Entering last night's contest - and knowing the Raptors would be without Andrea Bargnani, the lone player that makes them competitive - I was looking forward to watching Nuggets' rookies Kenneth Faried, Jordan Hamilton and Julyan Stone get some ample playing time. But it never happened.
Even though at various times in the game the Nuggets boosted their lead into the low 20s, for whatever reason the Nuggets were unable to put the Raptors away for good, forcing Nuggets head coach George Karl to stick with his "trust guys" of Andre Miller, Danilo Gallinari, Nene, Al Harrington and Rudy Fernandez for longer than anyone probably wanted to see them on the floor.
I attribute the Nuggets' inability to emphatically shut the door on the Raptors to the absence of Ty Lawson, who missed the game due to a bad ankle. With Lawson in the lineup, the Nuggets are able to take decent sized leads and expand upon them quickly. But without the little dynamo on the floor, the Nuggets seem all too content to go through the motions - which reduces possessions and allows teams to sneak back into games if a few possessions don't go the right way.
Fortunately, Fernandez remained hot enough throughout the game (missing just two shots) to keep the Nuggets at a safe distance at all times. But seeing Fernandez in person, he's clearly laboring on his strained Achilles heel and one wonders how much rest the Spaniard actually needs.
Curiously, center Timofey Mozgov didn't get a lot of minutes even though he looked frisky in the first half and grabbed eight rebounds, had two blocks and scored four points in just 16 minutes of playing time. Karl must have felt that he had to go small, as neither Chris Andersen (8:25) and Kosta Koufos (5:20) saw a lot of time on the floor.
But while we can nitpick Karl's lineup choices all we want - and bemoan not getting to see the rookies play (again) - the bottom line is that the Nuggets are 14-5 and, with a victory over the Clippers at Pepsi Center on Sunday night, may be distancing themselves from their Western Conference competitors ... other than Oklahoma City, of course.
Non-Stiff of the Game
Rudy Fernandez: Fernandez returned to shoot a scorching 9-11 from the field, including 5-7 from three-point range. And even though solid performances were had by Nene, Gallo and Miller, Fernandez seemed to be the pace setter for the entire game and the main catalyst for the Nuggets victory.
Stiff of the Game
Linas Kleiza: The former Nugget shot a dreadful 1-7 from the field and let his frustrations boil over by going at it with Harrington near the very end of the game, causing multiple unnecessary technical fouls. DeMar Derozan was equally awful, missing 12 of his 15 shot attempts and finishing the game with a +/- of -19.
If this were a normal, 82-game NBA season the Nuggets would be on pace for 60 wins. A true test comes on Sunday night when the Clippers, who are just 2.5 games behind the Nuggets, come to town for what's sure to be a hard fought game. To beat the Clips, the Nuggets will have to play much better than they did against Toronto.