That was a killer game against the Suns. Like tennis, this is a game of inches. Had Hedo nailed that shot at the buzzer, the Raptors would have been 2-0 on this four game Western swing, 6-4 on the season, and heading into Denver on a three game winning streak. You can hardly blame this on Hedo though, he had already stuck two clutch shots to give the Raptors a lead with a few seconds left in the game. Coming out of a timeout, you would hope there was more planned then our boy taking his man one-on-one off the dribble, but there wasn’t, and he didn’t. We ended up with something that “we could build on.”
Whatever that means, I’m hoping we can build on it quick, because we just rolled into Denver. I’ve been dreading this one since the schedule was published. Last season, we dropped both games to them, 132-93 & 114-107, the former being the day Colangelo gave up on the season 17 games in (8-9). In fact, that first game was the type that no one talked about the next day. Everyone went to school/work, hung their head low, and when the subject of the Raptors came up, we all were like “they’re in Utah on Friday.”
There is one sub-plot tonight, the return of Joey Graham. Every last one of us was happy to see Jamario Moon jack and miss his jumpers against the Raptors when Cleveland came to town on opening night (I was laughing like a maniac the whole time, it was good to exorcise those demons). I’m hoping for the same tonight. Joey Graham was the last bad reminder of the Babcock era, every single time I saw him, all I could think about was what we gave up to draft him at 16 (Granger). I had heard good things about him early in the season, where he was supposed to start or something, but that didn’t work out. I fear the only way we see him tonight is if either team is losing badly, or at the end of quarters while Carmelo is getting pampered on the bench.
The Point: After a horrible start, Jose seems to be back. Over his last 5, he is averaging 14pts and 7.6ast a game, about what we expect. His defense has improved some, but really, it’s not that good. After having to deal with Nash and Davis the last two, he gets to finish this trip on Chauncey and Williams. One elite PG after another. I don’t like this match-up at all for Calderon. Unlike the other two, Chauncey will make life for Jose hell on defense as well. This is going to be a full court ordeal for Jose, who is going to be pushed every which-way possible.
The Edge: Denver
The Skill: At some point this season, we will have to move DeRozan to the bench if he doesn’t bump it up a notch. He’s only playing 17 a game, but half of that comes at the start of the game when you’re feeling out your opponent and setting a tone for the rest of the game. Hardly the time to let your raw rookie get some burn. Tonight he gets Arron Afflalo, who has been a great addition to the Nuggets replacing Dahntay Jones in the starting five. We can expect Arron to attack the offensive glass, and slash to the basket. He’s also the only safe bet to leave on a double-team situation. He isn’t a lock down defender, so if DeRozan can keep active and run around the court, he can shake free. Hopefully DeRozan isn’t too cold to play.
The Edge: Denver
The Wing: Hedo had his first chance on Sunday to live up to the pedigree he came to the Raptors with, but fell short after hitting his first two clutch shots. I can deal with it, since he had a pretty damn good game before that. Sadly, his production comes in waves. He has a goodish/greatish game, then disappears for a game or two. He’ll have his hands full with Carmelo tonight to start with but look for Wright (if healthy) or Belinelli to switch at some point. Like Jose, Hedo will be tested on both ends of the floor, and even if he was healthy (dude keeps wincing…I hate wincing), this is not a favourable match-up. The fact that he isn’t 100% almost guarantees this to be a bad one.
The Edge: Denver
The Big: I’m just going to go on a limb and say that Chris should be able to handle Kenyon tonight. With the added muscle and the MVP caliber run so far, I have zero reservations. Doesn’t mean that this will be a walk in the park, though. Martin has a nose for the ball and as Jeremy from Round Ball Mining Company says “Martin can score, it just rarely looks pretty.” The match-up fully favours Bosh here, but we can’t sleep on Martin. He has hurt the Raptors in the past, making defensive stops in the dying moments of the game. He will rotate defensively on penetration, just have to find an open/waiting Bosh for the dish. Could be textbook.
The Edge: Toronto
The Strong: This just isn’t going to work out well for Bargnani tonight. Nene is a pitbull. An energy guy who is an efficient scorer. He always gets after it. Bargnani only has a size advantage here and that may be marginal since Nene is a big boy who is also equally quick. I just don’t see it. Frye dropped 20 on us on Sunday and all he did was stand on the perimeter waiting for a pass. Nene is going to earn every single point/rebound he gets, and each one has the potential to make Andrea look silly.
The Edge: Denver
The Backup: Anyone else think that Belinelli/Johnson are the bizarro Smith/Anderson? Seriously…Belinelli and Smith are the kamikaze scorers who come off the bench and hit ridiculous shots. Johnson and Anderson are the energy guys who grab rebounds, put down dunks and are crowd favourites. Wright needs to stop shooting jumpers, even if he’s open, and Jack should only be allowed to take it to the rack and either lay it up, or kick it out to a shooter. Have to say, it looks pretty even on the pine.
The Edge: Even
The Brain: Triano had a brain fart on Sunday giving Jack too much burn in the 4th. All it took was a few minutes for the momentum to shift in Phoenix’s favour, and that’s all it’s going to take against the Nuggets who are elite in their own right. I shudder to think what Billups/Smith will do to Calderon/Jack if Triano insists on playing them together. Shudder. As much as I hate Karl, he has this one.
The Edge: Denver
Reggie Evans – out
Antoine Wright – questionable
Anthony Carter – questionable
Vegas has the line at Nuggets -8.5 with an over/under of 219
How to Win This Game
I got nothing here. The Nuggets are a much better team that we don’t match-up well against. IF we keep them off the boards, and IF we hit all our shots, and IF Carmelo has an off-night, there is a chance.
Tags: Amir Johnson, andrea bargnani, Anthony Carter, Antoine Wright, Arron Afflalo, Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Chris Anderson, Chris Bosh, Demar DeRozan, Earl Smith, George Karl, Hedo Turkoglu, Jarrett Jack, Jay Triano, Joey Graham, jose calderon, JR Smith, Kenyon Martin, marco belinelli, Nene Hilario, Reggie Evans