Don’t let the Raptors two consecutive Western Conference road wins fool you. With the Raptors best player Andrea Bargnani re-aggravating his strained left calf, even a depleted Nuggets team should take down the dinos in Denver tonight.

Game: 19

13-5 (6-2 at home)
Streak: Won 5
Toronto: 6-13 (4-8 on the road)
Streak: Won 2

: Rudy Fernandez (right Achilles strain) is a game-time decision. Arron Afflalo (groin strain) and Ty Lawson (left ankle sprain) are day-to-day and are doubtful. DeMarre Carroll (left hamstring strain) is also day-to-day and a game-time decision.
Toronto: Andrea Bargnani (strained left calf) is out.

Television: Altitude TV

Season Series: 0-0

Opposition’s Take: Raptors HQ

When you reside in the NBA’s basement things just don’t seem to break your way. Such is the case of the Toronto Raptors. Having lost eight straight games, this week the Raptors welcomed back power forward (and Italian country mate of the Nuggets’ Danilo Gallinari) Andrea Bargnani and reeled off two impressive road victories on back-to-back nights, beating Steve Nash’s Suns on Tuesday and the Jazz in double overtime on Wednesday.

But with 1:05 remaining in the first overtime of the Jazz game, Bargnani re-aggravated his strained left calf injury and it’s uncertain as to when he’ll play again. With Bargnani this season, the Raptors are surprisingly mediocre at 6-7. Without him, they are a dreadful 0-6.

Let’s hope our Nuggets make that 0-7 after tonight’s game is over.

In recent seasons, the Raptors have been one of those teams that the Nuggets have absolutely feasted upon. Over the previous six seasons, the Nuggets are 13-1 against Toronto with an average margin of victory of 14.6 points. When the Raptors made their lone trip to Denver last season, the Nuggets beat them by 33 points, and it wasn’t even that close (to be fair, the Raptors were coming off a back-to-back in Oklahoma City where they almost won the game).

Of concern entering Friday’s contest with Toronto shouldn’t be Bargnani’s injury, but rather our own litany of ailments. The Nuggets could be missing Ty Lawson, Arron Afflalo and Rudy Fernandez tonight due to an assortment of injuries, meaning ample playing time could be given to rookie Julyan Stone, backup shooting guard Corey Brewer and even rookies Kenneth Faried and Jordan Hamilton depending on how the game shakes out.

The most serious injury, of course, is Lawson’s – as he sets the pace for the game and Nuggets head coach George Karl trusts his diminutive point guard to constantly push the ball quickly up the court. Veteran backup point guard Andre Miller has been playing well for Denver, but he simply doesn’t – and cannot – push the ball like Lawson does, taking away the Nuggets key advantage against crappy Eastern Conference teams that don’t like to run (such as the Raptors, who average an NBA second-worst 87.5 points per game). And I doubt Karl is ready to give Stone the keys to the car, so to speak. So if Lawson indeed sits, look for the Nuggets to play a more controlled game and just hope that the Raptors are so bad without Bargnani that the Nuggets will win anyway.

On a side note, tonight’s game will feature three lucky Denver Stiffs readers who won a pair of tickets at last weekend’s Stiffs Night Out party to sit three rows behind the Nuggets bench. Nate, Jeff and I will all be at the game, too, with Nate and Jeff sitting with Mile High Fan’s Vicki and Russ right outside the Nuggets tunnel and I’ll be sitting about six rows up behind Nuggets announcers Scott Hastings and Chris Marlowe. For all the other Stiffs in attendance tonight, let’s try to gather at the tunnel heading to Blue Sky Grill at halftime for a family photo!

Scouting the Raptors

Raptors Non-Stiffs

Andrea Bargnani: The stats speak for themselves. The Raptors are 6-7 with Bargnani and 0-6 without him.

Jose Calderon: Fernandez’s fellow Spaniard, Calderon is having another solid season by averaging 10.6 ppg, 8.7 apg and shooting 93% from the free throw line.

Anthony Carter: “AC” makes his return to Denver tonight and the mere fact that this undersized, under-talented, 36-year-old point guard is still pulling a paycheck in the NBA makes him a non-Stiff to me!

Raptors Stiffs

Linas Kleiza: Kleiza, the former Nugget, is having a Stiff-like season. His field goal percentage has sunk to a career-low 37.5% and his minutes are way down, too. Although he did come up big against the Jazz in double overtime on Wednesday with 25 points, reminding us why Kleiza (who once scored 41 points in a Nuggets uniform) is always dangerous.

Gary Forbes: How many so-so shooting guards have we seen thrive in Denver under coach Karl only to disappear when they play somewhere else (a la Dahntay Jones)? Forbes, a terrific story last season when he made the Nuggets roster, can’t find his place in Toronto … or his shot. He’s “shooting” 34% from the field and his minutes are erratic.

Final Thought

The Raptors aren’t that good with Bargnani but without him, they’re awful. So if ever there was a time for the Nuggets to rest some key players with injuries and still pick up a victory, it’s tonight. It’s pulling off wins like this that could be the difference between home court advantage or not come playoff time.