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Preview: Nuggets fly across the country to face off against Raptors

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The No. 1 team in the Western Conference travels to play the No. 1 team in the Eastern Conference.

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Portland Trail Blazers Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

Do we realize how absurd it is that in the 2018th year of our Lord, on the third day of December, we can look at the standings in the NBA and the Nuggets of House Kroenke are atop the conference?

You’d better believe it, because at 15-7, the Nuggets are tied in the standings with the Clippers and Thunder, but have wins over both teams and would have homecourt through the playoffs if the season ended today due to tiebreakers.

All this is happening while the Nuggets have been without one of their opening day starters in Will Barton, they’re missing what they expected to be their backup point guard in Isaiah Thomas, Gary Harris sat out a week, and two of their rookies haven’t been medically cleared for basketball activities.

It’s a good time to be a Nuggets fan.

Think about discussion points from seasons past. There aren’t any trade rumors with the team, because everyone is getting paid fairly, with reasonable contracts, and are valuable to the team. There’s no discussion about a change at head coach, because the offense and defense are clicking. The Nuggets have the third-best margin of victory in the league, the eighth-best offense, and the fourth-best defense. They have gone undefeated in division play, a perfect 4-0 to start the season. Minus a rough stretch where they had to deal with some adversity, they’ve been nearly unstoppable. They have blowout wins and down-to-the-wire wins.

All this while being one of the youngest teams in the league. It took two years for the slogan to actually be true, but it’s a new day in the Mile High City.

The Basics

Who: Denver Nuggets (15-7, 6-4) vs Toronto Raptors (20-4, 10-2)

When: 5:30 PM MT

Where: ScotiaBank Arena • Toronto, Ontario

How to watch: Altitude, NBA League Pass, TSN

Rival Blog: Raptors HQ

Position
Nuggets
Raptors
Edge
PG
Jamal Murray
Kyle Lowry
Raptors
SG
Gary Harris
Danny Green
Nuggets
SF
Juancho Hernangomez
Kawhi Leonard
Raptors
PF
Paul Millsap
Pascal Siakam
Nuggets
C
Nikola Jokic
Jonas Valanciunas
Nuggets
Bench
Monte Morris, Malik Beasley, Torrey Craig, Trey Lyles, Mason Plumlee
Fred Van Vleet, Delon Wright, CJ Miles, OG Anunoby, Serge Ibaka
Even

Injury Report

Nuggets: Will Barton, Isaiah Thomas, Jarred Vanderbilt, Michael Porter Jr. - out

Raptors: Kyle Lowry - day-to-day

What to Watch For

This is a playoff game. This isn’t just two teams meeting up in the regular season. It’s two of the top teams in their conferences, squaring off against each other in a battle to see who is the top dog. The Raptors are the veteran squad, with elite talent that is well established in the league. The Nuggets are the young pups, with elite potential that is still learning how to be consistently good. The Raptors are scary, but if the Nuggets execute their game plan, they’ll have a shot.

Who steps up? The Raptors have elite defenders at nearly every position, but every scheme always has a weakness. The Nuggets are going to need someone to crack the scheme and find a way to get buckets early and often. Whether it’s Juancho heating up from the perimeter or Jamal going for 40, it feels like a game where someone is going to need to go above and beyond their normal responsibilities.

Bench mob, squad up. The Nuggets reserves are not as tried and tested as the Raptors reserves. The bench mob, lead by Mason Plumlee and Monte Morris, have been great for Denver, and they’re going to need to be great again tonight. The team could find themselves down in the first quarter, needing a boost, and if the bench can’t deliver, this could be over by the start of the fourth quarter.

Prediction

The Raptors are 6.5-point favorites as of time of publication, and that seems appropriate. The Nuggets are flying about as far as possible, from Portland to Toronto, for the game. They arrived early, which should help a little bit, but they’re going to need to overcome a lot to pick up a win. I’m going to pick the Raptors to win a close game, 112-110.