The current kings of the Eastern Conference Toronto Raptors (20-4) may play the role of gracious host to the current kings of the Western Conference Denver Nuggets (15-7)—even allowing Jamal Murray and company to hoist jumpers in Mattamy Athletic Centre—but something has to give.
Both teams roll into Monday’s duel with winning streaks to lose. Every game the Raptors have won thus far this season has been ultimately a part of a winning streak of six or more games. They’re at eight right now after an ugly win over Cleveland on Saturday night. Denver’s coming in having won five straight, most recently eking out a one-point victory over Portland on Friday.
Let’s dig beneath the surface and get going with the HQ preview format you’ve come to know and love.
Where to Watch
Sportsnet One, 7:30 PM
Denver: Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Torrey Craig, Paul Millsap, Nikola Jokic
Toronto: Kyle Lowry, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Pascal Siakam, Serge Ibaka/Jonas Valanciunas
Denver: Will Barton (hip) - out, Jarred Vanderbilt (foot) - out, Michael Porter, Jr. (back) - out, Isaiah Thomas (hip) - out
Toronto: Kyle Lowry (back) - day-to-day, Greg Monroe (back) - he’s back and available to play, Norman Powell (shoulder) - day-to-day
Jamal Murray! Trey Lyles! It’s time for Canadian basketball to shine in the spotlight. The Nuggets practiced in Ryerson’s gym this past weekend, ahead of tonight’s game, to add layers to the locality.
Murray is averaging 17.1 points and 4.6 assists in his starting role for this quite-good Denver team, and Lyles is averaging 10.5 points and 4.6 rebounds in his bench role—shooting a not-good 27% from long range.
Either way, I enjoy watching Canadians play basketball. Watching these two take the court will not change that fact. In fact, they are some of the reason I enjoy watching Canadian basketball. Murray has beef with the Celtics and the Lakers! Could he endear himself any more?
Is he back or is it his back?
I’m immediately apologetic for even trying with a weird-and-ultimately-way-worse-than-futile attempt at some sort of word play. But Kyle Lowry missed Saturday’s affair with Cleveland with what the team called “a sore back” and what a lot of people have referred to as “rest.” So, maybe look out for that. Was it a thing at all? Is it a thing? Is it no longer a thing? These are all thing-related questions I’m interested in scoping out the answers to.
He’s officially listed as day-to-day. So, will he play? Maybe! Will he play well? Sure! I hope he does! Kyle Lowry over everything.
Pass The Ball
Monte Morris of the Denver Nuggets is good at hanging onto the basketball. He’s leading the league in AST/TO ratio at 8! 8! You read that right: 8! Nikola Jokic is also a gifted passer—dropping behind-the-back, over-his-head, under-there passes almost basically whenever he damn pleases. The team averages 26.5 assists to 13.5 turnovers, runs the game at the league’s fourth-slowest pace, and is fourth in Defensive Rating per Basketball-Reference.
I just dropped a lot of Nuggets facts on you, so let’s pivot to the actual focus of this site: The Toronto Raptors. The Raptors move the ball well, especially with Kyle Lowry on the floor finding the roll-man in Jonas Valanciunas or Serge Ibaka depending on the night’s lineup choices. Sometimes Fred VanVleet and Delon Wright don’t do that and force the issue themselves, leading to bad shots. In these slow-paced kinds of games, where both teams don’t necessarily turn the ball over much, possessions count. Make sure the ball is moving, pick up your own pace, and create more of those much-desired possessions.
This should be a fun one. I didn’t even really mention former walking-Raptor-trade-rumour-and-target Paul Millsap.
Good basketball teams playing basketball against each other is good. It’s quite simple and this one will be quite simply fun.