Raptors-Spurs Preview By JEFF BARTL
Toronto (9 - 19)
San Antonio (21 - 8)
(AP) -- The Toronto Raptors were mostly healthy when they nearly knocked off the San Antonio Spurs last month.
They've been even better lately while playing short-handed.
With Andrea Bargnani and Kyle Lowry already on the shelf, Toronto will be without starting center Jonas Valanciunas on Wednesday night when it looks to win a sixth straight game and hand the Spurs their first home loss of December.
Amid their awful start to the season, the Raptors gave the Spurs all they could handle in a 111-106 double-overtime loss Nov. 25 with Bargnani, Lowry and Valanciunas all in the lineup.
While Bargnani (elbow) and Lowry (triceps) have missed the past six games and are unlikely to return Wednesday, Valanciunas is expected to miss some time after breaking his right finger in Friday's 93-90 win over Orlando. He's started every game at center despite being a 20-year-old rookie, averaging 7.8 points and 5.3 rebounds.
"Very unfortunate," coach Dwane Casey said. "He's growing every time he walks on the floor."
Valanciunas scored a career-high 22 points versus the Spurs, including 11 after the third quarter.
Bargnani's awful performance that day played a role in Toronto losing, scoring four points on 2-of-19 shooting. He appeared to be causing problems off the court Dec. 14 when he told an Italian newspaper the Raptors were "pretty much the worst team in the NBA."
However, that very night, Toronto (9-19) began its current five-game winning streak with a 21-point win over Dallas.
Rookie Terrence Ross had 18 points in that game and scored 13 off the bench Friday, including a couple of highlight-reel dunks.
"He's playing well," Casey said of Ross, drafted No. 8 overall. "He's earning every second he's on the floor, mainly on the defensive end."
Jose Calderon added 13 points and nine assists Friday as he continues to play well in place of Lowry. He's averaged 14.2 points and 10.7 assists over the past six games.
While Calderon is starting for Lowry and Ed Davis for Bargnani, Aaron Gray will likely make his first start of the season to replace Valanciunas.
The Raptors are looking to win six in a row for the first time since March 22-April 4, 2009.
They've dropped four straight in this series and nine of 10 in San Antonio, which is coming off one of its best performances of the season.
The Spurs (21-8) led by as many as 46 points and hit a franchise-record 20 3-pointers in Sunday's 129-91 win over Dallas.
Danny Green went 7 of 8 from long range and scored a career-high 25 points. He totaled 17 points over his previous three games while going 3 for 17 on 3-point attempts.
"Some nights you have it and some nights you don't," Green said. "Good thing we had it (Sunday) - not just myself, but everybody else on the team.
The Spurs also were solid defensively, forcing 20 turnovers and finishing with a season-best 17 steals.
"We don't create that many turnovers normally," coach Gregg Popovich said. "So that's a heck of a night for us as far as steals are concerned. That's not going to happen very often."
Toronto has committed an average of just 9.2 turnovers during its win streak.
Tony Parker added 18 points Sunday and is averaging 22.3 at home this month as the Spurs have gone 6-0. They lost two of their final three home games in November.
Parker is averaging 24.0 points in his last seven versus the Raptors, including 32 last month.
Toronto leading scorer DeMar DeRozan had 29 points in that meeting and has averaged 27.8 in his last four games versus San Antonio.