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NBA scores 2016: Raptors inch closer and closer to Cavaliers

Toronto has won 14 of 15 and shows no signs of slowing, plus the surging Blazers and everything else from Monday in the NBA.

Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

It isn't an argument anymore: the Toronto Raptors are currently the second best team in the Eastern Conference. After rolling to an easy 103-89 win over the Detroit Pistons on Monday, the Raptors have won 14 of 15 games and are five games ahead of the Boston Celtics for the second best record in the East.

Toronto has distanced itself from what was once a crowded field vouching for the title of "Team That Will Lose to the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals."

Heading into the All-Star break, the Raptors are that team. But should they be striving for more than that? Could they actually challenge the Cavaliers?

At first glance, no. The Raptors don't have the bodies to match up with LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson. Plus, last year's team was playing well before the All-Star break, too, but eventually struggled through the second half of the season and lost in the first round of the playoffs.

This Raptors squad looks different than last year's, though. They're tough on defense and, behind Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, have one of the league's best offenses. Scoring 105.6 points per 100 possessions, they have the No. 6-rated offense in the league. With a defensive rating (points given up per 100 possessions) of 101, they're ninth best in the NBA on that end of the floor. The Cavaliers are ranked No. 4 and 8 in offense and defense, respectively.

Lowry and DeRozan make the Raptors go, but the bench has been superb, too. Terrence Ross and Cory Joseph give Toronto offensive weapons and Bismack Biyombo and Patrick Patterson play hard when they see the court.

All of the Raptors' best was on display against the Pistons on Monday. Lowry ran circles around Reggie Jackson, going off for 25 points and seven assists while Jackson turned the ball over six times. Ross led a strong Raptors' bench performance with 18 points. And DeRozan had 17 points, seven rebounds and six assists while throwing in some slick moves.

Plus, the defense was superb once again. Jackson and the Pistons' offense couldn't get anything going as they scored only 89 points. Ersan Ilyasova led the way by scoring 17.

Doing all of this against the Cavaliers is a completely different test. Stopping James and Irving is a challenge the Raptors have yet to face -- and one they'll likely fall short of even though they are so improved this year.

The Raptors are cementing themselves as the the team in the East most capable of hanging with the Cavaliers, at least. If they keep improving, the Cavaliers should be wary.

3 other things we learned

The Portland Trail Blazers are here to stay

Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum have willed the Blazers into the playoff race. A 112-106 overtime win over the Memphis Grizzlies on Monday moved Portland to 26-27. They're just a half-game back of the Utah Jazz for the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot. An 11-3 stretch has them rolling, and it's mostly thanks to Lillard and McCollum doing their best Splash Brothers impersonation. Against the Grizzlies, Lillard had 33 points and McCollum added 21 -- six of which came in overtime. The Blazers got some help from an errant Jeff Green tip-in at the buzzer to send the game to overtime, but they took advantage of the mistake. Portland wasn't supposed to be in the race for the final playoff spot in the West, but with an offense that has found its way and a will to win with one of the best backcourts in the game, the Blazers are going to be fighting with the Jazz the rest of the way. Their prize will be getting clocked by the Golden State Warriors, unfortunately.

The Orlando Magic own the Atlanta Hawks

For the second day in a row, the Magic downed the Hawks thanks to late-game heroics. On Sunday, Nikola Vucevic hit a buzzer-beater to down the Hawks. On Monday, the Hawks gave up a double-digit fourth quarter lead and folded in overtime in a 117-110 loss. As the Cavaliers and Raptors pull away from the East, the Hawks, who won 60 games last season, can't keep pace. Paul Millsap had 22 points, 13 rebounds, six assists and four steals and Al Horford added 27 points, but the Hawks gave up 60 points in the third and fourth quarters -- and then 17 in overtime -- to a Magic team that had lost 15 of 17 games before ripping off two in a row. A defense that falls apart like that doesn't bode well for the playoffs. The Hawks have a lot of work to do if they want to challenge in the East.

Joe Johnson isn't done yet

The Brooklyn Nets might not have a lot going for them, but Johnson turned in a vintage performance on Monday. He nailed a buzzer-beater to give the Nets a 105-104 win over the Denver Nuggetsmuch to the delight of the Nets' owner.

Johnson had only 12 points and eight assists, but he was a highlight-making machine. Along with the buzzer beater, he turned Jusuf Nurkic to dust with a crossover.

It was a good night in Brooklyn.

Play of the night

Andre Drummond is better at shooting free throws from the other side of the court??

3 fun things

Timofey Mozgov's dunk attempt should be accompanied by a sad trombone.

Rajon Rondo had a perfect assist, but it was to LeBron James -- who is not on Rondo's team.

DeAndre Jordan blocked Jahlil Okafor in a very disrespectful way.


Cavaliers 120, Kings 100 (Fear the Sword recap | Sactown Royalty recap)

Pacers 89, Lakers 87 (Indy Cornrows recapSilver Screen and Roll recap)

Clippers 98, 76ers 92 OT (Clips Nation recapLiberty Ballers recap)

Hornets 108, Bulls 91 (At the Hive recapBlog a Bull recap)

Raptors 103, Pistons 89 (Raptors HQ recapDetroit Bad Boys recap)

Nets 105, Nuggets 104 (Nets Daily recapDenver Stiffs recap)

Magic 117, Hawks 110 OT (Orlando Pinstriped Post recapPeachtree Hoops recap)

Pelicans 116, Timberwolves 102 (The Bird Writes recap | Canis Hoopus recap)

Trail Blazers 112, Grizzlies 106 OT (Blazer's Edge recap | Grizzly Bear Blues recap)

Thunder 122, Suns 106 (Welcome To Loud City recapBright Side Of The Sun recap)