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Raptors visit mile-high city on second night of back-to-back: Preview, start time and more

Prepare to hear the words “altitude”, “Jokic,” and “MVP” and a lot over the next 24 hours — but hopefully not “schedule loss.”

Denver Nuggets v Toronto Raptors Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images

I’m not a schedule maker, and I know it’s not an easy task to fit in 82 games for 30 teams over six months when factoring in travel and arena availability and so on and so forth. But I find it hard to believe the league can’t find a way to avoid scheduling road back-to-backs where the second night the traveling team has to visit Denver.

Alas, they have not, and so the Toronto Raptors — fresh off their 117-112 win over the Phoenix Suns — will travel one time zone backwards and into the “mile high” altitude to take on the Denver Nuggets.

This is game three of Toronto’s six-game road trip, and while a victory in Denver, against the reigning MVP, is a tall ask, the positive momentum coming off last night’s win might carry the day!

Where to Watch:

TSN, 9:00 p.m.

Lineups:

Toronto — Fred VanVleet, Gary Trent Jr., Khem Birch, Scottie Barnes, Pascal SIakam

Denver — Austin Rivers, Monte Morris, Aaron Gordon, Jeff Green, Nikola Jokic

Injuries:

Toronto – Malachi Flynn (hamstring – out), OG Anunoby (finger – out)

Denver — Jamal Murray (knee – out), Michael Porter Jr. (back – out), Vlatko Cancer (foot – out), Zeke Nnaji (knee – questionable), Will Barton (ankle – questionable), Aaron Gordon (foot – questionable), Bones Hyland (knee – probable)

*****

MVP Stopper

Watching OG Anunoby guard Nikola Jokic is usually a blast, and it’s a shame we’ll miss it tonight. To be sure, the MVP still generally has his way with the Raptors, as he does with most teams — and last game, he blocked Anunoby’s potential game-winning layup at the buzzer.

But OG gives Jokic as much trouble as anyone, which is impressive and hilarious, given their size difference. Remember when Anunoby scored 32 and had approximately 32 “pick-six”es against the Nuggets, right before the pandemic stoppage?

Somehow, my memory had that one down as a Raptors win... but they lost by 15 and Jokic had a 23/18/11 triple-double.

All of which is to say... the Raptors will definitely be missing Anunoby tonight. I wonder if the oddsmakers are aware of the disadvantage the Raptors face without Anunoby; they’ve got Denver as just a -5.5 point favourite tonight, which seems low to me given the size differential (and the Nuggets’ scoring punch, which we’ll get to below).

“Schedule loss”

Two of the worst words you can hear in the NBA season are “schedule loss,” and as noted up front, it surely seems like the Denver Nuggets are more associated with the phrase than any other team.

The Raptors have lost four straight in the rare air in Denver, and have only won seven games in Colorado in their entire history. In fact, their last victory in Denver came when Jusuf Nurkic was still a Nugget, and Jokic was still coming off the bench — and the Raptors needed OT to win that one, 113-111, in November 2016.

The last time the Raptors actually beat the Nuggets was in Tampa, in what we all thought was going to be Kyle Lowry’s last game as a Raptor, surely the most bittersweet of victories.

All of which is to say — a win tonight in Denver would restore a sense of normalcy to this matchup!

Rolling

The Nuggets are 12-3 in the last 15 games, and while it was a fairly easy schedule (two games against the Kings!), the run includes two impressive wins over the Golden State Warriors.

The Nuggets are fourth the NBA in scoring over that stretch, at 118 points per game, and are shooting 37% from downtown (10th) as well. The Raptors have the 7th-best defensive rating over the same stretch, but, as noted above, Jokic’s size tilts the matchup even more in Denver’s favour — at least in my opinion, if not the oddsmakers’.

Without OG, the Raptors’ scrambling, trap-heavy, blitz-the-passing lanes strategy will have to be completely locked in. If it’s not, Jokic’s passing will pick them apart, and late rotations will be death against Morris, Barton, Hyland and Forbes, all of whom are shooting better than 35% from behind the arc.

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