The Toronto Raptors moved within one game of the Cleveland Cavaliers for top spot in the Eastern Conference on Sunday with a 105-100 NBA victory over the Orlando Magic.
DeMar DeRozan led the Raptors with a game-high 25 points and five assists.
Luis Scola added 20 points and eight rebounds while Kyle Lowry chipped in with 18 points and seven assists as the Raptors notched their fourth straight win and improved to 13-4 since the All-Star break.
Scola said the pursuit of first place in the East was important, but not the overriding motivation as the post-season approaches.
“Of course we want to win games, of course we want to finish first, but the most important thing is to be able to build good momentum going into the playoffs,” Scola said. “Eventually, when we get to the seventh game of the conference final, if we get there, we’ll worry about that then.
“We’re fighting for (first), because it’s the right thing to do, but we can’t lose sleep over it.”
Orlando, connecting on 51.6 percent from the field, took an 82-80 lead into the fourth quarter.
But the Raptors used a 10-0 scoring run to take a four-point lead with 5:22 to play and held on.
Victor Oladipo led Orlando with 21 points and six rebounds. Evan Fournier had 21 points, but the Magic have now lost three in a row and trail the Chicago Bulls by six games for the eighth and final playoff spot in the East.
NOWITZKI POURS IN 40 POINTS
In Dallas, Dirk Nowitzki joined an elite group as he poured in 40 points to lead the mavericks to a 132-120 overtime triumph over the Portland Trail Blazers.
The Mavs snapped a five-game home losing streak and clinched the season series against Portland – a fact that could come into play with the teams battling for playoff seeding in the bottom half of the Western Conference standings.
“We’re still in the same position where we’re fighting for our playoff lives,” Nowitzki said after his 20th career 40-point game. “Our goal before the season was to make it into the playoffs. We’re still fighting for it.”
Nowitzki reached 40 for the first time since January 11, 2014. He drained a three-pointer to cap an 11-0 scoring run to open overtime.
At 37 he became only the fourth player in NBA history to score at least 40 at age 37 or older. The others are Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Karl Malone.
“Never underestimate greatness at any age, that’s what I always say about guys like him,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said.
DEPLETED PELICANS BEAT CLIPPERS
The New Orleans Pelicans, hit Sunday with the news that All-Star forward Anthony Davis would have season-ending knee surgery, responded with a 109-105 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers.
Six of the eight players in uniform for the short-handed Pelicans scored in double figures, led by Jrue Holiday with 22.
Holiday drained two free throws with 24.8 seconds remaining to put New Orleans up 106-103. After JJ Redick trimmed the deficit to one point with a reverse layup, Luke Babbitt made two free throws to stretch the Pels’ lead back to 108-105 with 14.5 seconds left.
After Austin Rivers missed a three-pointer for the Clippers, Toney Douglas added one more free throw for the hosts.