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Who’s hotter? The Nuggets have won 15 of their last 18 but lost to the Boston Celtics in triple-overtime on Sunday. That same Celtics team lost to the CHARLOTTE BOBCATS on Monday. The Raptors, meanwhile, have won two straight. Boom.

I kid, of course. The Celtics probably lost because they were travelling after a triple-overtime game with a roster whose average age is “however old Kevin Willis was on the Raptors.” The Nuggets, meanwhile, ARE red-hot. They had won nine straight before that 63-minute slugfest and have really established themselves at both ends of the floor. They’re now just one of four teams to rank in the top-12 in offensive and defensive efficiency, joining the Spurs, Thunder and Clippers. So yeah, good squad the Raptors are hosting tonight.

The Raptors, meanwhile, rebounded this past weekend to down the Pacers in overtime and handle the Hornets without much fanfare. Toronto is now 19-32, somehow just 6.5 games back of the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference, with the teams they’d be chasing all looking pretty shaky (Philly, Detroit and Milwaukee). Still, that’s a huge gap to make up over 30 games, and the Raptors would probably have to go something like 18-12 to get in (making their record 37-45). And that’s a best-case scenario.

It’s not going to be easy this week, with the Nuggets in Toronto and then a quick turn-around to play in New York on Wednesday. If the Raptors can split this pair, they can more realistically take a breath over the All Star break, size up the competition and evaluate if another deal could make them a team that could go 17-11 after the break (and trust me, since Colangelo said they’re looking to deal, every writer and rumor-mongerer is going to be throwing the Raptors into hypothetical deals, probably without just cause in many cases). It seems unlikely, and it might not be in the best interests of the franchise, long-term (it’s a weak draft and it would make sense to give up the owed pick now rather than take a curb-stomping in the first round), but some will cheer for it. So there’s your update.

Anyway, the Denver Nuggets. 33-19, fifth in the Western Conference, very strong on both ends of the floor. Let’s have a look.

Tale of the Tape
O-Rating: Denver 109.0 (6th), Toronto 106.3 (11th)
D-Rating: Denver 105.0 (12th), Toronto 107.9 (26th)
Pace: Denver 94.9 (2nd), Toronto 90.0 (25th)
Strength: Denver O-Rebounds (2nd), Toronto Opponent Fast Break Pts (5th)
Weakness: Denver Opponent Pts Off TO (26th), Toronto Fouling (30th)

Key Match-up: Rudy Gay vs. Andre Iguodala
Update: Iggy and Nilo are both out. (5:45pm)
This is the most interesting match-up to me. Both players have the ability to play multiple wing positions, both are only moderately efficient scorers who can’t reliably hit threes and their rebound, steal and block numbers are fairly close. The biggest differences are that Iggy is a premiere defender whereas Gay is just average or perhaps a shade above, and Iggy is also a better creator for teammates.

However, I’m far more interested with Gay’s career track record against Iguodala. Based on Memphis’ wing players over their careers, you can pretty safely assume that if both players were on the floor, Iguodala was guarding Gay.

In three meetings earlier this year, they played 85 minutes against each other. While Gay shot a higher percentage than he normally does, Iguodala forced Gay to the outside well, as he shot from beyond 15-feet more often than normal. Gay’s eFG% and TS% went up, however, so maybe the Nuggets struggled to game-plan properly for him. He also got to the rim just fine and didn’t see a drop-off in his free throw attempts.

If we go back to 2011-12, though, we see Iguodala had Gay’s number in their 36-minute match-up. Gay shot 3-for-10 and just 1-for-7 inside the arc, leading to much lower efficiency marks than he is accustomed to. Perhaps it was just a small sample, though. If we go back to 2010-11, they played 50 minutes against each other and Gay was slightly off his season marks. In 2009-10 in 68 minutes, Gay did better than his averages.

So, can Rudy Gay “get his” against Iguodala? History seems to show that their match-ups have been inconsistent but on the whole, roughly a wash. If Gay can get his 20 points without having to hoist 20-plus shots, the Raptors would probably walk away pleased.

Other Storylines
Ty Lawson – Lawson got a similar extension to DeMar DeRozan and has impressed, putting up 15-and-7 and remaining a three-point threat. Overall, his value is a bit down thanks to lower shooting percentages across the board, but he’s still a very quick and effective point guard who can give teams trouble. Against the guard-less Celtics who used ace defender Avery Bradley on him at times, he managed a 29-6-9 game, albeit in 55 minutes. He’ll be a tough check for Kyle Lowry and a deadly one for John Lucas.

The Italians – Danilo Gallinari, everything we hoped Andrea Bargnani would be. ‘Nilo has shaken off a poor start to return to his role as this team’s best scoring threat, utilizing his length and shooting touch to pour in 17 a game. His overall field goal percentage isn’t great, but he shoots 37% from deep and gets to the line five times a game to help his cause. He also grabs 5.5 rebounds in 33 minutes, roughly the same rate as the taller Bargnani has achieved for his career. Bargs has looked alright in his first two games back but has a long way to go before he can re-establish himself as a scorer on the level of Gallinari, who is still three years his junior and is on a very similar contract.

Dunk Contest Preview – The Manimal, Kenneth Faried, and T-Dot-Flight-31, Terrence Ross, will face off just four days before they’ll meet in the Slam Dunk Contest. Faried is a great in-game dunker, a power dunker at 6’8”, and also a very good player. He’s extremely fun to watch and he’ll likely give the Raptors a tough time on the glass. Ross, meanwhile, is pretty glued to the bench it seems. Still, he provides some of the best in-game dunks in the NBA right now, and if the Raptors play to the Nuggets pace (very fast), the Raptors’ new-found high-flying line-up (Ross-DeRozan-Gay) could make this a fun game. (Unfortunately this line-up has only been run for 11 possessions and is yet to be successful. I maintain faith.)

The Picks
Vegas: Nuggets -2
Hollinger: Nuggets -3
Blake: Nuggets by 7

I don’t mean to be an old fuddy duddy, but this is a very good Nuggets team, and they’ll be hungry to get back to their winning ways after that tough defeat in Boston. I know the Raptors have been playing better of late, and maybe I’ll even take them to catch the Knicks napping tomorrow, but for now I can’t in good conscience pick them to beat a team that is this good on both ends and doesn’t have any glaring weaknesses.

Tip-off is at 7 p.m. on TSN2. Bargnani is not a guarantee to go, by the way, as he has the flu. I’ll be tweeting from the RR account as well as the ESPN Dime accounts and probably my own, too, so give myself and those accounts a follow and show me them tweets during the game.

Update: Iggy and Nilo are both out. (5:45pm). Revised prediction: Raptors by 5.