The Toronto Raptors clinched their first division title with some help from the Chicago Bulls, who preserved their chances of winning the Central Division for the first time since the Michael Jordan era.
Chris Bosh had 23 points and 13 rebounds to help Toronto beat the Philadelphia 76ers 94-85 on Friday night. The Raptors, who already clinched their first postseason berth since 2002, won the Atlantic Division when Chicago beat New Jersey 105-74.
“You come to all of these arenas and they have division championship banners up in the rafters,” Toronto coach Sam Mitchell said. “If you are trying to start a culture of winning, these guys need to start seeing the fruits of their labor and those things are important.”
Toronto, which became the first Canadian-based team to win an NBA division title, also kept its slim lead over Miami for third place in the Eastern Conference. The Raptors’ 43 victories are already a 16-win improvement from last season’s total of 27, marking the league’s biggest turnaround this season.
“Nobody believed we’d be able to win our division,” guard T.J. Ford said. “Now we’re setting standards of how Toronto basketball will be like.”
The Bulls won for the seventh time in eight games and moved within 2 1/2 games of Detroit for first-place Detroit in the Central Division and Eastern Conference. Chicago coasted against New Jersey despite missing center Ben Wallace (sinus) and reserve forwards Tyrus Thomas (flu), Andres Nocioni (foot) and Adrian Griffin (back spasms).
Kirk Hinrich credited his team’s depth for the victory.
“It’s a good thing to have … guys that when called upon step up,” said Hinrich, who scored 20 points. “That’s kind of who we are, a team that relies on each other, including when guys are out, we rely on people to step up and we’ve been able to do that the last couple of games.”
In the other NBA games Friday night, it was: Indiana 112, Charlotte 102; Miami 88, Boston 85; Atlanta 115, Milwaukee 102; Minnesota 99, New York 94; Phoenix 103, New Orleans 95; Golden State 116, Memphis 104; Cleveland 99, Washington 94; Portland 85, Houston 78; Sacramento 107, Utah 103; Denver 75, Dallas 71; and the Los Angeles Lakers 112, Seattle 109.
The Raptors’ success is even more surprising given its 2-8 start this season.
“I think it means a lot, especially with the quick turnaround that we’ve had this year,” Bosh said. “It’s a great thing. This team overcame a lot of adversity early. Now we have to look ahead to clinching that third spot.”
Anthony Parker, Juan Dixon and Ford each added 12 points for the Raptors, who had a .392 overall winning percentage in their first 11 seasons – with just three winning records.
Chicago, which has not won the division since 1998 when Jordan led the Bulls to the last of their six NBA championships in an eight-year span, is even with Cleveland for the No. 2 seed in the East but holds the tiebreaker.
After losing two games against the Nets after building 18-point leads this season, the Bulls took another 18-point advantage against the Nets in the first half and then added to their big lead.
“The last two times we played them we gave up big leads and allowed them to come back and win the game,” Gordon said. “Tonight we got up by about 15 and it was our main focus to not let them get back in the game.”
Heat 88, Celtics 85
Shaquille O’Neal had 20 of his 22 points in the first half, and grabbed 11 rebounds to lead visiting Miami.
The Celtics rallied from a 14-point deficit to take an 83-80 lead with 2:16 left. However, Eddie Jones hit a 3-pointer and James Posey converted a three-point play to put Miami ahead for good.
Timberwolves 99, Knicks 94
Randy Foye made big 3-pointers in the fourth quarter and scored 19 points, and Minnesota blew an 18-point lead before beating host New York.
Kevin Garnett had 12 points and 15 rebounds, and Ricky Davis scored 17 points for the Timberwolves.
The injury-riddled Knicks lost Stephon Marbury in the first half, then dropped their fourth straight game and 10th in their past 12. New York fell three games behind Orlando for final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with seven games to play.
Pacers 112, Bobcats 102
Danny Granger made 11 of his first 12 shots and scored 32 points to help visiting Indiana keep its playoff hopes alive. Darrell Armstrong scored 16 points, Troy Murphy added 13 and Jermaine O’Neal had 14 on 4-for-18 shooting for the Pacers.
Suns 103, Hornets 95
At Oklahoma City, Leandro Barbosa scored 26 points, Steve Nash matched his career best with his 49th double-double of the season, and Phoenix wore down injury-depleted New Orleans.
Trail Blazers 85, Rockets 78
Rookie Brandon Roy scored 24 points and Jarrett Jack added 23 to help Portland win at Houston.
With Rockets stars Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady out with back problems, Portland’s emerging star proved to be the best player on the court, topping 20 points for the third straight game.
Hawks 115, Bucks 102
Josh Smith had 28 points and a career-high 18 rebounds to help host Atlanta snap a seven-game losing streak.
The Bucks, who had just nine players in uniform, have lost eight of nine overall and 16 of 17 on the road.
Warriors 116, Grizzlies 104
Baron Davis scored 31 points and had nine assists to lead visiting Golden State to its fourth straight victory and pull the Warriors to one game behind the eighth-place Los Angeles Clippers in the Western Conference.
Cavaliers 99, Wizards 94
LeBron James overcame a poor shooting game to score 14 of his 25 points and help visiting Cleveland hold on.
The Wizards, who lost top two scorers Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler to injuries earlier in the week, could have clinched a playoff berth with a win.
Lakers 112, SuperSonics 109
Amid a mix of “M-V-P” chants and passionate boos, Kobe Bryant scored 46 points, 31 in the second half, and visiting Los Angeles’ reserves added 33 points.
Bryant made 13 of 27 shots, including a 19-footer with 1:41 left that gave the Lakers a 105-103 lead they wouldn’t relinquish. It was Bryant’s 16th 40-point game this season.
Nuggets 75, Mavericks 71
At Denver, Carmelo Anthony stole Dirk Nowitzki’s skip pass in the closing seconds, then sank two free throws with 9 seconds left.
Anthony finished with 23 points and Allen Iverson added 22 as the Nuggets won their fourth straight and prevented the Mavericks from completing a season sweep.
Kings 107, Jazz 103
Kevin Martin had 21 points and John Salmons scored 17 points, including 11 in the final 3:49, to help host Sacramento outscore Utah 32-21 in the fourth quarter and snap a four-game losing streak.
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