The Denver Nuggets suffered a heartbreaking loss in their home opener Saturday night as Damian Lillard and the visiting Portland Trail Blazers stole a game that quite frankly Denver should have won. Poor execution on both ends of the floor, missed free throws and questionable rotations all contributed to a fourth quarter meltdown and ultimately the tough loss on what was an otherwise special night in honoring Dikembe Mutombo.

But as Klay Thompson says, “it’s a man’s league,” and the Nuggets will need to put this loss behind them and do it quickly. Tonight marks the beginning of a spooky (get it? It’s Halloween) five-game road trip across the Northern part of the country and the first stop is a contest against the Toronto Raptors. This will be one of the toughest stretches of the year for the Nuggets, one where they will need every win they can get. Simply put, Denver can’t afford to come out sluggish on this trip.

The Basics

Who: Denver Nuggets (1-1) vs. Toronto Raptors (1-1)

When: Monday, October 31, 5:30 pm MST

Where: Air Canada Centre, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

How to watch/listen: Altitude, AM 950

Rival Blog: Raptors HQ

Denver Toronto Advantage
PG Emmanuel Mudiay Kyle Lowry Raptors
SG Will Barton DeMar DeRozan Raptors
SF Danilo Gallinari DeMarre Carroll Nuggets
PF Nikola Jokic Pascal Siakam Nuggets
C Jusuf Nurkic Jonas Valanciunas Nuggets
Key Bench Guys Wilson Chandler, Kenneth Faried, Jamal Murray, Jameer Nelson Terrence Ross, Patrick Patterson, Cory Joseph, Jakob Poetl Nuggets

What to watch for: Michael Malone's rotations

Two games in and one of the most troubling aspects of Denver's coaching strategy has been Michael Malone's rotations, especially regarding the front court late in the game. Interestingly, Malone has been using a small-ball lineup with Kenneth Faried at center instead of fully utilizing actual centers Jusuf Nurkic and Nikola Jokic, and has seen mixed results.. Nurkic was having the game of his life in New Orleans and put together another solid performance against Portland but watched from the bench in both games as the Nuggets blew the lead down the stretch. Jokic was the Nuggets best player on Saturday, but after drawing his fourth foul with 4:27 to go Malone pulled him and put Faried in at center instead and Denver gave up an eight point lead and the game.

Much has already been said about this, and of course there were other factors that led to the loss, but there’s no questioning that the presence of Nurkic or Jokic would have made a difference in the last few minutes against Portland. Malone’s late game front court rotations will certainly be something to monitor throughout this game and the next few games as the Nuggets face big men like Jonas Valanciunas and Karl-Anthony Towns.

Key Matchup: Will Barton vs. DeMar DeRozan

Through two games, the Nuggets defensive strategy has seemed to be to allow the opposing team’s best player to get his points while disrupting the rest of the offensive flow. Anthony Davis put up 50 in the first game while Damian Lillard dropped 37 in game two. For the Raptors, that player looks to be DeMar DeRozan. DeRozan has scored 40 and 32 in his first two games this season and will look to continue his hot shooting streak. Assuming Gary Harris doesn’t play, Will Barton will have his hands full against the dynamic Raptors shooting guard.

Key Statistic: FTA

Free-throw Attempts. The Nuggets have been doing a great job at getting to the free throw line, and are second in the league in attempts at 36 per game. Historically Danilo Gallinari has been the Nuggets best player at drawing fouls and is doing just that at 7.2 attempts per game. But Jusuf Nurkic is also benefiting from his aggressiveness in the paint and is averaging 6 FTAs per game himself, helping the Nuggets cause foul trouble for opposing bigs.

Nuggets Spotlight: Emmanuel Mudiay

Mudiay has faced his fair share of criticism in the early goings for his poor shooting and knack for turning the ball over, but not all is lost for the 20 year-old player by any means. He struggled in the first half against Portland but came alive in the third quarter, attacking the paint for easy scores and otherwise facilitating the offense to give the Nuggets a sizeable lead. He still has some work to do (how about that awful turnover on the inbounds with just a few seconds left) but the dude can play. Hopefully his performance will be a boost of confidence for the upcoming road trip; the Nuggets will sure need it.

Bonus Spotlight: Jamal Murray is still looking for his first NBA basket, going 0-4 in his first two games. Will he finally get it against the Raptors?

Prediction: Nuggets 105, Raptors 100

The Nuggets will bounce back following the disappointing loss to Portland and win a close game on the road. Mudiay and Jokic will continue their strong play and Jamal Murray will get his first NBA field goal in a homecoming for the rookie. Whoever is in at the end of the game, be it Faried or one of the Balkans, will hold off a balanced attack to seal the victory.