The Raptors look to remain undefeated against the Knicks this season when the Atlantic Division rivals meet for the second time in five days on Sunday afternoon at Madison Square Garden.
Division leading-Toronto (36-30) has a 6 1/2-game advantage in the Atlantic over third-place New York (29-36) and has won both meetings between the teams in 2006-07 and seven of the last eight overall. The Raptors are 9-2 against division foes while the Knicks have posted the opposite mark.
Toronto is in position for its first playoff appearance since 2001-02 while New York is trying to avoid missing the postseason for the third straight year. The Knicks are fighting for one of the Eastern Conference’s final two playoff spots, but blew an 18-point lead in a 92-90 defeat to New Orleans on Friday.
“We hate to lose any game but this is extremely important, I don’t think it’s a killer but it doesn’t help our cause,” said Knicks forward Channing Frye, who scored 20 points and grabbed seven rebounds. “We just have to continue to work hard.”
Steve Francis posted his first double-double of the season with 21 points and 10 assists, but missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer. The Knicks are now trying to avoid their first three-game losing streak since Dec. 29-Jan. 2.
Stephon Marbury was held to eight points on 3-for-13 shooting Friday after scoring more than 30 in four of his previous five games, including 31 in a 104-94 loss at Toronto on Wednesday. New York leading scorer Eddy Curry had just 13 points in that defeat while the Raptors shot 60 percent from 3-point range.
T.J. Ford recorded 18 points and 18 assists, and has three straight double-doubles against New York. The Raptors’ guard is averaging 20.0 points and 12.0 assists in the last four games, up from his season marks of 14.2 and 7.9.
He had 18 points and eight assists on Friday, but also committed six turnovers as Toronto had its four-game winning streak end with a 114-100 loss to Houston. Despite 16 points and 19 rebounds from leading scorer Chris Bosh, the Raptors were outrebounded 47-33 and grabbed a franchise-low two offensive boards.
“The only thing I can say is that it is a disappointment,” coach Sam Mitchell said. “We had guys in position to make some plays, but they shot the ball a little tentative. You’ve got to shoot the ball, you’ve got to drive to the basket. We got hesitant after we missed a couple of shots.”
The reserves weren’t hesitant as Juan Dixon (17), Andrea Bargnani (16) and Darrick Martin (10) all scored in double figures to help the bench outscore the starters 53-47. Bargnani, the No. 1 pick in the 2006 draft, has been especially strong lately, averaging 16.6 points over the last five games, well above his 11.5 season mark.
The Raptors may again be without two of their top five scorers as Anthony Parker and Jose Calderon are day-to-day with ankle injuries that sidelined them Friday. Jamal Crawford and David Lee also remain out with ankle injuries for New York, while Quentin Richardson is doubtful with a sore lower back.
These teams conclude their season series April 15 in Toronto.