The Denver Nuggets slumped to a fourth straight defeat on Tuesday as Fred VanVleet kept the Toronto Raptors' playoff hopes alive with a virtuoso display in a 125-110 victory.
Toronto point guard VanVleet finished with 36 points, including eight three-pointers, with seven assists and three steals to give Toronto a crucial win as they aim to remain in contention for a place in the postseason.
The Raptors went on the front foot from the outset, pouring in a franchise record 49 points in a remarkable first quarter to leave Western Conference leaders Denver shell-shocked.
That early scoring blitz was to prove decisive, with the Raptors jumping into a 24-point lead in the third quarter.
Although a late rally saw Denver close to within six points in the fourth quarter, Toronto went on a late run to pull away once more and complete a wire-to-wire victory at the Scotiabank Arena.
"We came out with great pace, shared the ball, and the ball was moving," VanVleet said afterwards.
"Obviously we were making shots but it's a little bit easier whenever score is assisted. It was a good first quarter.
"We've just got to keep playing – we've been up and down, but we've been playing pretty good of late. We’ve got to keep doing it."
Toronto improved to 33-36 with the win and remain in ninth place in the Eastern Conference.
While VanVleet was the key performer for Toronto, all four of the Raptors other starters finished with double-digit scoring tallies, with O.G. Anunoby scoring 24 points, Scottie Barnes 18, and Pascal Siakam and Jakob Poeltl adding 12 apiece.
Nikola Jokic led the Denver scorers with 28 points as the Nuggets fell to 46-23, four games clear of second-placed Memphis in the Western Conference standings.
In other games Tuesday, the Los Angeles Lakers got back to winning ways after Sunday’s defeat to the New York Knicks with a comprehensive 123-108 road win 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, making 7-of-12 attempts from beyond the arc in a 24-point haul.
The win keeps the Lakers firmly in contention for a playoff place with just under four weeks of the regular season remaining.
"We're just trying to stay alive," Davis said afterwards. "We came out with a mindset of having this as a must-win game."
Davis had been determined to produce a big performance against his former club, after blaming himself for the Lakers 112-108 loss to the Knicks on Sunday.
"Everybody did their job (on Sunday) except myself. That was on me," Davis said. "I never want to have a performance like I did the other night and let my team down. I wanted to come out tonight and make a difference."
Cleveland, meanwhile, kept up their pursuit of Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference with a 120-104 win over the Charlotte Hornets in North Carolina.
Evan Mobley led the Cavaliers scorers in the absence of Donovan Mitchell with 26 points as Cleveland improved to 44-27 to remain fourth in the East.
© Agence France-Presse