The Toronto Raptors are the hottest team in basketball, turning in a perfect 7-0 homestand and riding an 11-game win streak as they head into Denver to face the Nuggets. Toronto is firing on all cylinders, with 7 of those 11 wins coming by double digits and only giving up more than 94 points once in their last 5 contests, and they are just 2.5 games back of Cleveland for the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
The Nuggets have just returned to Denver as well, coming off a 1-2 East Coast swing that ended with a somewhat demoralizing overtime loss to the Indiana Pacers. Denver is trying to find better ways to close out tight games, but the proper formula is eluding them as they've gone 3-6 in their last 9 contests with several of those games winnable in the final minutes. The Nuggets are hoping to recapture the magic that led to their 106-105 victory over the Raptors when the two teams met up in Toronto earlier in the season.
|SG||DeMar DeRozan||Gary Harris||Raptors|
|SF||James Johnson||Danilo Gallinari||Nuggets|
|C||Jonas Valanciunas||Nikola Jokic||Even|
|Bench||Patrick Patterson, Terrence Ross, Cory Joseph, Anthony Bennett, Bruno Caboclo, Bismack Biyombo||, ,|
Nuggets better defend the three point line - without fouling. When a team is second in their conference they tend to do a lot of things well, but Toronto is not a great 2-point shooting team (they rank 21st in 2-point percentage). What they do well is shoot the 3 and get to the line. They don't take an excessive amount of long-distance shots but they are top-5 in make percentage, and they get to the line a lot (while making a high percentage there as well). The Nuggets do well at getting to the line, but Toronto plays defense with fewer fouls than the Nuggets give up, so Denver will have to find a way to limit free trips to the line for the Raptors - or make the Raptors foul more than they usually do.
Backcourt vs. Backcourt. Stopping DeRozan and Lowry is a tough gig. DeRozan torched the Nuggets for 34/ 5/ 5 in their last meeting, but the Nuggets did enough other things right to eke out the victory (including racking up 30 assists). The Raptors are not an assist-based offense, as most of their passes are to put players into position to win their one-on-ones rather than catch-and-shoot. The Nuggets will need to log those assists again and take care of the ball (this means you, Mudiay) and find a way to funnel the guards into our big men in order to force a few more of those awkward twos that are one of the few ways to get Toronto out of rhythm.
Different faces in the paint. Valanciunas, Faried and Nurkic didn't play in the last meeting, while Jokic logged just 14 minutes and 8 points. The matchup down on the block will be completely different this time. Valanciunas has been a monster on the boards recently, with 12+ rebounds in 5 of Toronto's 7 homestand games, and the Nuggets will have to find a way to keep him from doing the same against them. Denver's paint presence against tough, willing rebounders hasn't been great recently (aside from the work in the Piston's game) and Denver will need all their big men to limit Toronto's possessions and keep paint position.
Prediction: Toronto doesn't forget to play hard for the first quarter this time and takes it 105-101 at the Pepsi Center.