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Cavaliers-Raptors Preview

AP - Sports

The Toronto Raptors have proven fairly formidable of late thanks to a tremendous defensive display.

That shouldn't come as much of a surprise to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The host Raptors try for a four-game season sweep and a sixth win in seven meetings with the short-handed Cavaliers, who look to avoid a 10th consecutive loss Friday night.

After knocking off Washington and Charlotte - the two worst teams in the league, Toronto (20-35) improved to 3-0 this month with Wednesday's 99-78 rout at Philadelphia. The Raptors outscored the 76ers 44-22 in the second half and limited them to seven points in the final 12 minutes - the second-fewest points allowed in the fourth quarter in team history.

"Everybody knows their role," said DeMar DeRozan, who had 18 points. "Nobody's trying to do more than what they normally do ... once we get that going it's tough for us to be beat."

Much of Toronto's recent success can be attributed to its strong play on defense. The Raptors, allowing 95.1 points per game on the season, have held opponents to just 85.7 during their run. They haven't won four in a row since Nov. 17-24, 2010.

"Really we're outside (of the playoff picture) looking in, nothing to really play for," said coach Dwane Casey, whose team is in 11th place in the Eastern Conference.

"Andrea (Bargnani) and DeMar and all the other guys playing for pride - it's not like we're really pressing the hammer on them. I told them all these games are for pride, that way you don't go home this summer and regret anything you did this season."

The Raptors surely like their chances of keeping things going with the Cavaliers (17-35) coming to town. Toronto has held Cleveland to an average of 87.0 points on 36.4 percent shooting in its three victories this season - including a 92-77 home win Jan. 4.

The Raptors more recently overcame 14 points, seven rebounds and seven assists from Kyrie Irving during a 96-88 road victory March 13. Irving, though, remains out of action after re-injuring his sprained right shoulder during Tuesday's 125-90 loss to San Antonio.

The Cavaliers saw their woes continue in the opener of a three-game trek the following night, falling 107-98 to Milwaukee. In the midst of its longest losing streak since dropping an NBA-record 26 straight last season, Cleveland trailed by 19 in the second quarter but clawed its way back to make things interesting down the stretch.

Former Raptor Anthony Parker matched a career high with 27 points while Donald Sloan, who started in place of Irving, added 12 and eight assists.

"We have two more games on this road trip. If we play the same way, there's no reason why we won't have the opportunity to win both, in Toronto and New Jersey," coach Byron Scott said. "We just have to make sure it continues to go this way (forward), instead of going back. Don't back slide. Build on this type of effort."

Scott won't have Parker for this one, though, as the guard is expected to miss at least two games with a bruised sternum. Manny Harris will start in his place.

The Cavaliers allowed the Bucks to shoot 57.1 percent from the floor and are surrendering 104.2 points per game on 49.1 percent shooting during their slide.

Cleveland could have a hard time trying to contain Bargnani, who's averaged 25.0 points on 50.6 percent shooting over his last five games. He's posted 25.8 points per game on 62.3 percent shooting in his four most recent home matchups in the series.

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