The Denver Nuggets face the Toronto Raptors on Thursday night with both teams on a back-to-back. Denver scrapped and fought throughout most of their game against Chicago on Wednesday, even holding a fourth quarter lead at one point. They were unable to close once again, however, and simply had no answer for Pau Gasol’s size and excellence in the paint as they to the Bulls 99-90. The Raptors, on the other hand, were neck and neck with the Atlanta Hawks midway through the fourth before they pulled ahead to take their Wednesday game 96-86 thanks to a 31-point outpouring from their resident heat-check Kyle Lowry, who put up 22 of those points in the final frame to close the game. The Raptors played in Atlanta and are traveling back to Toronto for this game as well, so neither team should have an energy advantage. It’s the small things.

The Raptors definitely have an advantage when it comes to scoring, with both Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan throwing in 20+ points a game each. DeMarre Carroll still hasn’t quite found his sea legs since signing his big free agent deal north of the border, but is logging a healthy 35 minutes a game while he looks for them. His eFG% is lagging behind his last couple of years due to being nicked up but he’s taking 3 more shots a game to make up the difference for scoring purposes. Luis Scola is still up to his old tricks and Bismack Biyombo is doing his best to replace the points and especially rebounds of the injured Jonas Valanciunas. The Nuggets have their work cut out for them if then intend to break their losing streak.

The Basics:

Who: Denver Nuggets (6-13) at Toronto Raptors (12-7)
5:30 PM MST
Air Canada Center, Toronto, ON

Where to Watch:
Altitude TV
Rival Blog:
Raptors HQ

Toronto Raptors
Denver Nuggets Advantage
PG Kyle Lowry Emmanuel Mudiay Raptors
SG DeMar DeRozan Randy Foye Raptors
SF DeMarre Carroll Danilo Gallinari Nuggets
PF Luis Scola Kenneth Faried Even
C Bismack Biyombo Nikola Jokic Nuggets
Bench Patrick Patterson, Terrence Ross, Lucas Nogueira, Cory Joseph, Anthony Bennett, Bruno Caboclo Darrell Arthur, Will Barton, J.J. Hickson, Mike Miller, Kostas Papanikolaou, Joffrey Lauvergne,Jameer Nelson


Injured players: Wilson Chandler, hip (out), Jusuf Nurkic, knee (out), Gary Harris, concussion (doubtful), Faried, ankle (questionable), Jonas Valanciunas, hand (out).

Three Things to Watch:

Can anyone shoot? Joffrey Lauvergne came into the game with great energy and got good position all game. Unfortunately, there was a sequence in the fourth quarter where he was fed on 3 or 4 straight possessions and blew them all. Tired legs make those shots harder, and it’s understandable after his injury layoff, but the closest thing the Nuggets have to an efficient scorer right now from the backcourt or wings is Will Barton, so the frontcourt will have to carry that burden. Jokic, Lauvergne, Hickson, Faried (if he can go on the bad ankle) and Arthur are all going to need to finish inside and hit at least a few outside shots. Toronto’s guards are terrors on offense but their bigs don’t have the same effect on the scoreboard. Our bigs will have to help make up the difference, and it would be nice if they did it efficiently.

The backcourt needs to contribute more. This season Lowry, DeRozan and Joseph have outscored all the Nuggets guards (Mudiay, Barton, Foye, Nelson AND Harris) by over 100 points. Considering Barton has been doing a lot of scoring from the 3, that’s even worse. If Denver lets Toronto get its guards heated up the way the Suns managed to do earlier in the year, this game could be over quickly. Making up large gaps in points is not Denver’s forte. Mudiay and Foye are two of the worst offensive contributors in the league, and Jameer Nelson is quickly heading down to their territory (he had no points and 3 assists in 18 minutes against the Bulls). It would be a huge boost to the defensive effort if Harris can go in this one, but regardless the backcourt HAS to push scoring opportunities, take care of the ball, and play decent defense against the best weapons Toronto has. If our non-Barton guards aren’t going to score then they need to do everything else right.

Coaches are saddled with win-loss records for a reason. Coaches determine lineups, set plays, and manage playstyle, among a myriad of other responsibilities. It’s been said that coaches in the NBA don’t do much, but for a young team they actually do quite a lot. Putting your players in position to succeed is a coach’s job, and Michael Malone has been struggling to find ways to do that. Against the Bulls the Nuggets managed to pass the ball again without turning it over much (26 assists vs. 7 turnovers) and Malone said after the game that he was happy with how the game was played, even if it was in a loss. But leaving a well-rested Jokic on the bench while Pau Gasol was destroying Denver in the fourth was a curious decision, one of several. It’s hard to get the lineups optimized when nobody can stay healthy or play together on a consistent basis, but Malone has not been able to make the second-half adjustments when things come off the rails or find that finishing kick in his players to close the game when it matters. If he was saving Jokic for this game in Toronto, then hopefully that move pays off with a win. Sooner or later, some of his rotational decisions need to start paying off, short-handed or not. If the Nuggets have to wait for a completely healthy roster to get a win then they might as well just pack in the victory column until the new year.

Prediction: Toronto wins 101-94 as Carroll gets revenge late on a team that released him.