It’s been more than a month since the Toronto Raptors lost back-to-back games, but their play in that stretch has left plenty to be desired for coach Sam Mitchell.
After again following a strong performance with a lousy one, Mitchell’s club will try to avoid its first consecutive defeats since Jan. 4 and 6 as it goes for its seventh straight win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday in Minneapolis.
The Raptors (26-22) have put together a solid season. They are in second place in the Atlantic Division, behind only NBA-best Boston, and are one of only five teams in the Eastern Conference with a winning record.
Toronto, though, hasn’t played well consistently. Its longest win streak of the season is a modest four-game run from Dec. 9-14, and the Raptors are a mediocre 12-12 since then. They’ve alternated wins and losses over their last six games.
The Raptors have shot at least 50 percent from the field in three wins since Jan. 25. However, they’ve been held under 44 percent in each of their three losses in that stretch.
Toronto shot only 41.3 percent in a 102-98 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday.
“They deserved to win and we didn’t deserve to win,” Mitchell said. “We’re not good enough to just look at a team’s record and show up and play.”
The team’s defense has been just as inconsistent. The Raptors have held opponents to an average of 80.0 points in their last three wins, but have given up an average of 110.3 in their last three defeats.
“We can’t get down on ourselves,” said All-Star forward Chris Bosh, who had 29 points, 12 rebounds and four steals Friday. “We just did not play good defense tonight. Plain and simple, we can’t win many games not playing good defense. We have to take this as a learning experience because defense wins a lot of games.”
The Timberwolves (10-38) may be an ideal opponent for a Raptors team trying to begin a sustained run of good basketball. Toronto has swept the last three season series between the teams.
Minnesota, which hasn’t beaten Toronto since Jan. 21, 2004, also owns the Western Conference’s worst record.
However, after going 5-34 to start the season, the Timberwolves have won five of their last nine games. They’ve dropped their last two, but those games were a six-point loss against streaking Houston and an 88-86 defeat against league-leading Boston on Friday that ended when Celtics forward Leon Powe made a layup at the buzzer.
“We play hard to the wire, they just made the last shot. But you have to move on,” Minnesota rookie forward Corey Brewer said. “We have to get ready for Toronto. … We battled hard, so if we come out and play that way every game, we’ll win a lot more games.”
The Raptors, meanwhile, welcomed point guard T.J. Ford back to Toronto on Friday, when he played his first home game since returning from a left arm stinger that sidelined him for nearly two months.
“The fans definitely made me feel good inside to know that I’m appreciated,” Ford said. “They gave me a lot of boost and a lot of confidence.”
Ford averaged 22.5 points and 8.5 assists while shooting 58.1 percent from the field in two games against Minnesota last season, but will continue to back up Jose Calderon while getting back into playing shape.