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Preview: Denver Nuggets face Toronto Raptors in matchup of top teams battling injuries

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Denver’s not the only one who seems to have caught the injury bug

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Toronto Raptors Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets have not shied away from the best competition in the NBA. Whether its the Golden State Warriors, the Oklahoma City Thunder (twice) the Boston Celtics or the Portland Trail Blazers. In fact of the other seven current Western Conference playoff teams in the standings, the Nuggets have beat six (they’ll get their first crack at Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks this week). They also beat the team with the best record in the NBA, the Toronto Raptors. Even more impressively, they beat Toronto on their own floor. Now, two weeks later, the Raptors are in Denver and looking for revenge. Unfortunately for both teams, the lineups might look quite a bit different thanks to the injuries.

It’s no fluke that Toronto has the best record. Their trade this offseason for Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green has worked out very well for them. At twenty-six points and eight rebounds, plus nearly two steals a game, Kawhi looks to be back to the old Kawhi aka a perennial MVP candidate. He’s got plenty of firepower beside him though. In fact, the Raptors are actually better this season when Kawhi doesn’t play. How that makes any sense I don’t know but it probably has to due with the fact that the Raptors still have dynamite two-way guard Kyle Lowry, the rising Pascal Siakam and a bench that is every bit as deep as Denver’s. However, the Nuggets best chance might be that Toronto, like Denver, is going through a rash of injuries and it’s been hard for them to get all three aforementioned players on the court in the same game lately.

The Basics

Who: Toronto Raptors (23-8) at Denver Nuggets (19-9)

When: 6:00PM MST

Where: The Can, Denver CO

How to watch/listen: Altitude TV, AltitudeNOW.com, the Altitude NOW app and Altitude Radio 92.5FM

Rival blog: Raptors HQ

Projected Matchups

Position Nuggets Raptors Advantage
Position Nuggets Raptors Advantage
PG Jamal Murray Kyle Lowry Raptors
SG Torrey Craig Danny Green Raptors
SF Juancho Hernangomez Kawhi Leonard Raptors
PF Mason Plumlee Pascal Siakam Even
C Nikola Jokic Serge Ibaka Nuggets
Bench Trey Lyles, Malik Beasley, Monte Morris, Nick Young O.G. Anunoby, C.J. Miles, Fred VanVleet, Delon Wright, Greg Monroe Even

Injured Players: Gary Harris - out (hip), Paul Millsap - out (foot), Will Barton - out (groin), Isaiah Thomas - out (hip), Michael Porter Jr - out (back), Jarred Vanderbilt - out (foot), Pascal Siakam - game time decision (back), Kyle Lowry - game time decision (thigh), Jonas Valanciunas - out (thumb), Norman Powell - out (shoulder)

Key matchup: Juancho Hernangomez vs Kawhi Leonard

If Lowry plays tonight the Lowry/Jamal Murray matchup is intriguing as well. I’d still pick Juancho v Kawhi as the marquee matchup though. Juancho has shown improvement just in this year on his defensive play. His length makes him a difficult defender at the wings and he’s always put in the effort, but now the game seems to be slowing down for him on that end. He’s not getting lost on rotations nearly as much and he’s even started to deny dribble penetration better (it’s still not great). Kawhi obviously offers an incredible challenge and two days ago against a nearly as difficult challenge, Paul George, Juancho wasn’t able to offer much resistance. He seems to be in full swing on offense, and his shooting makes him a definite weapon for the Nuggets starting unit, but if he can tighten up that defensive end tonight against a star player, it’ll set Denver up nicely to get the victory.

Key thing to watch for: Can the Nuggets bigs take advantage

Siakam is a GTD with back stiffness after taking a nasty fall in the Raptors game on Friday. If he doesn’t go then the Nuggets should be able to have a field day in the post. It’s not a typical approach in the NBA today but with the Raptors already down Jonas Valanciunas after he dislocated his thumb earlier in the week, if Siakam doesn’t play then there’s going to be some favorable matchups on Denver’s side. When these two teams played a couple weeks ago Joker dominated, notching his second triple double of the season with 23 points, 15 assists and 11 rebounds. The rest of the front court was held in check though. If the Raptors have no JV and no Pascal they are likely turning to Greg Monroe or Chris Boucher to fill the minutes void as Serge Ibaka is the only other healthy big on the roster. Monroe is well past his glory days and Boucher is a player on a two-way contract, against the combo of Jokic and Mason Plumlee Denver would have a clear advantage. The dark horse might be Trey Lyles though, he’s struggled to get his shot to fall this year but a potentially advantageous matchup could help break his funk.

Opening thought: I feel confident

I know the Raptors are the best team in the NBA right now and I know the Nuggets are the walking wounded, still, there’s just something different about this team that makes me full of confidence despite the obstacles they have to overcome tonight. A third of the way through the season and the Nuggets are still in first place out West. They continue to go up against the best teams in the NBA and they continue to hand those teams an L that they can take on the way out. Why should tonight be any different? The Raptors have their own injury concerns and while they have some incredible talent, the Nuggets have proved up to the task before and I think they do so again tonight.