Injuries change everything. With Andrea Bargnani in the lineup, the Raptors have been a competitive, entertaining team. Without him, they’ve struggled with the “putting the ball in the basket more times than the other team” thing. Nothing has been confirmed yet, but it looks like Bargs will be out against Denver, so I’m not feeling wonderful about Toronto’s chances. It’d help them if the Nuggets’ starting backcourt of Ty Lawson and Arron Afflalo missed the game, however. Both are doubtful.

Point Guard:

Ty Lawson is a nightmare for Jose Calderon. He’s as fast as anyone in the league and there aren’t many point guards better at beating you off the dribble. He excels at getting to the basket, taking more shot attempts at the rim per game than guys like Derrick Rose, Andrew Bynum, and teammate Nene. He’s a tremendous finisher, good free throw shooter, and he’s capable of hitting threes despite his low percentage this season. Thankfully for the Raptors, he’s probably not playing because of a sprained ankle. The effective two-PG lineup of Lawson and Andre Miller will likely replaced by… Andre Miller and some sort of two-guard. Not sure which one yet. We’ll get to that. If Lawson is sidelined, the relatively slow-footed Andre Miller is a much more manageable matchup for Mr. Calderon. He could be trouble in the post, though.

I don’t blame you if you haven’t heard of Denver’s 6’6 backup point guard, Julyan Stone: he hadn’t scored an NBA point until Wednesday night. I’m intrigued by Stone, but Jerryd Bayless obviously has the edge, there.

Advantage: Raptors, assuming Lawson is out.

Shooting Guard:

I’ve already mentioned that Arron Afflalo is doubtful. Rudy Fernandez is a game-time decision. If he doesn’t go, maybe Corey Brewer’s starting. Brewer, for some reason, took 19 shots against the Kings the other night, making seven. Four of his attempts were threes and none of those went in. That’s okay when your opponent plays one of the worst games that any NBA team has played this season, but it is not what George Karl wants to see if he ends up a starter. Still, Brewer can play some solid defense, and his length could annoy DeMar DeRozan.

Still, the DeRozan optimist that I am, I’ll give this one to Toronto. We don’t know if Denver is going to have even one player who can actually shoot playing shooting guard. In DeRozan and Leandro Barbosa, the Raptors theoretically have two. We’ll see how it plays out.

Advantage: Raptors

Small Forward:

I so want to give this one to the Raptors just because of the potential for another Linas Kleiza revenge game. Can’t, though. Can’t count on two awesome Kleiza performances in a row.

James Johnson is an active defender, but Danilo Gallinari can get him into foul trouble easily. Gallinari is playing as well as he has in his life over the past week. Sure, the Wizards, Knicks, and Kings are not exactly the best defensive teams in the NBA, but you can’t help but be impressed by his all-around game. Please pay attention to how much he’s improved as a passer.

Advantage: Nuggets

Power Forward:

Let’s assume Bargnani is out. It’ll be a nice surprise if he isn’t, but the “much worse than before” quotes made it seem like we shouldn’t expect him back for a little while.

Nene always, always kills the Raptors and he is significantly better than Ed Davis and Amir Johnson, even if his numbers this year are down and he’s shooting two and a half shots from 16-23 feet per game for some reason. Off the bench, Al Harrington is a Sixth Man of the Year candidate, playing the best ball of his career on both ends.

Advantage: Nuggets

Center:

Aaron Gray and Jamaal Magloire vs. Timofey Mozgov and Kosta Koufos! WHO’S PUMPED?

…fine, but Mozgov might be better than you think he is. He’s likely a lot quicker on his feet than you think he is.

Chris Anderson and Amir Johnson should receive minutes at the four and five spots. I’d give Amir a slight edge there, but it’s not enough to balance Mozgov vs. Gray.

Advantage: Nuggets

The line:

Denver is favoured by 12, which makes sense considering the Raptors usually get blown out there. Is tonight different? Maybe. The Nuggets are beat up. They should still win, but I’ll take the Raps to cover. I already sort of regret typing that.

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