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Raptors head West to face dominant Nuggets: Preview, start time and more

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After a Lowry-less loss to the Blazers, the Raptors face another difficult hurdle in the Mile High City.

Toronto Raptors v Denver Nuggets Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Tonight, the Raptors take on the Nuggets in what would typically be a star-studded matchup, chalk-full of MVP candidates and exciting young talent. Instead, we’re greeted with what could be semi-accurately described as the aftermath of a warzone. Aside from Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray, the Denver Nuggets have been plagued by a considerable amount of unfortunate injuries to both their stars and intriguing, young prospects. If this game were scheduled for a month from now, there would be more to learn from it; however, for today, we’ll have to settle for the fact that both teams sit atop their respective conferences to tide us over.

The prospect of getting to see Kyle Lowry and Kawhi Leonard playing together is always tantalizing. Unfortunately, it’s possible we won’t have this luxury tonight. Lowry missed last game with a thigh injury, and Kawhi’s no stranger to sitting out the occasional game (however, the Raptors will get three days of rest after tonight’s game, so theoretically, he should be good to go). In addition to Kyle’s injury, Pascal Siakam may not play after taking a hard fall on his back against the Blazers and, in the spirit of compounding misery, Valanciunas recently had surgery on his thumb.

This might not be the marquee matchup we all envisioned, but the Nuggets are still on a hot streak, and aside from a disappointing outing against the Blazers, the Raptors have been exceptional as of late. Don’t be disappointed — it’s still basketball, and as we all know, basketball is great.

Here are the game details for tonight:

*****

Where to Watch:

TSN, 8:00 PM EST

Lineups:

Toronto: Kyle Lowry, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Pascal Siakam, Serge Ibaka

Denver: Jamal Murray, Torrey Craig, Juan Hernangomez, Nikola Jokic, Mason Plumlee

Injuries:

Toronto: Kyle Lowry (Day-to-day), Pascal Siakam (day-to-day), Norman Powell (dislocated shoulder), Jonas Valanciunas (dislocated thumb)

Denver: Isaiah Thomas (out), Gary Harris (out), Paul Millsap (out), Jarred Vanderbilt (out), Michael Porter Jr. (out), Will Barton (out)

*****

The Joker is no Joke

For those of you who don’t know, his full name is Nikola Jokic, and he’s here to cause havoc. The last time these two teams played, the Joker tallied a massive triple-double, sinking the Raptors in a hard-fought matchup. His ability to routinely chip in more assists than a typical starting point guard poses trouble for teams who struggle with rebounding. Luckily for the Raptors, Jokic’s kick-out options are limited with Gary Harris and Paul Millsap out. Still, Nikola often manages to put up near-triple doubles, even with a diluted squad around him.

After Valanciunas went down with a thumb injury, the Raptors called up G League MVP candidate Chris Boucher. Tonight, his immense wingspan may prove especially useful in stifling Jokic’s creative passing. Of course, Boucher is inexperienced against supreme NBA talent, and certainly cannot do it all himself. If he does not end up playing, Jokic will have to be guarded by a combination of Serge Ibaka and Pascal Siakam. If Siakam is out, I expect Jokic to light up the box score.

Killer’s Mentality

First off, I’d like to make something clear: there’s no term in basketball that I dislike more than “Killer’s Mentality”. It’s used far too often by fans to support an elevated perception of players like Kobe Bryant with little to no statistical backing.

In this case, however, this phrase most certainly applies to the Nuggets’ team. As previously alluded to, despite losing some central talent to injuries, the team has won nine of their last eleven games, some quite handily. If there’s any depleted roster in the NBA that could still take down the Raptors at full strength, it’s Denver. Jamal Murray recently lauded his team to ESPN, mentioning that they “take every game seriously” and “have fun doing it”. The Raptors tend to play with indifference occasionally, and they will be caught by surprise if that’s indeed the case tonight.

Get in Rhythm

With multiple players out, the Raptors will have a chance to get certain other players going. Over the last few games, Fred VanVleet has looked more like the ‘17/’18 version of himself. He registered a positive +/- in each of those games — even in Toronto’s loss to the Blazers. His three-point shot is finally coming around. Fred looks more comfortable on the court, making terrific decisions on the offensive end (14 assists against the Clippers) and pestering opposing guards (helped hold Steph Curry to 10 points on 3-of-12 shooting).

As well, if C.J. Miles’ play of late is not an aberration, but rather a return to form, then the bench dad is back, baby. He’s shot a scorching hot 58.3 percent from three over the last four games in limited minutes. If Pascal is out tonight, expect C.J. to see more of the floor. Hopefully, extended playing time can spur C.J.’s confidence and keep this run going.