After looking like the most consistent contender in the NBA over the last three months, the Denver Nuggets (46-22) have slumped hard over the last week, and they’re now heading out on a five-game road trip that starts tonight against the Toronto Raptors (32-36). The Nuggets narrowly knocked off the Raptors last week 118-113, and they haven’t been the same since.

The Nuggets have lost three straight games for only the second time this season, and they hadn’t lost three straight since early December. Denver’s major struggles have been on the defensive end with each of their last four opponents scoring 113 or more points. They’ve also given up 50 percent or better shooting in each of those four games.

For the Raptors, they’ve also lost three straight games, which started in last week’s defeat against the Nuggets. They’re 5-5 over their last 10 games, and they’re in a tight race for the final spots in the Eastern Conference playoffs. They’re 1.5 games back from eighth place, and they’re 1.5 games ahead of 12th. Every win and loss matters in their quest for a playoff spot.

The Essentials

Who: Denver Nuggets (46-22, 16-16 away) @ Toronto Raptors (32-36, 20-13 home)

When: 5:30 p.m. MST

Where: Ball 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 in Toronto. 92.5 FM KKSE Altitude Sports Radio

Rival Blog: Raptors HQ

Expected Starting Lineups:

TOR: PG Fred VanVleet, SG OG Anunoby, SF Scottie Barnes, PF Pascal Siakam, C Jakob Poeltl

DEN: PG Jamal Murray, SG Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, SF Michael Porter Jr., PF Aaron Gordon, C Nikola Jokic

Injuries: Reggie Jackson (oblique) PROBABLE, Jamal Murray (knee) QUESTIONABLE, Zeke Nnaji (shoulder) OUT, Collin Gillespie (leg) OUT, Dalano Blanton (thumb) DOUBTFUL

Three Things to Watch

Win the 3-point Battle

In last week’s win, the stats between the two sides were crazy close. Both teams shot 43-of-86 from the floor with a difference of four points in the paint, in favor of Denver, 41 rebounds a piece and only one assist separating them. The difference ended up outside the arc, where the Nuggets were 13-of-33 compared to 10-of-27 for the Raptors. The Nuggets’ identity remains in their offensive shooting ability. If they can start this game with hot shooting early, that sets them up for another big night.

Survive the Physicality

In the last couple of weeks, we’ve seen teams beat up the Nuggets in wins and losses, and they’ve often struggled to deal with that physicality. The Raptors were one of the teams that played a brand of physical basketball against Denver to some degree of success. Toronto ultimately unraveled late in last week’s game when calls weren’t going their way, and Denver can induce that same result again tonight.

Bench Minutes

The Nuggets’ bench continues to be their biggest Achilles heel on a nightly basis. They have a -4.2 net rating, which ranks 29th, on the year, and they have a -5.5 rating since the trade deadline, which ranks 27th in that span. The Raptors play their starters more than any other team, but Denver’s second unit has to figure out some way to generate better shots on offense while getting stops on defense. They don’t have to win their minutes, but getting blown off of the floor in two minutes isn’t cutting it.