When the Los Angeles Clippers and Toronto Raptors met more than a month ago, both teams were well under .500. Impressive turnarounds have both squads above the break-even mark heading into the rematch on Sunday in Toronto.
The Raptors (24-23) were five games below .500 going into their game at Los Angeles on Dec. 20, and they beat the Clippers 98-96 on T.J. Ford’s buzzer-beater.
Toronto remained well under the break-even mark into last month, but is 11-4 since Jan. 3 and goes into this game having won five of six to climb above .500 for the first time in more than two years.
The victory gave Toronto a two-game lead over second-place New Jersey in the Atlantic Division. The Raptors play six of their next eight games at home, where they have won four straight, but only one contest during that stretch is against a team that currently has a losing record and that’s against the Nets.
“Now that we’re in first place, we’re not going to be the hunter, we’re going to be the hunted,” said Peterson, who was 5-for-7 from 3-point range Friday. “We’ve got to play harder.”
This is the first time since 2001-02 that Toronto has been over .500 this late in the season.
“It’s getting unbelievable,” said Bosh, averaging 29.0 points over the last five games. “We trust each other, no matter what happens. We’re moving the ball well, Everybody’s playing unselfish basketball, and that’s what’s helping us out a lot.”
Bosh did not play in the first matchup with the Clippers (24-22) because of a bruised knee, but the Raptors won for just the second time in the past six meetings.
Los Angeles had a 10-14 record after that loss, but comes into this contest having won three straight and seven of eight.
“Two weeks ago we were out of the playoffs and now we are in the seventh seed,” Clippers star Elton Brand said. “We are peaking right now.”
Brand had 26 points, 19 rebounds and four blocks on Friday as the Clippers began a seven-game road trip with a 100-89 win over the Boston Celtics. Tim Thomas scored 12 of his 17 points in the fourth quarter.
“I thought down the stretch we finished well,” said coach Mike Dunleavy. “We got to the free throw line, attacked the rim at the right times, got some offensive boards. … Defensively, we tightened up.”
The Clippers, whose road trip continues on Tuesday in New York, have won two straight and four of five away from home. The team won only three times in its first 16 road games of the season.