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3 in the Key - Raptors' Game-Day Preview vs. The Nuggets

After suffering a tough loss against the Knicks the Raptors return home for a Friday night affair against the 13 and 8 Denver Nuggets.

Another tough test for the Dinos but can they steal a win against a team whose best player might be on the block?

The 2003 NBA Draft is not one that will soon be forgotten. That years draft class pumped new super-star blood through the NBA body. LeBron, Wade, Bosh, Darko, and of course Carmelo Anthony.

Of the four superstars that came out of that draft, Carmelo has forged his own path. When it was time to sign the first extension he took the max as opposed to the shortened deal. He clearly didn't have plans to team up with his class mates years later and rumour has it he wants to head back to his hometown, to the mecca of basketball, and restore some long lost magic to an iconic  franchise. He's...well....he's the anti-Lebron.

Raptors fans can sympathize with what Nuggets fans must be feeling. A superstar in the final year of his contract is a nightmare for any fan not cheering for the Heat, the Knicks, the Lakers and oddly enough, the Spurs. Despite the NBA's best attempts in the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, small and "less desirable" markets continue to have trouble retaining their stars.

Look at the 2003 draft class and only Wade is still with his original team.

How the Nuggets are currently playing is almost secondary to what the organization can get in return for their prime time player and as a Raptors fan I will be watching closely to see if the Nuggets are able to secure a boat load more than what Colangelo received when Bosh had decided to take his talents to South Beach.

All of the distraction, plus the numerous of injuries plaguing this Nuggets team (Martin, Anderson, makes for a great opportunity for the Raps to steal a win - provided they play a little better than they did in Indiana, and I actually think they will.

The Raptors remain a bit of a mystery to me even though they have played 22 games already this season. Last year the team had trouble against team with better than a .500 record, yet this season, despite less talent, the Raps have won games against some of the leagues elite teams in Boston, Orlando and OKC (albeit without Durant). Despite results of the past few games, from a macro level I am still pleasantly surprised by this team. Stealing a game against the Nuggets would just be another step in the right direction.

So what are the keys to tonight's game?

1. Make Someone Other Than Melo Beat You - Given the injuries the Raps can afford to spend most of their collective effort trying to slow Carmelo on the defensive end. If Anthony is forced to give up the rock it will be on players like Chauncey Billups, Nene and Aaron Afflalo to get the job done. As a Raps fan you would rather see Billups, shooting a horribly low percentage on the year, putting up shots than the former NCAA Champion. The one caveat here? The Raps absolutely must close out on JR Smith. He is the one guy that, if left open, could fill it up from deep.

2. Bench Play- With all of the injuries to quality Nugget players, it will be the Raptors bench that really need to get the job done tonight. Barbosa, Kleiza, Bayless and Davis need to play quality minutes and help the starters. Bench depth might be the Raps biggest advantage on this evening and the crew coming off the pine must badly outscore their Nugget counterparts.

3. Feed Bargnani - After an offensive outburst against the Knicks the Raps need to feed Il Mago right off the bat to see if he is still feeling it. The Nuggets have no-one who can match-up against the big Italian and getting him going will go a long way. Bargnani needs to be the offensive center piece to tonight's game. Hopefully he is up to the task two night's in a row.