The Raptors roll into the Mile High City on Monday evening, looking to extend their franchise record 11-game winning streak. Their opponent is a team in flux, one that has added some talented young pieces in Emmanuel Mudiay, Jusuf Nurkic, Gary Harris and Nikola Jokic, but also has some capable young veterans locked up in Danilo Gallinari, Kenneth Faried and the injured Wilson Chandler.
While the Nuggets technically sit just four games out of a playoff spot, the post-season doesn't seem to be the ultimate goal for this group, at least not this season. They need to develop their young players down the stretch and look forward to the solid pick they'll get in the swap between the New York Knicks and these same Toronto Raptors. It seems likely that they'll shop Faried and potentially others at the trade deadline.
After a 7-0 home stand, Toronto now faces five games on the road, against very beatable opponents. Four are against sub .500 Western Conference opponents and the fifth is against the Detroit Pistons. With the All-Star Break in sight, it's important that this Raptors squad continues their strong play and takes road wins where they can get them.
Here are your keys to the game.
Second Unit Success
The biggest difference between the Raptors on this winning streak and the team we saw earlier in the year, is that they're now tough to play against for 48 minutes. The improved play of the second unit has pushed this team to another level. Look no further than the five man unit of Biyombo-Joseph-Lowry-Ross-Patterson for proof. In January, they played 111 minutes together over 13 games, the second most of any Raptors lineup, and finished with a +/- of +83, making them the best five man unit in the NBA over that span. That's right, the best in the entire league!
While that kind of production may not be sustainable in the long term, what they're giving Toronto right now is undeniable, and the way they're doing it -- Biyombo's hustle, Joseph's savvy ballhandling, the shooting of Ross, Patterson and Lowry -- seems like a recipe for long term success.
Hit the Long Ball
Speaking of shooting, the Raptors have climbed to 6th in the NBA in three point percentage. This once again comes on the back of the second unit, with Terrence Ross turning in his second straight month over 40% from deep, while Patrick Patterson lit it up in January, burying at a torrid 45% clip from beyond the arc. DeMar DeRozan even got in on the action, hitting triples at a hair under 42% last month and Kyle Lowry continued his strong season dropping bombs at 40% himself. Those are stellar numbers from a dangerous offensive team.
Couple those numbers with the fact that Denver ranks 28th in opponent three point percentage, and you might see Toronto launching quite a few long balls tonight.
Get that Gahhhhbage Outta Here!
Plenty has been written about what a fantastic addition Bismack Biyombo has been for the Raptors this season, so there's no need to go too deep here. His play when Jonas Valanciunas was injured helped the team through what could have been a crippling loss, and his rebounding and rim protection have been invaluable to a Raptors franchise that has long lacked a true protector of the paint.
Well, BB8, it's time to get on your favourite jumping shoes; this Nuggets team leads the NBA in opponent blocks per game, getting swatted 6.4 times per contest. Go get some!
Where to Watch: Sportsnet One, 9:00pm EST