Would you believe... the Toronto Raptors have a basketball game tonight? As the trade deadline nears and chatter around the struggling Raptors intensifies, it can be easy to forget there are actual games to be played.
And while tracking player movement and off court drama is part of the fun of following the NBA, the games are fun too — especially when MVP candidate Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets are involved.
Of course, things aren’t much fun for the Raptors right now. They’ve lost nine straight for the first time since actual dinosaurs, not just Toronto Raptors, walked the Earth (or so it feels). Many of those losses have come against the absolute dregs of the league. Kyle Lowry and Norman Powell might get traded. Pascal Siakam and Nick Nurse are getting into it. And now they get to try and end that streak against one of the best in the West? Not good times, no.
Where to Watch
TSN, 7:30 p.m. ET
Toronto — Fred VanVleet, Kyle Lowry, Norman Powell, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam
Denver — Michael Porter Jr., Paul Millsap, Nikola Jokic, Will Barton, Jamal Murray
Toronto — None
Denver — Gary Harris (out – left adductor), Monte Morris (out – left quad), Greg Whittington (questionable – right knee)
Nick Nurse throws some weird lineup combinations out there at the best of times, and this season — far from the best of times — has seen some pretty odd groups! Playing Stanley Johnson and Patrick McCaw five minutes together against Cleveland was weird. Playing a Fred+bench group, with DeAndre’ Bembry who’d been DNP-CD the past three, in the third against Houston was weird.
Tonight might be even weirder. If all the trade talk around Lowry and Powell is true, then there’s a chance one or both might be held out to prevent injury. Beyond that, the Raptors will have their hands full with Jokic. OG Anunoby might be their best matchup against the Nuggets big man; I can imagine Jokic will do significant damage to Aron Baynes and he’ll be able to head fake Chris Boucher into the atmosphere.
So for whoever’s out there, it’s gonna be a tough one. And if Lowry and Powell are out there? Knowing it might be their last game? Oh man, get the tissues ready.
Give the Joker his Due
So this Jokic guy, pretty good huh? He’s coming off a triple-double last night (28-15-10 against Nikola Vucevic and the Magic) and is averaging 27-11-9 on the year, on 57-42-87 shooting splits. He also held Vooch to 18 points on 8-of-25 shooting last night. Yeah, pretty darn good.
There’s some MVP buzz around Jokic, but it should probably be louder. While Jokic is currently the betting favourite, you’d never know it listening to the U.S. national media. Yes, what LeBron James is doing at age 36 is incredible. Giannis Antetokounmpo is still putting up huge numbers. James Harden is just as dominant in Brooklyn as he was in Houston, and is carrying the Nets with Kevin Durant out. Joel Embiid and Damian Lillard are both having awesome seasons.
But Jokic is doing his thing consistently every night and the Nuggets are just 1.5 games behind both Los Angeles teams for third in the West. It’s going hurt, but part of me will definitely enjoy him carving up the Raptors tonight and strengthening that MVP case.
Best Canadian: Who ya got?
The Raptors face Jamal Murray and Nuggets tonight, and a week from tonight, they face Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and the Oklahoma City Thunder. Who holds the title for best - or most exciting, Canadian right now?
I think I have to go with Murray — for now. As much as I love Shai’s inside-outside game, his change-of-direction dribbles and his silky-smooth finishes, Murray’s explosive scoring and range still give him the edge in my mind. You never know when he might catch fire and drop 45, and that quick release off-the-bounce is terrifying when he’s coming around a screen against your team.
Hopefully Fred VanVleet’s conditioning is coming around, because he’ll have his hands full with Murray tonight.