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Preview: Nuggets continue road trip against Raptors

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Denver plays the second game of their back-to-back set against the best home team in the NBA with an opportunity to stay in the playoff race.

NBA: Utah Jazz at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Nuggets collapsed in the second half of their game last night against the Sixers, getting steamrolled on defense as their offense stagnated. However, with a Minnesota loss to Memphis, the Nuggets still have a glimmer of hope for the playoffs, but they’ll need to pick up a win in one of the most difficult venues this season.

It’s nut up or shut up time for the Nuggets, who have been given a huge gift by the basketball gods. The Timberwolves lost to the Grizzlies last night, putting them just 1.5 games ahead of the Nuggets for the 8 seed. The Nuggets play them two more times this season, and have a chance to pull ahead of them if they can, well, they need to win out basically.

Time to play a game against the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference with the season hanging by a thread! Who’s ready!

The Basics

Who: Denver Nuggets (40-34, 13-24 away) vs Toronto Raptors (54-20, 30-7 home)

When: 5:30 PM MT

Where: Air Canada Centre, Toronto, Canada

How to watch: NBA League Pass, Altitude

Rival blog: Raptors HQ

Lineups

Position
Nuggets
Raptors
Edge
PG
Jamal Murray
Kyle Lowry
Raptors
SG
Will Barton
DeMar DeRozan
Raptors
SF
Wilson Chandler
OG Anunoby
Nuggets
PF
Paul Millsap
Serge Ibaka
Even
C
Nikola Jokic
Jonas Valanciunas
Nuggets
Bench
Devin Harris, Malik Beasley, Juancho Hernangomez, Torrey Craig, Trey Lyles, Mason Plumlee
Fred VanVleet, Delon Wright, CJ Miles, Pascal Siakam, Norm Powell, Jakob Poeltl
Raptors

Injuries: Gary Harris (out - knee), Tyler Lydon (out - knee)

Three things to watch for

Battle of the Benches. I’ll keep things pretty concise for those of you that have not been keeping an eye on the Raptors - their bench is freaking incredible. They have All-Star guards in Lowry and DeRozan, and in an amazing feat of team building by Masai Ujiri, there isn’t much of a dropoff when they go to their second unit.

VanVleet is the latest Raptors reserve point guard to develop into the “wow he’s probably better at playing point than the Nuggets current point guard” filling into Cory Joseph’s shoes admirably. Delon Wright is secretly old, but also secretly a terror on defense while being capable of getting off his own shot on offense - he’s like 70 percent of Will Barton on offense but 200 percent of Will Barton on defense.

CJ Miles is a veteran wing that could be starting for them if it wasn’t for their 2017 first round pick, but adds floor spacing and defense at small forward. Norm Powell signed an big extension in the offseason, and now barely plays, but when he’s on the court, he’s a physical defender that can bully his way to the rim like an angry mom seeking out a limited quantity sale at Black Friday. Jakob Poeltl could start for a lot of teams, and is easily a better backup center than Plumlee.

The Nuggets bench, especially without Will Barton, has been coughing up leads all month long. Now they have to go against an elite bench, and Gary Harris is still out? God have mercy.

Can someone play defense? The Nuggets could deal the Raptors a second consecutive loss at home, with the LA Clippers picking up a win in a 117-106 game last week. Lou Williams had 26 points off the bench, and the Clippers were able to get to the free throw line while limiting their turnovers to propel them to a win.

For the Nuggets, they’re the owners of the second-worst defensive rating in the month of March, according to NBA Stats (I’m not counting the teams that are tanking, they aren’t even trying). They’ll need to not only get turnovers, but keep the Raptors guards from getting into the paint and to the free throw line. Stop dribble penetration, check DeRozan in the midrange, and stick tight on the perimeter to limit 3-point attempts - it’s going to be a monumental accomplishment if they can execute that plan.

Can someone go supernova? The Nuggets need someone to score 40 points in a bad way tonight. Whether that’s Paul Millsap taking Serge Ibaka to school, or Nikola Jokic making Jonas Valanciunas question whether or not he should shave off his beard, or Will Barton cooking the fleet of guard the Raptors have, someone needs to have a huge game.

Prediction

The Nuggets are the little child in this scenario.

PS - We miss you, Masai! You’re the one that got away.