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Preview: Denver Nuggets look to roll Toronto Raptors

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NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets (26-17) have come out of the All-Star break winning five of seven games, and they’re looking to make that six out of eight against the Toronto Raptors (17-26). Denver had won three straight games in the series before the Raptors snagged a win in the bubble during the restart last season. Denver will be looking to get their streak started again against a Raptors’ team that has lost nine of their last 10 and 11 of their last 12.

After a five-game homestand, Denver is in the middle of a three-game road trip, and they’ll be looking to make it a clean sweep after going 3-2 at home. Denver has been one of the best team’s in the NBA over the last month with a net rating of +6.9 since February 14th which ranks fourth leaguewide. If they can bring their defense along with the offense, this team is starting to look scary.

For Toronto, it’s quickly looking like their window of competitiveness is coming to an end. Rumors have swirled that franchise stalwart Kyle Lowry along with starting forward Norman Powell have been talked about heavily as players that could be on the move at the trade deadline. With just a few days before that deadline, Toronto is in make-or-break territory with the gap between themselves and the playoffs has continued to grow.

The Essentials

Who: Denver Nuggets (26-17, 14-8 away) vs Toronto Raptors (17-26, 8-10 home)

When: 5:30 p.m. MST

Where: Scotiabank Arena

How to watch/listen: Denver Stiffs does not condone piracy..unless it’s the romanticized 18th-century type. AltitudeTV where available. League Pass for non-Denver market viewers. Show up on Zoom. 92.5 FM KKSE Altitude Sports Radio

Rival Blog: Raptors HQ

Expected Starting Lineups:

TOR: PG Kyle Lowry, SG Fred VanVleet, SF Norman Powell, PF Pascal Siakam, C Aron Baynes

DEN: PG Jamal Murray, SF Will Barton, SF Michael Porter Jr., PF Paul Millsap., C Nikola Jokic

Injuries: Gary Harris, Monte Morris

Three Things to Watch

Clamp down Fred VanVleet

This Raptors’ team is struggling in a big way, but Fred Van Vleet is an extremely explosive player in their wins. He averages an extra 1.9 points per game in their wins, and he shoots four percent better from 3-point range in those wins as well. With Gary Harris still dealing with an injury, Will Barton needs to step up and take charge of slowing VanVleet down early in the game.

Can Toronto slow down Nikola Jokic?

The Raptors’ two traditional centers are Chris Boucher and Aron Baynes. Baynes plays an average of just 19.1 minutes per night while Boucher plays 23.8. Boucher is a center, but he is only 6’9” and 200 pounds. Jokic is going to be able to overpower him with size all night, and Toronto can’t afford to let that happen. The MVP-candidate center has been on a tear since Valentine’s Day averaging 27.7 points, 11.2 rebounds and 8.6 assists while shooting 57.5 percent from the field and 47.7 percent from 3-point range. Good luck Toronto.

Can the bench be better?

Denver led by 22 points at halftime last night, but they ended up winning by just 11 after a miserable third quarter. The bench went a combined 0-of-9 from 3-point range on the night, and P.J. Dozier was the only one of the four bench players that had more than six points on the night. Denver doesn’t need their bench to be elite scorers when they’re on the floor, but they have to be able to tread water.