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.

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  • pran

    dwane casey is smart, if we slow down the pace of the game, limit turnovers, and defend, we should be able to pull out a victory.   Not a chance in hell against the knicks however.

    • Nilanka15

      As well as the Knicks have played this year, I still don’t consider them a juggernaut.  I’m much more nervous when the Raptors play the Celtics (for example).

      Will be interesting to see the Melo/Gay matchup though….

      • ad

         Im shocked the knicks have been as good as they are when they were basically shit with the same roster last year. I think the raps match up ok with them though. Better than the nuggets.

  • Danny Tam

    I posted this elsewhere: I know Ross is getting a lot of hype for the Slam Dunk Contest and people heralding him as the second coming of Vince Carter, but I think his athleticism and reach is more of a JR Smith.. I can’t see him capably pulling a 360 Windmill, and if he can, his arm extension wouldn’t be anywhere as spectacular as Vince’s was. That said, I’m really hoping he can bring it home, but I have my reservations.. I think James White is the dark horse, even at age 31.

    • FAQ

      TRoss is gonna do an “MJ” and dunk launching from the foul line… believe it!!!!

      • Destro

        He should be in the 3 point contest instead…I wouldnt be surprised if on his first dunk attempt he out of repetition instinctively pulls up at the 3 pt line and just jacks up a jumper…

    • Destro

      Whos heralding him as the 2nd coming of Vince ?

      • Danny Tam

        My bad, I’m just illustrating the level of enthusiasm you see on the forums and around the web. Even Terrence Ross mentioned that people are telling him to do some things that isn’t even possible.. I like the homage to Vince Carter, but I’d be real curios if he can actually pull something off even remotely close. Hoping he wins though.

  • Patrick

    Great game preview Blake! The best I have read on any site for a long time.

    • FAQ

      … for a long time ???  You should try reading more often…..

  • 511

    Good test for the Raps to see where we are. Last time, early Dec in Denver, Nuggets won by three. Time before, last March, we beat them in the ACC. Bargnani could normally factor in to this one (he seems to play well against Denver) but … not likely so much this time with the flu or just getting over it. But with RG now on the squad … and Lowry, who had a good game against them last time, if he plays his better game … I could see Raps upsetting the Nuggets. Could be a good one. Hope Raps are ready to play some ball. 

  • Ale

    It’ll be interesting to see how Amir does against Faried. This will be one of the few instances where Amir will lose out in the hustle department. Amir has more reach and length but Faried’s the Manimal, that guy’s a beast. What i’m most looking forward to though is the JoVal and McGee match up. If JoVal ends up in foul trouble, no one on our team is capable of matching his athleticism. Amir is too short, and Gray’s too slow. 

  • You’re still not sold on Gay’s defensive abilities even though he’s looked quite effective to me in our small sample in a Raps uniform.

    • BlakeMurphy

      I wrote an article last week talking about how I like his defense, using some video, stats, and discussion with Memphis writers. I like it, but it’s not elite. Calling it a shade above average is fair, I think.

      • DanPerco

        The thing that seems to be missing w Gay on defense is hustle. He just doesn’t seem to want to exert the energy needed to scrape for loose balls, etc.  Having said that, I think his defensive positioning is above average, he picks and chooses the right spots in the game to ramp-up his defensive intensity and has no fear of opposing players.

    • FAQ

      Casey is a great defensive motivator…..

  • raptors will win this game especially at home

    • Nilanka15

      We’ve only beaten 2 teams above .500 at home (Rockets and Clippers).

    • FAQ

      I hope they show up at the ACC because you can’t win by staying at home…..

  • Roarque

    I predict DDR will have a great first half and finish with 30 points for the game.

    The cost will be that Gay settles for 20 pints because he is the prime offensive threat and will be guarded well by Iggy.

    We need another Raptor to step up and the candidates are:


    If he plays, Bargs is going to win the game for the Toronto squad – because of the Italian competion and because his agent is pushing him to increase his value on the trade market. Il Mago with 25+ points.

    Amir wiith 12 rebounds and 3 blocks while playing the 5.

    Jonas will be in foul trouble by the 2nd Quarter.

    Raps by 5.

    • Why

      Very optimitstic – He’s had the flu (or flu like symptoms)and has historically struggled when he has to play ‘tired’

    • FAQ

      I predict Acy will shock the Nuggets and score 35 pts…. all in the first half… and then foul out.

      • Roarque

        I thought we traded him to Memphis…..

  • Scottbbaird

    DOES Bargs have the flu, or is this a deal-in-the-wind don’t-wanna-risk-injury-pretrade thing?

    • FAQ


      • Dan

         That would be sweet. Even if Utah would be willing to take Andrea I don’t think BC would take the risk because Milsap is a free agent at the end of the season. You’d be giving up his former franchise guy for a 31 game rental.  Toronto has never been a big free agent destination so he would probably rather try to get a guy with a few more years on his contract like Gay. Milsap would be great on this team though.

  • FAQ


    • Nilanka15

       LMAO!  Would love to see this sign held up in the crowd tonight.

  • Gman

    I hate that I’m being one of these guys here.  Anyway, there’s 31 games left.  

  • Destro

    Denver 109
    Toronto 101

  • voy

    DEMAR!!!!  Best dunk of his career!!

  • Destro

    Games like tonight should make you feel stupid for wanting Ross to start over DeMar…

    • Nilanka15

      Do you honestly believe people are claiming Ross should start now?

  • FAQ

    Half-time Observations:

    • If Nuggets had a full team the Raptors would be down by 20!
    • DDR is a failed deevelopment experiment.. sooo obvious!
    • TRoss is another deevelopment experiment!
    • Raptors are only streetballin’, improvising and failing!
    •  TRap guards are being out-played by Denver!
    • Denver are playing more disciplined offense!
    • Casey doesn’t care.. win or lose!!!!

    • Destro

      Explain to me how 7/14 shooting 18 pts/4 boards,2 ast,2 steals is a fuckn fail ?

  • John

    Mozgov getting Mozgoved, courtesy of DeMar DeRozan. It’s even better the second time: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FtIGa-uCtTc

  • Destro

    Wheres the transition D on this fckn team ? a 4-0 break ???

    Cot damn this team is fuckn ass defensively…

  • Destro

    The amount of offensive rebounds and second chances being allowed is unacceptable….Id be throwing my clipboard on the sidelines if i was the coach of this team….They’re getting worked by Denver scrubs,get this win and and never bring this embarrasing effort ever again….this team is downright embarrasing some nights….Play like you got a heart.

  • MorganC

    is gay injured? why has he only played 20 mins (gamecasting cus i live in the states; 3 mins left in 4th)?!

    • jacobdrichards4

       Was in foul trouble the whole game, a lot of cheeky calls.

      • MorganC

        ah, okay. thanks.