Despite sitting in second-to-last place in the Eastern Conference, the Toronto Raptors are optimistic they can finish the season strong and maybe even challenge for a playoff spot.
Toronto looks to win three straight for the first time since the All-Star break when they host the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday night (7 p.m. ET).
Back-to-back victories have boosted the Raptors' confidence after a 1-8 stretch. Toronto (26-45) is a longshot to challenge for a postseason berth, but the Raptors, who haven't won three in a row since late January, aren't going to stop playing hard.
"Until someone says we cannot make the playoffs, we have to keep working and finish as strong as we can," point guard Jose Calderon said after a 115-106 win over Milwaukee on Wednesday. "I think we have played much better."
Calderon had 19 points and 11 assists while Andrea Bargnani led the team with 23 points. The Raptors outscored the Bucks 35-7 at the free-throw line and took a 65-44 lead at the half by scoring 40 points in the second quarter.
Calderon scored 17 of his points in the first half.
"He is just starting to get back in the groove and as a result we are moving better offensively, sharing the ball better and getting better results," interim coach Jay Triano said.
Calderon has averaged 17.0 points in Toronto's last two games after being held to a combined 16 in the previous two losses, during which the Raptors averaged 87.5 points.
Toronto's back-to-back wins came against sub-.500 teams Milwaukee and the Los Angeles Clippers, and the Raptors will try to take advantage of a third straight weak opponent in the Thunder. They were unable to do so in the teams' first meeting, falling 91-83 on Dec. 19.
Oklahoma City (20-51) has lost five of seven and was routed 107-89 by the Lakers on Tuesday night.
Kevin Durant had 24 points, six rebounds and four assists as the Thunder placed six players in double figures, but Los Angeles led the entire way, taking a 62-38 lead into the half. The Lakers' smallest lead after the break was 17.
"That's one of the best teams in the league right now," Thunder guard Chucky Atkins said. "We have a young team, we're learning and we just got to move on."
Oklahoma City is allowing an average of 99.3 points in the last seven games after holding opponents to 90.3 points over the previous six — a stretch in which the Thunder went 5-1.
The Thunder lost in their last two visits to Toronto.