NEW YORK -- The Toronto Raptors appear to be out of their malaise and for DeMar DeRozan little doubt exists that the defensive presence of Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker is the difference.
"I think it's obvious," DeRozan said in his postgame on-court interview with Sportsnet after Sunday's 112-106 win over the Portland Trail Blazers. "What P.J. brings and what Serge brings, it makes a big difference."
After losing their grip on first place in the Atlantic Division, the Raptors take a three-game winning streak into Monday's visit to the New York Knicks.
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From Jan. 18 to Feb. 14, the Raptors lost 11 of 15 games, prompting the urgency to acquire rugged frontcourt help. Help came in the form of Ibaka on Feb. 14, and although he did not play the next night, Toronto squeaked out a 90-85 victory over the Charlotte Hornets.
Not satisfied with one defensive-minded forward, the Raptors then added to their depth by getting Tucker from the Phoenix Suns before Thursday's trade deadline.
The results of the pairing appeared during the fourth quarters of home wins over the Boston Celtics and Portland Trail Blazers. In Friday's 107-97 win, the Raptors held the Celtics to 20 points on 36.8 percent from the floor and Sunday the defense finished with a 16-10 spurt in the final 4 1/2 minutes.
DeRozan scored 33 points on Sunday and 43 on Friday to help offset the absence of Kyle Lowry (left wrist). DeRozan's prolific scoring also was aided by Ibaka and Tucker being on the court at the same time down the stretch.
They played the final 7:05 on Sunday and Toronto held Portland without a basket for nearly three minutes. Two nights earlier, the duo played the final 9:03 when the Raptors turned an 85-79 deficit into a win.
Ibaka also has contributed offensively. In his first two games, Ibaka scored 33 points, including two mid-range jumpers after Portland cut the deficit to two points.
"It takes a lot of pressure off," DeRozan said. "The teams just have to understand that you have to pick and choose. You know we have another weapon out there for teams to worry about."
Lowry may sit out Monday, but the good news for the Raptors is their point guard play was steady over the weekend. Cory Joseph scored 23 points for Lowry in two games and Delon Wright added 11 points on Sunday.
"Those guys did a good job," Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. "Not having our queen bee in there and our top guy to hand the ball off to offensively, defensively, 3-point shooting, we miss that part of it."
Toronto (35-24) is three games behind Boston. The Raptors (.593) are also percentage points between the Washington Wizards (.596), who visit Toronto on Wednesday.
"We got 23 games left," DeRozan said. "We got to leave it all out there. Before we know it, playoffs will be here."
New York (24-35) sits in 12th and four games behind Detroit for the eighth and final playoff spot. The Knicks are looking to get consecutive wins for the first time since Dec. 20-22.
New York is 8-22 since those home wins over the Indiana Pacers and Orlando Magic with several losses coming by five points or less.
The Knicks nearly experienced another one Saturday night but escaped with a 110-109 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers when Carmelo Anthony hit the go-ahead 11-footer baseline jumper over Robert Covington with three-tenths of a second remaining.
Anthony scored 37 points, marking the 15th time he topped 30 this season. In his last 13 games since Jan. 25, he is averaging 26.9 points on 47.1 percent shooting from the floor.
Anthony's game-winner occurred after the Knicks nearly wasted a 12-point lead down the stretch.
"The way we closed the game out, we can't let that happen," Anthony said. "This is not new to us. We've been in this situation before. We got to figure this out. That's what we have to get better at as a team. Sometimes we do it right, and sometimes we don't."
Before Anthony's game-winner, the Knicks missed five of seven shots, committed three turnovers in a span of five-plus minutes and gave up an 18-5 spurt.
"It's a tough game," New York coach Jeff Hornacek said. "Swings can go quickly. And the biggest thing for us is we have to play the last five minutes of the game almost like it's the middle of the first quarter with the execution, with the quick movements, instead of just walking it up."
The Knicks nearly collapsed while Joakim Noah and Kristaps Porzingis sat out. Noah missed his seventh straight game with a left hamstring injury and Porzingis sat with a sprained right ankle. Porzingis hopes to play Monday, but Noah is unlikely to suit up.
Toronto is on a five-game winning streak against the Knicks with four of those wins coming by double digits. A win on Monday would equal their longest winning streak in the series set Feb. 15, 2000, to March 4, 2001.