If Toronto wants to keep their play-in tournament hopes alive, tonight’s game against the Denver Nuggets is a must-win. The Raptors currently sit two games behind the Washington Wizards for the last play-in spot. With ten games left on the schedule, the Raptors can’t afford to play .500 for the rest of the way if the goal is indeed to make the playoffs.
Toronto needs to make a run, and it should start at the Ball Arena in Denver. The Nuggets will be on the second night of a back-to-back, coming off a hard-fought victory against the Pelicans last night. Denver is 5-5 on those second nights this season, including a loss to the Raptors in Kyle Lowry’s faux-farewell game. The Nuggets had no juice that night, and the Raptors took advantage. Lowry took control of that game without scoring in double figures, orchestrating one of the more beautiful offensive games this team has played.
The banged-up Nuggets survived a late rally by the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday night, behind MVP front-runner Nikola Jokic’s 32 points. Meanwhile, Michael Porter Jr. is now the de facto bucket-getter for the Nuggets, with Jamal Murray and Will Barton on the sideline. He’s averaging 24.8 points per game over his last ten games.
Okay, well, whew, #Nuggets survived this one. Which is all you have to do. And so they’ve gotten this done and are now 12-3 in April and 7-1 since the Murray injury. Nuggets starters were stellar tonight. Four of the 5 in double figures and collectively scoring 97 points.— Chris Dempsey (@chrisadempsey) April 29, 2021
The Raptors may have lost on Tuesday to the Brooklyn Nets, but make no mistake about it — this team is evolving quickly and might be the most dangerous team in the play-in should they make it there.
Before all that though, the Raptors need a W. We’ll see tonight whether they can extend their runway. Here are the deets for tonight’s game:
Where to Watch:
Sportsnet, 9:00 PM EST
Toronto – Fred VanVleet, Kyle Lowry, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Khem Birch
Denver – PJ Dozier, Facundo Campazzo, Michael Porter Jr., Aaron Gordon, Nikola Jokic
Toronto – Chris Boucher (knee – OUT), Gary Trent Jr. (leg contusion – OUT), Paul Watson (knee – OUT), Jalen Harris (hip – probable)
Denver – Jamal Murray (knee – OUT), Will Barton (hamstring – OUT), Monte Morris (hamstring – OUT),
The Nuggets are banged up, with Canada’s own Jamal Murray out for the season, Will Barton out for the foreseeable future, and Monte Morris still recovering from his hamstring injury. That’s three key players from Denver’s rotation. The Raptors core is healthy now — except for Chris Boucher — which gives them something of a leg up. The question then becomes whether Toronto’s bench can hold up against Denver’s depth.
Say what you will about Paul Millsap, Austin Rivers, and JaVale McGee, but there’s some veteran know-how at work. The Raptors’ bench is still mostly unproven. When they play well — as we’ve seen lately from players like Yuta Watanabe and Malachi Flynn — they give Toronto an excellent chance to win. But when the bench falls off, it almost doesn’t quite matter what the team’s starting lineup does. Against a winning albeit wounded team like Denver, those minutes will matter.
The Raptors need to be within a game of the Wizards before they meet again next week. It’s a tall order for the Raptors, with games against the Utah Jazz, LA Lakers, and LA Clippers sandwiched in between, but it’s not impossible. The new-look rotation for Toronto seems to be rounding into form and has remained highly competitive — even in their losses.
Meanwhile, Utah hasn’t looked like the top seed this month, going 9-6 with back-to-back losses to Minnesota Timberwolves. The Lakers are reeling despite Anthony Davis’ return, as they are 2-7 over their last nine games. The Clippers have been winning despite not having Kawhi Leonard in nine of their last ten games. We’re getting ahead of ourselves here, but each game coming up for the Raptors — including tonight’s contest against Denver — offers some sliver of hope for success.
Future Sheriff in Town?
Remember at the start of the season when the fanbase was pessimistic about OG Anunoby’s growth? That was just a few months ago, and now he looks like a Charmander that quickly evolved into a Charizard!
It hasn’t even been three years since Anunoby played for the Raptors’ Summer League team in Las Vegas, and back then he could barely muster some decent offense against fringe NBA players. Obviously, Anunoby worked hard on his craft, as we’ve seen him display and wow us with the tools on his bag night after night. The Raptors’ scoring has been a bit of a problem since the summer of 2019, and trading Norman Powell made that situation a bit tougher, but OG has grown into the spotlight. Ultimately, the Powell trade moved Anunoby up on the Raptors’ offense pecking order and he is making the most of it.
Regardless of their play-in fate, Nick Nurse and the Raptors should keep pushing Anunoby’s development this season. Who knows, he might become a Mega-Charizard and the team’s first option next season.