NEW YORK - As the Knicks were on their way to an embarrassing 29-point Christmas Day defeat, the Madison Square Garden faithful chanted the name of their saviour, who just so happens to be the Raptors' starting point guard.
Their 9-19 record remains identical to the crosstown rivals in Brooklyn and trails both Toronto and Boston in the Atlantic Division. Raymond Felton, their declining point guard, is back on the sideline nursing his third injury of the season. Their owner James Dolan has reassured his team that no one is being traded or fired, at least for the time being. Still, some Knicks fans are holding out hope that help is on the way.
"That's very humbling," Kyle Lowry said, flattered by the thought of Knicks fans chanting his name. "That's humbling, I appreciate it. It's kind of one of those things where you just don't know what to say, you just are like, wow that's pretty cool but at the end of the day, I play for the Raptors."
Exactly two weeks ago, Lowry stood in front of the Toronto media and addressed multiple reports that had surfaced the day prior, connecting him to trade talks with the Knicks. The rumour mill has dried up since then, for the most part, but the Raptors' guard found himself answering the same questions prior to Friday's game at MSG, the first in a home-and-home set with the Knicks.
Catch both contests against the division-rival Knicks - Friday at 7:30pm et and Saturday at 7pm et - live on TSN2 and listen to Saturday's rematch on TSN 1050 Radio.
"That wasn't in my mind," Lowry said, asked about the possibility of playing in New York. "My mind [said] to keep playing and be a competitor and play hard, try to win as many games for the Raptors. If something happens, then it happens, until that day I'm a Raptor and I play hard for the Raptors."
Reconvening in New York following a brief two-day break for the holidays, the Raptors are feeling good about their place in the putrid Atlantic Division. Despite the trade of Rudy Gay earlier in the month and ongoing speculation that Lowry and/or others could be moved next, no one is panicking. Quite the opposite in fact. The team is as harmonious as ever and that's a credit to their flood general, who hasn't been shaken by the off-court noise and is playing the best basketball of his career.
Lowry is averaging 15.2 points and 7.0 assists this season, both career-highs. He has recorded six or more assists in a career-best 18 consecutive games, obliterating his previous high, which was eight straight contests.
The Raptors sit atop the division, a half game ahead of the Celtics and three games in front of the Knicks and Nets. Although they've won five of eight since the trade of Gay - including two of three during an exceptionally difficult Western Conference road trip - the Knicks are closing in. New York has won six of its last 12 and has Tyson Chandler, the heart of its defence, back in the lineup. With two straight games against the Knicks and four of the next 11 against Atlantic Division opponents, this stretch could go a long way in mapping out the Raptors' next step, as well as the future of Lowry and his expiring contract.
"We all want to win, we all want to make the playoffs, we all want to be a better team and continue to get better," said Lowry. "I think guys are just out here, we're having fun, we're taking advantage of every time we can step on the floor together and just trying to win games."
"I just want to keep playing. No matter what, I want to try to win games. I made a commitment to the city of Toronto, to myself and to the fans to get the Raptors to the playoffs so that's what I'm here to do."
Much-needed rest for DeRozan
For the second straight season, DeMar DeRozan is among the league-leaders in minutes played. The Raptors' guard has logged 38.5 minutes per night through the team's first 26 games with only the Knicks' Carmelo Anthony and Rockets' guard James Harden averaging more playing time.
The two-day break couldn't have come at a better time for Toronto's best player.
"I think we just needed that," he said following shootaround at Baruch College in New York Friday afternoon. "Just to have two days to relax, get your mind off things, I think it was definitely needed for us, especially with this push we're trying to make to stay on top of the division and win the next couple games."
Raptors' coach Dwane Casey said he is planning to monitor DeRozan's minutes closely and could deploy John Salmons or the sparingly used Landry Fields and Steve Novak to spell him more as the season goes on.