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Preview: Nuggets take on Raptors at home

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In a rematch of the heartbreaking loss in Toronto, Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, and the Raptors make their way to Denver.

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Toronto Raptors Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets won their first game at home this past Tuesday against the Phoenix Suns in a wire to wire victory, and they will look to bring that momentum to their game against the Toronto Raptors. The veterans carried the team to victory Tuesday night, but the young guys will need to bring a better all-around game against a strong Raptors team. Jusuf Nurkic certainly brought it in that game, but he hasn’t been the same since. He and the rest of the young Nuggets will have to complement the excellent work Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Kenneth Faried, and Jameer Nelson have done lately.

Combatting the Nuggets will be the Raptors, who have seen some very impressive play from DeMar DeRozan. He’s averaging over 33 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, and 1.5 steals per contest on over 50 percent shooting from the field. Absolutely incredible numbers for the shooting guard. Just a couple of seasons ago, many NBA pundits wrote of DeRozan as an inefficient gunner in the wrong era. Well, with the season he’s posting to date, he’d be compared to just one guy from the 1980s and 90s who played shooting guard and shot from the mid range.

The Raptors are 7-4, and three of their losses have come against the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors. While the Nuggets should have won their first matchup against the Raptors on the road, both teams are in completely different spots at this point in the season. Let’s see how the matchup breaks down now.

The Basics:

Who: Toronto Raptors (7-4) vs Denver Nuggets (4-7)

When: 7:00 PM MST

Where: Pepsi Center, Denver, CO

How to watch/listen: Altitude, KKSE AM 950

Rival blog: Raptors HQ

Position Toronto Denver Advantage
Point Guard Kyle Lowry Emmanuel Mudiay Raptors
Shooting Guard DeMar DeRozan Jameer Nelson Raptors
Small Forward DeMarre Carroll Danilo Gallinari Nuggets
Power Forward Pascal Siakam Kenneth Faried Nuggets
Center Jonas Valaciunas Jusuf Nurkic Raptors
Bench Cory Joseph, Terrence Ross, Norman Powell, Patrick Patterson, Jakob Poeltl Jamal Murray, Alonzo Gee, Wilson Chandler, Juancho Henangomez, Nikola Jokic Raptors

Injured players: Wilson Chandler - probable (hamstring), Darrell Arthur - probable (knee) Will Barton - doubtful (ankle), Gary Harris - out (foot), Jared Sullinger - out (foot), DeMarre Carroll - probable (???)

Key Matchup: Jonas Valanciunas vs. Jusuf Nurkic

The past few games have been rough for Nurkic, but tonight’s game is a prime opportunity to get back on track. The last time these two teams faced, Nurkic scored 13 points, while racking up a gargantuan 18 rebounds and five blocks. Since then, Nurkic has only had one game where he posted double digit rebounds and one game of less than two turnovers. Nurkic has quietly reverted back to a turnover machine offensively, with a 20.7 percent turnover rate second only to Nelson (not Mudiay).

On the other hand, Valanciunas is averaging nearly 14 points and 10 rebounds per game on the nine field goal attempts. He’s been the beneficiary of great guard play by the Raptors, as he’s only needed to play third fiddle, picking and choosing his spots effectively. Many Nuggets fans were aghast that I ranked Valanciunas above Nikola Jokic in the center power rankings in the preseason, but I stand by my decision. Valanciunas has been the best possible third wheel for Toronto this season.

The game may be decided by who wins this matchup and by how much. Both players play more minor roles than the stars, but if someone breaks out, the game could change course easily.

Spotlight: The backcourt advantage and the midrange area

There’s no question about it, Lowry and DeRozan hold a massive advantage against the dual point guard backcourt of Mudiay and Nelson. Both Nuggets guards had solid outings against Phoenix, but Toronto is a different animal. Both Raptors guards play better defense than Phoenix, and they average a whopping 52 points per contest.

They also take advantage of the midrange area, especially DeRozan. Usually the most inefficient shot in basketball, DeRozan has shot 59.4 percent from 10-16 feet as well as 50.0 percent from 16-23 feet, according to Basketball Reference. Over 55 percent of his field goal attempts come from that area. It’s also the area that Michael Malone and the coaching staff have said they are willing to give up shots. Will they tempt fate and allow DeRozan to operate freely in his favorite spots on the floor, or will the Nuggets alter their scheme?

Opening thought: Kenneth Faried

This is a game that Kenneth Faried could change the outcome very easily. Against Phoenix on Tuesday, Faried dominated on both ends, putting a stranglehold on the power forward spot and likely a spot in the crunch time lineup. His energy changed the game against a bad team and an even worse Phoenix frontcourt. The Raptors’ frontcourt is much better, much more skilled around the basket, and features a behemoth in Valanciunas for 28 minutes a night. Faried has stated that he hated moving to the bench, and that the starting lineup was his spot. This is the game to prove it. Can he be the weapon tonight that he was against Phoenix? I’m hopeful that he succeeds in this role, but I have my doubts.

Malone has stated that he believes the combination of Gallinari and Chandler is a duo he can trust late in games. So far, neither of those two have spent time at shooting guard, so that means they will play small forward and power forward. If Malone is firm on that combination, then Faried, Jokic, and Nurkic are left to vie for the center spot in crunch time. Statistically, Jokic provides the best boost to the Gallo/Chandler duo utilizing Net Rating, followed by Nurkic, who’s followed closely by Faried (NBA.com).

Whatever happens, Faried has been successful thus far in the starting lineup, so let’s hope he can continue that trend tonight.