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

An Andrea Bargnani-less Toronto Raptors team takes on the Nuggets tonight in Denver. The HQ breaks it down, worrying about containing the Nuggs' high-powered O...

"This time it's bad...I'm pretty sure I'm going to be out for a while."

That sound you just heard was the plasticky plunk of ping pong balls.

Yes, NBA Draft lottery ping pong balls stacking up for the Toronto Raptors as it now appears that the team will have to make do without its best player for a long stretch of games.

Which could of course result in a long stretch of losses, the upside being, an extra shot at the number one overall pick in this summer's NBA Draft Lottery.

However that's the optimistic view here and one that unfortunately Toronto Raptors' fans are perhaps forced to take this morning. The reality is that the team is coming off two strong wins against clubs they hadn't beaten since the real Dinosaurs roamed Ontario, and were looking like a club that was getting its swagger back.

Not to mention its health.

And then Bargs went down.


Yep, the the quote above was from Andrea Bargnani who is obviously a no-go tonight against the Denver Nuggets, barring a miracle of Grant Hill proportions, and could miss an extended period of time.

Considering the injury Bargnani is referring to is a repeat of the calf injury that kept him out for six games already this season, how long do you think "I'm pretty sure I'm going to be out for a while" means now? 10 games? A month?

Regardless, it's not good considering that minus Bargs, the Raps went 0 and 6, and averaged only 81 points a game. The average NBA team currently putting up about 94 points a game so if you do the math, you can see that if Toronto again plays at it's previous "Bargnani-less" pace, we could be in for a very long next few weeks.

To combat that, well, let's start with combatting it a game at a time, starting with our three keys for tonight's match against the Denver Nuggets:

1) Secondary scoring. Andrea was obviously a big part of Wednesday night's OT win over the Utah Jazz, but he actually had some help for a change. Players like DeMar DeRozan and Jose Calderon got involved in the scoring but others like Leandro Barbosa and Linas Kleiza (game-high 25 points) were also huge as secondary offensive threats. In fact Kleiza for the first time since returning from injury looked like a primary threat, even getting to the free-throw line five times. The Nuggets are putting up the most points in the league at 106.4 per game so if Toronto can't get offensive production from bulk of the aforementioned players, this one could be over very early.

2) Pace. Closely aligned with the previous point is how important it will be to dictate the style of tonight's game as part of the reason the Nuggets score so much, is because they play at such a fast pace. In fact, it's the fastest in the league with an average of nearly 99 possessions a game. The Nuggets however appear to be going to battle tonight without their lead speedster, point guard Ty Lawson, so perhaps Casey and crew can force this one towards more of the "walking in mud" tempo that benefits the club's D.

3) Defense, Defense, Defense. Ironically, the Raptors offense would probably benefit from playing a faster style without Bargnani, but they just can't afford to against this Denver team. The Nuggets are leading the league in true shooting percentage, effective field goal percentage, and are the most efficient offensive team in the NBA. Part of this is due to the easy buckets the club gets in transition of course, as the Nuggs lead the league in fast break points, scoring a mind-boggling 21 a game. Contrast that with the Raps who don't even get nine a contest and you can see why the Dinos need to keep this one as slow as possible. Considering the team's offensive woes minus Andrea, the Raps simply can't afford to let the Nuggets wrack up easy baskets and while it may mean sacrificing some of their own O for the sake of the D, it's a tradeoff I think they need to make to try and win this game.