TORONTO — Dwane Casey admitted it wasn't pretty, but Sunday's 103-98 Raptors victory over the visiting Charlotte Hornets showed the growth of his group.
DeMar DeRozan had a team-high 19 points, eight assists and four rebounds as Toronto stretched its win streak to four games and improved to a league-best 26-5 at home this season.
"A year ago, we would've probably lost the game," Casey said. "But I think our guys are mature enough to make plays, the right plays — they're dog days of the year right now. You can't see the end of it, but it's quite a few games to go and we're playing like it.
"(Charlotte) didn't play exactly their style of play either. Both teams were kind of sloppy."
Jonas Valanciunas chipped in 18 points and 13 rebounds for the Raptors (45-17), while Kyle Lowry added 14 and 10. C.J. Miles and Fred VanVleet each had 12 points off the bench.
The victory gave Toronto a two-game lead on idle Boston atop the Eastern Conference standings. The Raptors swept the season series, winning all four games against the Hornets.
"There's going to be moments like that when we feel like nothing's going our way," said DeRozan. "The feel for the game wasn't all the way there for us, but we still managed to do the things we needed to do to get the win.
"You find yourself playing the exact same way as them and you kind of get caught up in it, they kind of lure you that way. We got out of character a little bit, but we still managed."
Kemba Walker had a game-high 27 points, six rebounds and four assists to lead the Hornets (28-36), who have now lost three straight. Framk Kaminsky III added 15 points and four rebounds off the bench and Jeremy Lamb added 16 points.
Charlotte cut Toronto's lead to two with 5:11 to play in the fourth, but Kyle Lowry responded for the Raptors draining a 27-foot three-pointer. Toronto led by at least three the rest of the way.
"Fourth quarter, purpose of play at both ends of the floor. Purposeful offence, smart play and very good defence. That's what we're capable of," said Hornets coach Steve Clifford. "If we are serious about making a run here, that's what we're capable of."
Ibaka had 17 and Valanciunas added 16 as the Raptors led 82-69 after three.
Walker had 15 points for Charlotte while Nicolas Batum and Dwight Howard each had 10 through three quarters.
The Hornets opened the second half on a 13-6 surge, cutting Toronto's lead to two, prompting Dwane Casey to call a time out with 6:58 to play.
The Raptors responded out of the timeout as Ibaka and Valanciunas hit back-to-back threes and Lowry got a layup to fall. Toronto used a 19-8 run to push their lead to 13 with 2:28 to play in the quarter.
Ibaka led the way with 11 points and four rebound as the Raptors held a 52-43 lead at the break. Valanciunas and DeRozan each had nine points while Miles added nine off the bench after two quarters.
Toronto led 26-21 after one quarter on nine points and three rebounds from Valanciunas. Ibaka added seven points.
The Raptors used a 9-0 run to jump out to a 13-4 lead prompting the Hornets to take their first full timeout with 8:29 to play.
Note: Raptors F OG Anunoby (ankle) missed his second game. Casey said there's no time line for the starting small forward's return as he remains in a walking boot. Malcolm Miller made his first career start in Anunoby's place.
Dhiren Mahiban, The Canadian Press