Pre-game news & notes: Valanciunas playing through thumb sprain, Caboclo assigned, #FreeNorm

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The Toronto Raptors look to make it 12 wins in a row when they visit the Denver Nuggets for a 9 p.m. tip on Sportsnet One.

Jonas Valanciunas thumbs…up
The Raptors’ center sprained his right thumb on Saturday against the Detroit Pistons and was considered questionable for Monday’s game, per Chris O’Leary of the Toronto Star. He is apparently a game-time decision, as we don’t have an update an hour before tip-off.

UPDATE: He’ll play.

Considering the Nuggets have a gang of centers, this is good news. Valanciunas has played really well at both ends since returning from his finger fracture earlier in the season.

We The Norm
Norman Powell wants to participate in the NBA Slam Dunk Contest, per Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun. That should really be all the NBA needs to hear to put him in it. All-Star Weekend is in Toronto, T.J. Ross and DeMar DeRozan aren’t going to do it again, and Jamario Moon ain’t walking through that door. Powell has ridiculous hops and could probably do some really cool stuff, plus it’s just smart from a marketing perspective to have a lesser-known player or two in the event to help build even more marketable players.

There’s also the matter of Powell being a funny, likable guy:

If Ronald Roberts isn’t going to do the D-League dunk contest – and he’s not – this is a pretty damn good Plan B for the weekend.

A quick James Johnson note
James Johnson is from Wyoming. This will never not be funny to me.

DeMarre Carroll traveling
Again from Wolstat – major shout out to The Woz – DeMarre Carroll is traveling with the Raptors on their current trip. That doesn’t mean he’s close to a return – original timelines suggested a late-February/early-March return – but if he can do his rehab on the road, why not?

Bruno’s snapchat is a treasure
Someone put together a bunch of Bruno Caboclo’s posts from Snapchat in a YouTube video. The dude is a terasure though, like Lucas Nogueira, I have no idea what’s going on (I ain’t on the snaps).

Bruno re-assigned to 905
Shortly before tip-off, the team announced they have assigned Caboclo back to Raptors 905 of the D-League. The timing is a bit strange given that the Raptors flew to Denver yesterday and the 905 remain in Mississauga until Thursday without a game, but perhaps Caboclo wasn’t actually traveling and the update is just late.

In any case, Caboclo will practice with the 905 on Tuesday and Wednesday and then likely travel with them for a Friday-Saturday back-to-back while the Raptors are off. He could be joined by a teammate or two, as well, as the Raptors are off for three days after Thursday night.

Raptors Lineup
With Carroll still out but Anthony Bennett recalled from the D-League, the Raptors rotation will look something like this:

PG: Lowry, Joseph, Wright
SG: DeRozan, Ross, Powell
SF: Johnson
PF: Scola, Patterson, Bennett
C: Valanciunas, Biyombo, Nogueira

Nuggets Lineup
Wilson Chandler (hip) remain sidelined for the Nuggets, Jameer Nelson (wrist) is out with a wrist injury (per the well-bearded Eric Smith of Sportsnet), and Joffrey Lauvergne (toe) is expected to be available if needed. The team also has Sean Kilpatrick up on a 10-day contract, so the rotation will look something like this:

PG: Mudiay, Foye, Johnson
SG: Harris, Kilpatrick
SF: Gallinari (swoon), Barton (sploosh), Miller
PF: Faried, Arthur, Hickson
C: Jokic, Nurkic, (Lauvergne)

The current starting group (with the uber-impressive Jokic at the pivot, not Nurkic) has been one of the team’s best lineups, outscoring opponents by 3.8 points per-100 possessions over 135 minutes. Switch Arthur in for Faried and they get even better, outscoring teams by 13.3 PPC in 97 minutes. Jokic is really good, Gallo is Gallo, Harris is coming along as a 3-and-D piece, and Muiday is taking strides.

Muiday was a bit of a tire-fire earlier in the year, sometimes a necessity for a rookie lead guard, but I’ve been encouraged his last few times out. The Nuggets as a whole, however, have been somewhat unimpressive since beating the Warriors on Jan. 12, dropping seven of 10, albeit against pretty solid competition.

The Line
The Raptors edged from 5.5-point favorites to just 5-point favorites, almost surely because I pegged tonight as a potential loss on the radio earlier. When Blake talks, Vegas listens. That’s not meant to be too negative, but the streak’s going to end at some point, and Denver’s a notoriously difficult place to play. If nothing else, Denver should play them tight, which would make tomorrow’s SEGABABA in Phoenix difficult (complete with the Suns getting the usual first-game-with-a-new-coach boost). I’ll take the Nuggets with the points and a slight under on the 204, which has come way down from 207.

Nuggets 103, Raptors 99

You can check out Gavin’s full preview here.

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