The Raptors will look to close their three-game home-stand tonight with a win against the youthful, offensive-minded Denver Nuggets squad that is fighting for their collective playoff lives. With both teams boasting top-10 offenses, it looks as if we’re in for a firefight.
As of late however, offense has not been the problem for the Raptors. After an uneven week where they struggled out of the gates against the Magic and the Nets for eventual wins, a nail-biter and one of the better games of the season against the Cavs, and a 2nd half collapse against the Clippers, Toronto is looking for some defensive consistency. Fortunately, they’re taking on a Nuggets team that has also struggled with consistency since re-introducing Paul Millsap into their starting lineup.
Currently on the outside looking in, the 9th-seed Nuggets are 1.5 games behind the Timberwolves and will be playing in the back-end of a back-to-back series. In their previous game against the 76ers, the Nuggets had a second half collapse of their own, as they were outscored 72-45 for the loss.
Though it hasn’t shown, the Raptors are still holding on to a top-10 defense in the league to pair with their top-10 offense and are hopeful that they can exorcise some of their recent demons. Both coaches Dwane Casey and Mike Malone have not been pleased with the way their respective teams finished out their previous games and will be looking for a strong start out of the gate with an emphasis on defensive consistency.
Here are tonight’s game details.
Where to Watch:
TSN 1/4 7:30 pm EST
Toronto — Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, OG Anunoby, Serge Ibaka, Jonas Valanciunas
Denver — Jamal Murray, Will Barton, Wilson Chandler, Paul Millsap, Nikola Jokic
Toronto — None
Denver — Gary Harris (knee), Tyler Lydon (knee)
High Octane Offense
This is a very, very troubling tweet:
Have noted how Raptors have been best at taking care of business, but after Ls to 2 top-10 offenses (CLE & LAC) last week, here's something...— John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) March 26, 2018
Only the Cavs have been worse defensively vs. league's top-10 offenses. pic.twitter.com/JmoAq3qRZY
Thankfully, of the Raptors potential first-round opponents in the playoffs (MIL, MIA, WAS, IND, DET — lol) only Milwaukee is ranked in the top-10 in offensive rating in the league. Unfortunately, this is still a a major problem when you consider a full playoff run that looks to almost certainly have Cleveland waiting in the wings to defend their Eastern Conference crown or the locked-in Philadelphia 76ers.
Focusing on tonight’s game, Denver’s sixth rated offense is no joke, even without Gary Harris who will miss tonight but is close to returning. Jamal Murray has been a human flamethrower, Will Barton is the type of irrational confidence guy that seems to lick their chops whenever they play in the ACC (shoutout to JR, Jamal Crawford, et. al) and Nikola Jokic is one of the more unique basketball players in the league right now.
Searching for Serge
Serge Ibaka has been, to put it gently, not very good of late. His -22 over the last five games is not as telling as the 5-for-17 he has shot from behind the arc, which has scrounged up all kinds of Raptors nightmare flashbacks of clanked, wide-open jumpers of years prior. He has looked slow, indecisive and unwilling to probe beyond the three-point line on offense and when he has, his dribble has been high and he’s not able to carve out the space he requires.
When Ibaka’s offense isn’t working, he’s usually been able to rely on his defense to keep himself engaged, but that too has come in fits and starts. While you can almost always count on Serge for a big time block to ignite the crowd, his positioning has been sub-par in chasing said blocks and it has often left his front-court partner out to dry.
In a bit of good news, this should be the game that Serge returns to form. The Nuggets front-court feature two players in Millsap and Jokic who Ibaka was built to defend against. While Millsap and Jokic are both crafty, they aren’t exactly fleet of foot and both like to hang around the perimeter, which, last I checked, Serge also loves to do! The upside to these two on the perimeter for Serge is that he has the lateral (relative) quickness to keep pace when they decide to shot-fake and try to force their way inside. If Ibaka can stay positional sound and locked-in on the defense end, then he should be able to find a rhythm that will hopefully lead to opening up his offense.
If a cursory Wikipedia glance is to be trusted (it usually is not), Jamal Murray grew up studying kung-fu and meditation while also destroying kids his own age and older in basketball. The 21-year-old Kitchener native has won Canadian hearts over with his free-wheeling offensive basketball style and we just can’t help but cheer for him.
While Raptors fans all want to see a win tonight, it has been great to see Jamal Murray make a leap this season. Jettisoning one of the worst point guards in the league off to the Knicks in Emmanuel Mudiay will always have positive effects for your team regardless, but Murray has thrived since being freed up in the back-court with running mate Gary Harris.
Lakers antics aside (as they always should be), Murray has been electric as the starting point guard for the Nuggets and looks to be an integral piece in the Nuggets foundation for many years to come. Defensively, Murray has a bit of a ways to go as he is often under-sized and doesn’t quite have the positional know-how to put his body in the best-case scenario for getting a stop but that will come with time and age. Squaring off against similar guards like Kyle Lowry should do wonders for his game in the long-term.
While Raptors fans don’t want to see Murray hang a big number on the Raptors tonight in a win, I would personally be okay with him hanging a fat 30 on the Raps in a crushing, blowout loss.