Four straight easy victories, and now a big test ahead for the New York Knicks.
Defeated and deflated by Philadelphia 10 days ago, the Knicks are rolling into the rematch.
"Guys are playing at a very high, confident level right now," Carmelo Anthony said. "We just want to bottle that up and move on and keep it going."
Amare Stoudemire had 22 points and 12 rebounds, Jeremy Lin added 18 points and 10 assists, and the Knicks improved to 4-0 under Mike Woodson by beating the Toronto Raptors 106-87 on Tuesday night.
Anthony and Tyson Chandler each scored 17 points for the Knicks, who bring a week's worth of momentum to Philadelphia on Wednesday night for a matchup with the Atlantic Division-leading 76ers. The Knicks rode another night of balanced scoring and renewed defensive intensity to a comfortable lead for most of the final three quarters, leaping in celebration after a series of strong defensive plays in the fourth.
"Everybody feels great. Having fun, enjoying the game of basketball, and that's what it's about," Stoudemire said. "When you enjoy doing your job, then it makes it much easier to play and that's what's happening right now."
DeMar DeRozan scored 17 points for the Raptors. Jose Calderon had 11 points and nine assists in his return from a five-game absence with a sprained right ankle, but backup Jerryd Bayless was lost to a left hip pointer in the second half.
The Knicks were right around their stats through Woodson's first three games, when they allowed 89 points per game on 39 per cent shooting while averaging 112.7 points and outscoring opponents by 16 per game.
"They're a tenacious, different team," Toronto coach Dwane Casey said. "It's amazing, their tenacity, the way they attack. If you don't meet it, they take you out."
It's a complete turnaround since perhaps their most deflating effort under Mike D'Antoni, a 106-94 home loss to the 76ers on March 11, when the coach lamented that the Knicks didn't always play hard. He lasted just one more game before deciding to resign last Wednesday.
Effort hasn't been a problem under Woodson, particularly on the defensive end. Anthony even acknowledged Monday playing with a defensive energy that wasn't there earlier in the season, perhaps because the new coach has stressed accountability from his top players.
Asked his reaction to Anthony's comments, Woodson said: "I can't explain that, I can't. I wish I could. We probably wouldn't be sitting in this position that we're sitting in today, fighting for a playoff spot."
There's still plenty of time to get one, especially if the Knicks keep playing like this. They came in a half-game ahead of Milwaukee for eighth place in the Eastern Conference, and despite their inconsistency, are only four games behind the 76ers.
Leading the break
They kept slapping at balls in the fourth to put the game out of reach. Chandler got his hands on one fourth-quarter pass, then Anthony stole it after the Raptors recovered, leading the break and hooking up with Chandler for an alley-oop slam with 5:11 left that made it 95-77 and had the Knicks jumping around in celebration near midcourt.
"It's fun. It's fun to watch," Woodson said. "Make no mistake about it, it was our defence that got us the spurt that we needed, and you know that's what good teams are supposed to do. We've just got to bottle it up, man, and just continue to do it."
Andrea Bargnani scored 15 points but shot just 5 of 15 for the Raptors, who finished 2-3 on a five-game trip. A victory would have given them a second winning five-game trip this season.
The teams' previous meeting came during the height of Linsanity, when Lin made a tiebreaking 3-pointer with a half-second left to give the Knicks a 90-87 victory in Toronto on Feb. 14. Lin scored 27 points that night, but he no longer needs to be the scorer he was then, with many more weapons surrounding him.
Anthony, Stoudemire and Chandler combined for 19 points on 9-of-11 shooting in the first quarter, helping the Knicks take a 27-24 lead. Defences ruled the second quarter, when both teams show below 40 per cent. The Knicks led 53-44 at halftime.
The Knicks pushed the lead to 15 with a five-point possession with 7:47 left in the third quarter, as Landry Fields made a layup while Raptors starting centre Aaron Gray was fouling Chandler away from the ball. Gray was hit with two technical fouls and ejected for his reaction, and Lin made both free throws before Chandler hit another.
The lead grew to 16 before the Knicks took a 79-68 advantage to the fourth, when they had five steals, turned seven turnovers into 11 points and led by as much as 23.
"I think we just didn't execute the way we were supposed to and we got a couple of turnovers in a row," Calderon said.