Nuggets at Raptors preview: Two more before the break

Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA's annual All-Star break is looming. Here's hoping the Nuggets get two more wins before this weekend's festivities in Houston.

Loading Scores

2012/2013 NBA Regular Season: Game 53
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vs
33-19 (11-16 on the road)
1-0
19-32 (13-13 at home)
February 12th, 2013 - 5:00 PM (MT)
Air Canada Centre - Toronto
TV Altitude / 950 AM / 104.3 FM
Probable Starters
Ty Lawson
PG Kyle Lowry
Andre Iguodala
SG DeMar DeRozan
Danilo Gallinari
SF Rudy Gay
Kenneth Faried
PF Amir Johnson
Kosta Koufos
C Jonas Valanciunas
Notes
Denver Stiffs Blogs Raptors HQ
Andre Iguodala, Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler all out tonight, according to team (all day-to-day) Injuries Andre Bargnani (day-to-day), Linas Kleiza (out)
Denver has gone 15-2 overall against Toronto during the previous six seasons – with an average margin of victory of 13.8 points in those 15 wins Stat The Raptors have grabbed at least 10 offensive rebounds in eight consecutive games

For a lot of NBA players, the annual NBA All-Star break can be a lot like those last few days of school before spring break - you're there physically, but mentally you're checked out. To be certain, the All-Star Weekend is a great opportunity for non-All-Stars and non-All-Star Saturday participants to spend a few extra days with their families and friends and recharge their batteries.

But before any battery re-charging is to be done among this Nuggets crew - potentially reeling from a heartbreaking triple-overtime loss at Boston on Sunday - has two very winnable games are in their midst, and those two games must be approached with the utmost professionalism and seriousness. For while and since the Nuggets floundered in Boston, both the Clippers and Grizzlies have won two straight games, meaning the Clippers are ahead of the Nuggets by three games in the Western Conference and the Grizzlies have re-tied us for that coveted four-seed.

Simply put, the Nuggets work is never ending, looming All-Star break or not.

The first of those two winnable games takes place tonight at Toronto against a Raptors team that the Nuggets historically fare very well against. Despite solid ownership and an amazing fan base, the Raptors have struggled since joining the NBA in 1995, appearing in the playoffs just five times, ascending to the second round only once and having not tasted the post-season since 2008.

Desperate to reverse their fortunes, the Raptors recently traded for the Grizzlies dynamic small forward Rudy Gay, a shoot-first, shoot-only scorer with an ugly max contract. On Gay's watch, the Raptors are 3-2 but still have no prayer of making the playoffs. And while I applaud Toronto for doing something before the trade deadline, acquiring Gay may hurt them in the long run as his onerous contract (hence why Memphis wanted to part ways with Gay) could do the Raptors in for years to come. But at least Gay produces, we're not talking Kenyon-Martin-killing-contract here.

And thus, with Gay on board the Raptors are going to be a much more competitive squad than the one that played at Pepsi Center in early December. And yet that team - despite being one of the NBA's worst at the time - overcame a would-be blowout at Denver and came within three points of beating the Nuggets on their home floor. Those were the days when the Nuggets routinely pissed away fourth quarter leads, and the Raptors almost took advantage of it.

We've seen a lot of guts and grit from our Nuggets since then, and their 33-19 record is proof of that. But it's games like these at Toronto tonight that they Nuggets must deliver upon if they're to distance themselves from the Grizzlies and get closer to the Clippers.

Three things to look for tonight ...

1) Iguodala and Gallo will have their hands full. If Andre Iguodala can play tonight, he and teammate Danilo Gallinari will have the tough task of guarding both DeMar DeRozan and Rudy Gay, a pair of swing players who can go for 30 on any night.

2) Keep the Raptors off the offensive glass. Both rookie Jonas Valanciunas and Amir Johnson can gobble up offensive boards in a hurry, giving teammates like Gay and DeRozan extra shot attempts. Nuggets bigs like Kenneth Faried, JaVale McGee and Kosta Koufos must focus on their footwork and box outs and keep those guys off the glass.

3) Andre Miller's playing time. It will be interesting to see if Nuggets head coach George Karl pulls the reins back a little with his favorite backup point guard, after Miller's end-of-overtime antics on Sunday. Ah, who am I kidding? Miller will play his usual 25 minutes.

Scouting the Raptors

Raptors Non-Stiffs

-Rudy Gay: The aforementioned Gay is averaging over 23 ppg since joining the Raptors and is capable of canning big shots with a defender right in his face.

-Kyle Lowry: Stepping in for the departed Jose Calderon, Lowry can dish out 10 assists on any given night while bullying his way to the basket for easy shots, too.

-DeMar DeRozan: Potentially lethal offensively, we'll see how DeRozan does with Iguodala defending him.

Raptors Stiffs

-Landry Fields: After receiving a juicy contract to leave the Knicks, Fields is seeing what it's like to play without Carmelo Anthony commanding all of the defense's attention. Fields is posting career lows in all offensive categories this season.

-Andrea Bargnani: The Italian version of Andrew Bogut (what is it with number one pick centers with the initials of "AB"), Bargnani can't stay healthy and yet his team actually plays pretty well when he's on the floor. Due to flu-like symptoms, Bargnani may not play again tonight.

Final Thought

Playing at Toronto tonight after a full day of rest followed by at Brooklyn tomorrow sans Deron Williams, the Nuggets should finish out this road trip with a 35-19 record. Should they pull these last two games off, they'll have earned the right to relax and enjoy their All-Star break.

Go Nuggets!!

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