The Toronto Raptors continue their five-game road trip tonight, as they visit the Mile High city to take on the West-leading Denver Nuggets. This game represents the Raptors’ third chance in a week to even their record out at .500, but this is their toughest test in more than a month. The Nuggets boast a fully healthy lineup, plus the two-time MVP in Nikola Jokic, plus the thin Colorado air... well let’s just say the Raptors aren’t exactly favoured in this one.
But that, as they say, is why they play the games!
Where to watch
TSN, 9:00PM ET
Toronto Raptors — Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, Scottie Barnes, Pascal Siakam, Jakob Poeltl
Denver Nuggets — Michael Porter Jr., Aaron Gordon, Nikola Jokic, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Jamal Murray
Toronto Raptors — Otto Porter Jr. (foot – out)
Denver Nuggets — Zeke Nnaji (shoulder – out), Collin Gillespie (leg – out), Vlatko Cancer (wrist – questionable), Thomas Bryant (ankle and hip – probable)
Hello Mile High
The Nuggets are the only team the Raptors haven’t faced yet this season, and they’ll face them twice in the next eight days, part of an incredibly tough stretch of games for the Raps as they chase postseason positioning. Last year, the Raptors split the season series with the Nuggets, losing the first game by just one point when they couldn’t convert a game-winning attempt (or putback) on the final possession (this after Nikola Jokic missed two free throws with 12 seconds to go). The Raptors won the second matchup up 12 points.
But the Nuggets were a different team when these two played last year. Sure, Jokic was the MVP, but Jamal Murray had yet to return from his knee injury, Michael Porter Jr. missed both games with a back injury, and even Aaron Gordon missed the game the Raptors won.
The Raptors have Jakob Poeltl now — more on him in a second — but the Nuggets are fully healthy and, unless the Phoenix Suns can coalesce quickly with Kevin Durant, are the favourites to come out of the West. The Raptors are in tough tonight.
Slowing down the MVP?
My memory of last season’s two matchups with Denver told me that the Raptors did a decent job on Jokic, with the centre-less Raps deploying Scottie Barnes and OG Anunoby to slow down the MVP. But looking at the stats this morning, well, my memory must be wrong: Jokic averaged 27/12.5/6.5 and hit 19 of his 29 shots. OK then!
The good news is, the Raptors now have an actual centre to match up with Jokic. But so do a lot of other teams, and none of those teams have managed to slow down the MVP — he’s currently averaging a triple-double on 63/40/82 shooting splits, and the Nuggets are the top team in the West. (He’s also the MVP this season, for my money.)
And besides, it’s not like Poeltl has seen success against Jokic: Jokic averaged 32.5/16/7 on 57/43/79 shooting splits in four games against Poeltl and the Spurs last year.
So, much as I love Jakob and his fit and I’m glad he’s here to soak up some minutes against Jokic... I’m going to keep my expectations in check on this one.
Take it easy on us, Jamal
Canada’s own Jamal Murray missed all of last season rehabbing from an ACL injury, and as expected, started of this year fairly slowly as he worked his way back into form.
I think it’s safe to say, though, that he’s back the old Murray now! Since December 23rd, Murray is averaging 23 points a night on 47/43/87 shooting splits — with that 43% from downtown coming on 7.5 attempts per game. In Denver’s last three games — all wins — he’s averaging 25 points and nine assists. It’s great to see him back and playing well.
Of course, I would love it if he had an off night against the Raptors!
With Poeltl around to match up with Jokic, that means O.G. Anunoby is free to harass Murray if need be — though I’d suspect Anunoby might be the better matchup on Porter Jr. tonight. Ultimately Murray should be Fred VanVleet’s assignment, and if Fred can play like he did on Saturday against Bradley Beal, where he held Beal to just four points on 11 shots in the fourth quarter and OT, then the Raptors might — might! — have a shot in this one.