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13-20
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12-21

Kings-Raptors Preview

AP - Sports

The Toronto Raptors are playing their best basketball of the season. There's no guarantee that will continue, even with one of the NBA's worst road teams in town.

Toronto goes for a fourth straight victory overall and sixth in a row at home when it faces the Sacramento Kings on Friday night.

The Raptors (12-20) are still in last place in the Atlantic Division, but they've made vast improvement in the past three weeks, winning eight of nine.

Toronto has played 10 straight games without Andrea Bargnani, the last four without Jonas Valanciunas and the last two minus Linas Kleiza, but it's managed to keep on winning. Getting six 3-pointers and 26 points from Terrence Ross and 24 from DeMar DeRozan, the Raptors defeated Portland 102-79 on Wednesday.

It might have been Toronto's best offensive effort of 2012-13 as it opened a season-high six-game homestand by shooting 53.2 percent and recording a season-best 34 assists. Point guards Jose Calderon (13 assists) and Kyle Lowry (nine) did not score.

"We started playing the game the right way (after an 18-point loss at Portland on Dec. 10), sharing the basketball, putting more focus on the defensive end," coach Dwane Casey said. "We're a totally different team today, with our approach, than we were then.''

Casey's team has held opponents to 90.4 points per game in the past nine contests, and it's outscored foes 109.7-88.0 during its three consecutive wins.

While a matchup with the Kings would seem to be a prime opportunity for the Raptors to keep rolling, Sacramento (12-20) took the first meeting 107-100 on Dec. 5. Every Kings starter scored in double figures as the club overcame 34 points and 11 assists from Lowry.

Though the Kings are 2-13 away from home, they're confident they can complete the season sweep after ending a seven-game road skid with a 97-94 victory over Cleveland on Wednesday. Sacramento, which played without Tyreke Evans and Marcus Thornton, has won five of eight.

"We're playing a lot better as a team right now," forward Jason Thompson told the league's official website after scoring 19 points and grabbing 10 rebounds.

Evans will miss a 10th straight game and Thornton is questionable after sitting out the last two, but DeMarcus Cousins could be a bigger key to the Kings' success. The third-year center is averaging 16.5 points, 12.5 boards, 5.8 assists and 2.3 steals in four games since serving a two-game suspension for unprofessional behavior and conduct detrimental to the team.

"I want to keep out the negativity and not bring any more negativity to this team," said Cousins, who had 25 points and 13 boards against the Raptors last month. "I want people to be talking positive about Sacramento and what we're doing."

The Kings ended a seven-game skid at Toronto with a 98-91 victory Jan. 11 behind 21 points and 19 rebounds from Cousins.

Sacramento hasn't won two in a row away from home since a three-game run March 23-27, 2011.

Toronto is on its longest home winning streak since posting eight consecutive victories Jan. 17-Feb. 10, 2010.

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