The Denver Nuggets suffered their fourth straight loss on Tuesday as Fred VanVleet kept the Toronto Raptors’ playoff hopes alive with a masterful performance in a 125-110 win.
Toronto point guard VanVleet finished with 36 points, including eight three-pointers, along with seven assists and three steals to lead Toronto to a crucial win as they aim to stay in contention for a spot on the season.
The Raptors got out on the front foot from the start, putting up a franchise record 49 points in a remarkable first quarter to surprise Western Conference leaders Denver.
That early scoring blitz was to prove decisive, with the Raptors jumping out to a 24-point lead in the third quarter.
Although a late rally saw Denver close to six points in the fourth quarter, Toronto once again pulled away and completed a wire-to-wire victory at Scotiabank Arena.
“We came out with great pace, shared the ball, and the ball was moving,” VanVleet later said.
“Obviously we were making shots but whenever the score helps it becomes a little easier. It was a good first quarter.
“We’ve just got to keep playing – we’ve been up and down, but we’ve been playing well of late. We’ve got to keep at it.”
Toronto improved to 33–36 with the win and tied for ninth in the Eastern Conference.
– to stay alive –
While VanVleet was the key performer for Toronto, all four of the Raptors’ other starters finished with double-digit scoring tallies, with Ozzie Enunobi adding 24 points, Scotty Barnes adding 18, and Pascal Siakam and Jakob Poeltl adding 12 points each.
Nikola Jokic led Denver scoring with 28 points as the Nuggets fell 46–23, four games clear of second-place Memphis in the Western Conference standings.
In Tuesday’s other games, the Los Angeles Lakers returned to winning ways after Sunday’s loss to the New York Knicks with a comprehensive 123-108 road victory over the New Orleans Pelicans in the Big Easy.
With LeBron James sidelined, Anthony Davis once again stepped up for the Lakers with 35 points and 17 rebounds, while Malik Beasley put on a three-point shooting clinic, shooting 7- from beyond the arc in a 24-point haul. 12 out of 12 attempted.
The win keeps the Lakers firmly in contention for a spot in the playoffs with only four weeks left in the regular season.
“We’re just trying to stay alive,” Davis later said. “We came out with the mindset to keep this as a one-win game.”
Davis was determined to put on a big performance against his former club after blaming himself for the Lakers’ 112-108 loss to the Knicks on Sunday.
Davis said, “Everyone did their job (on Sunday) except me. It was on me.”
“I never want to perform like I did last night and let my team down. I wanted to come out tonight and make a difference.”
Cleveland meanwhile continued its pursuit of Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference with a 120–104 victory over the Charlotte Hornets in North Carolina.
Evan Mobley led the Cavaliers’ scoring in the absence of Donovan Mitchell with 26 points as Cleveland improved to 44–27 to finish fourth in the East.