup on a pick-and-roll to make it 72-62. He added six free throws in the quarter for good measure, and is now averaging 21.2 points in 15 games since returning to the starting lineup.
Jason Kapono added a jumper to put the finishing touches on a 21-6 run, and Toronto led 87-74 entering the fourth quarter.
Bosh hit a 19-footer with 8:06 remaining in the fourth to give the Raptors a 96-78 advantage, and the lead remained at double digits the rest of the way.
Toronto shot 52.6 per cent for the game compared to 43.4 for Sacramento, and outrebounded the Kings 43-32. Sacramento attempted 25 three-pointers for the second time in three games - a stat that left coach Kenny Natt frustrated.
"We shot 25 three-pointers on the road, struggling," said Natt, now 2-14 as interim coach after taking over for Reggie Theus on Dec. 15. "That's where we have to become smarter as a team in driving the ball to the basket."
Sacramento actually led 28-26 after a fast-paced first quarter that saw both teams shoot over 52 per cent.
The teams traded baskets until the Raptors went on an 8-0 run - keyed by six points from Bosh - to take a 24-18 lead. Consecutive three-pointers from Miller cut the lead to two, and Bobby Brown's three with just under a minute left put Sacramento out in front.
The Raptors finally regained the lead on a long Calderon jumper with four minutes left in the second, and his no-look dish to Jamario Moon for a three-pointer capped a 14-4 run that extended the advantage to 51-45. Bargnani added a three with 10.9 seconds left to give Toronto a 56-53 lead at the break.
Notes: Bargnani and Garcia had to be separated in the third quarter after Garcia shoved Bargnani following a hard foul near the Sacramento basket. Garcia was given a technical foul on the play. ... Calderon was perfect on three free throw attempts Sunday, extending his streak of consecutive makes to 86 - the second-longest run in NBA history. Michael Williams made 97 in a row for the Minnesota Timberwolves in 1993. ... The Kings hit six three-pointers in the opening 12 minutes, one shy of their franchise record for threes in a quarter.
Raptors cruise past Kings
Kings 97, Raptors 113