The Toronto Raptors can record the winningest season in their history with victories in two of their last three games. They only need to win one of them to claim home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
The Raptors can get that done Sunday and notch a season-high sixth consecutive win as they face the woeful New York Knicks.
Toronto (46-33) has a 2 1/2-game lead on Miami for the third seed in the Eastern Conference with three games to go—one more than the Heat. That spot is so crucial because the team that ends up with the No. 4 seed very possibly would not have the home-court edge in the opening round against Cleveland or Chicago.
“It’s just big. It’s the nature of the playoffs,” said Toronto’s Anthony Parker, averaging 24.0 points in the last three games. “We play well here (at home). The fans are great. It would just be a huge thing.”
The Raptors can claim the No. 3 spot by extending their winning streak to six games for the first time since a nine-game run from March 22-April 9, 2002. That’s the last season in which Toronto made the playoffs.
A win Sunday also would mean the Raptors will match the franchise single-season record of 47, accomplished in 2000-01.
Toronto, which already has secured its first Atlantic Division title, equaled its season-high five-game winning streak Friday with an 87-84 victory over Detroit, the club with the best record in the East.
“It was a good win for us, it just puts us a step closer to what we are going trying to do to get to the third spot,” Toronto coach Sam Mitchell said.
Chris Bosh had 18 points and 16 rebounds against the Pistons for his 10th straight double-double. He’s averaged 25.8 points in his last eight games against New York, and has helped Toronto win seven of the past nine meetings.
Both of those players may not be available for the Knicks on Sunday. Marbury has missed the last four games with a toe injury and Balkman has sat out three straight with a stomach virus.
Last month’s win over Toronto is one of only three New York has in 16 games since coach Isiah Thomas received a contract extension.
The poor run, punctuated by an average margin of defeat of nearly 10 points, has dropped the Knicks out of the playoff race. Making matters worse, New York’s lottery selection is owed to Chicago as part of the trade that brought Eddy Curry to New York.
Curry had 20 points and seven rebounds Friday, but the Knicks were officially eliminated from postseason contention with a 100-86 defeat at New Jersey.
“It’s always disappointing,” Thomas said after the team’s third straight loss. “I am proud of the way the guys have competed. We’ve got three games left. We’ll keep working, we’ll keep competing.”