3 in the Key: Raptors vs. Nuggets game-day preview

Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sport

Denver has long been a house of horrors for the Raptors. Will that change as the Raps kick off a five-game western trip?

Of all the road destinations in the NBA, none has been more cruel to the Raptors over the years than Denver. The Mile High City has been the site of some of Toronto's darkest nights. Here are some of the highlights:

  • March 21, 2011: A 123-90 loss near the end of an especially depressing season. The Nuggets led by 28 at halftime.
  • December 2, 2008: A 132-93 loss that doubled as Sam Mitchell's last game.
  • March 14, 2008: A 137-105 loss in which the Raptors trailed 44-23 after the first quarter.

How bad has it been? The Raptors haven't won in Denver since December 30, 2003, when Alvin Williams and Jalen Rose scored 17 apiece to lead Toronto to an 81-74 victory.

Though the history may be bleak, there is hope. Tonight presents an opportunity for the Raptors to break the curse of Denver and its thin air because, unlike so many previous trips, the Raptors might actually be better than the Nuggets, who are a pedestrian 12-10 at home, including a loss to the Bobcats on Wednesday.

To break through in Denver and start their five-game road trip with a win, the Raptors will need to control the pace of the game. Denver plays at the fourth-quickest pace in the league, while Toronto is a comparatively plodding 23rd. The Nuggets are also one of the most accurate teams when it comes to shooting corner threes, so special care should be directed at players like Wilson Chandler.

Ultimately, though, the biggest factor in determining the outcome of this game might be who's not playing. As of this writing the status of DeMar DeRozan and Patrick Patterson is still uncertain, while the Nuggets might be without Nate Robinson (knee) and Ty Lawson (rotator cuff) in addition to the expected absences of Danilo Gallinari, Javale McGee and Andre Miller.

If both Lawson and Robinson miss the game, Kyle Lowry, snubbed from the Eastern Conference All-Star team, will be left to feast upon Randy Foye at point guard, although Foye played an excellent game against Charlotte (33 points). Still, that's a match up the Raptors should dominate.

It will also be interesting to see how Dwane Casey decides to deal with the Nuggets' small frontcourt of Kenneth Faried and J.J. Hickson, a pairing that offers speed and athleticism but no rim protection or defensive prowess. (The Nuggets have allowed 109 points per 100 possessions when the two share the floor, worse than Utah's 30th ranked defense overall.) In the past Casey has been reluctant to play Jonas Valanciunas extended minutes when teams go small, opting instead for Patterson or Chuck Hayes. In this case, it might be worth it to keep Valanciunas out there, especially if Patterson doesn't play. Hayes isn't a threat on offense and throwing him out there might let the Nuggets off the hook for playing the defensively-challenged Faried-Hickson combo.

Nothing in the NBA is certain, but the Raptors should have a good chance of breaking their nine-game losing streak in Denver. With a game in Portland looming the following night, losing against the Nuggets would all but guarantee an 0-2 start to the road trip.

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