With yet another chance to build on a win over a top tier opponent, the Toronto Raptors look to make a run before the All-Star break as they sit six games out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, currently held by the Milwaukee Bucks.
The possibilities are one to ponder upon. With a two-game winning streak in the past there was no telling if the team could hang with the best of them. With Kyle Lowry finally anchoring the offense smoothly and Rudy Gay complimenting the game of his fellow guards, hope in a major run can be instilled throughout Raptor nation.
Tonight's opponent, the Denver Nuggets, have taken 15 of of the last 17 matches from Toronto, including a tough 113-110 victory in their most recent matchup on Dec.3. Coming into the ACC the Nuggets (33-19) have been 9-1 through their last 10 games, the lone loss being a thrilling triple-overtime match-up with the Boston Celtics Sunday night. The Nuggs will be looking to get back on track against Rudy Gay and the revamped Raptors.
Matchups will play a major factor in this intriguing tilt, as both teams have seemed to catch fire recently. The Nuggets will be battling tonight under different circumstances, circumstances that they aren't used to seeing from the Raps - a balanced scoring attack.
Here are our keys to stretching the Raps' winning streak to three:
1) Capitalize on the Nuggets Triple-OT Fatigue: Although teams train and prep themselves for demanding long road trips, withstanding a grueling triple-overtime game isn't light by any means. The Nuggets came out on the short end of the stick Sunday night in Boston but as the Charlotte Bobcats demonstrated last night over the C's (ending their seven-game streak with a 94-91 win), fatigue can lower a team's momentum. If the Raptors can get out of the gate running the break efficiently, the streaky Nuggets can be handled.
2) Contain The Perimeter: The Denver Nuggets are 15-3 in their last 18, averaging 111.6 points in that span, a mark that can be credited to their ability to corral offensive boards and get quality shots out of their scorers. A Danilo Gallinari vs. Andrea Bargnani matchup would've been fun to witness, as Bargs does tend to bring it when he suits up against the Nuggets, but after missing yesterday's practice with flu-like symptoms it's unlikely that we'll see Primo's spokesman in action against his fellow Italian. Gallinari has shot 49.2 percent and 45.3 from behind the arc during the Nuggets' win streak, while Ty Lawson is averaging 20.0 throughout his past 11 games. Limiting uncontested shots to this squad will be key in coming out with the W.
3) Limit Second-Chance Opportunities: The Nuggets have been a juggernaut at home this season, with a record of 22-3, but have been no slouch on the road either at .500 (13-13.) One reason for this is that even when their perimeter shots haven't been dropping, they've been getting second opportunities thanks to potentent rebounding. Kenneth Faried has been a beast on the boards, averaging 9 rebounds a game, while his running mate JaVale McGee racks up 5 a game in limited minutes.
It'll be Jonas Valanciunas & Amir Johnson's responsibility to keep the tough Nuggets off of the boards, and the addition of Gay on the wing should help as well.
And obviously it doesn't hurt that Andre Iguodala, one of the Nuggets' better rebounding "non-big-man options" is out with a strained neck.
Should the Raps win the battle of the boards, this would be a good step in getting win number three in a row.