Pre-game news & notes: Ibaka and Valanciunas return

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The Toronto Raptors continue their incredibly long early-season road-trip against the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday, their fifth game of six nearly two weeks into the time away. If the Raptors are exhausted, or just homesick, at this point, it could be forgiven. Denver is never an easy place to play, even when fresh.

There is hep on the way, though, and the Raptors will have a #FullSquad for this one. That means they run 14 deep (13 active), and it affords them the ability to cut down on individual minutes and leverage some of their depth to keep everyone fresh. Things still won’t be easy against a Nuggets defense that seals off the rim well – it would be an ideal game for 3-point shots to begin falling or Kyle Lowry to have a big night against middling point guard defense – and doesn’t do any one thing poorly, a good test for their recent run of good-to-great play. (And really, looking back, is there anything to be upset with from this season so far beyond the end-of-game offense in Golden State? Maybe you quibble with the rotation choice there, or with something from late against San Antonio? They’re off to a solid start, all things considered.)

The game tips off at 9 on TSN and TSN 1050. You can check out the full game preview here.

Raptors updates
Jonas Valanciunas will return from a four-game absence due to an ankle sprain, and it’s a tough place to return, at altitude, against Nikola Jokic. It’ll be interesting to see how the Raptors work him back into the mix and if he can pick up where he left off in the preseason and the season opener, when he looked extremely comfortable in the new system. Serge Ibaka will also return after one game off to rest a swollen knee, meaning the Raptors will finally be able to play with their starting five again. They’d probably like more than three halves with that fivesome before making any decisions as to if one piece needs to change or not.

The returns could mean a minutes crunch for a quarter of young players who have been performing quite well over the last few weeks. Jakob Poeltl has been incredibly solid as the backup center, OG Anunoby has beaten early expectations with his defense and passing, Pascal Siakam provided a huge boost in three starts, and Lucas Nogueira is coming off one of the best games of his career. There aren’t enough minutes for everyone, and while head coach Dwane Casey said at shootaround that he’ll expand his rotation for the time being due to the game being in Denver and it being toward the end of a long trip, there are big questions for the team to figure out over the next little bit. Those situations will likely be fluid for a while still.

I wrote more about the frontcourt logjam at The Athletic.

PG: Kyle Lowry, Delon Wright, Fred VanVleet
SG: DeMar DeRozan
SF: Norman Powell, C.J. Miles, Alfonzo McKinnie
PF: Serge Ibaka, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Bruno Caboclo
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Jakob Poeltl, Lucas Nogueira
OUT: None
TBD: None
905: Malcolm Miller, Lorenzo Brown

Nuggets updates
Juancho Hernangomez is still going to be out a few weeks with mono, which sounds like it sucks. The Nuggets are good to go otherwise, which means the usual eight rotation pieces and then a guessing game for the final one-to-three spots. I’m guessing Kenneth Faried will factor in somehow, just so I have to answer more questions about how the Raptors should trade for Kenneth Faried, a tradition unlike any other. And shout out to Jamal Murray, representing K-W.

PG: Jamal Murray, Emmanuel Mudiay
SG: Gary Harris, Will Barton, Malik Beasley
SF: Wilson Chandler, Richard Jefferson
PF: Paul Millsap, Darrell Arthur, Trey Lyles, Tyler Lydon
C: Nikola Jokic, Mason Plumlee, Kenneth Faried
OUT: Juancho Hernangomez
TBD: None
G-League (no affiliate): Monte Morris, Torrey Craig


  • Bodog released updated odds, and the Raptors have nudged upward in some key categories:
    • They’ve moved from 75-to-1 to 50-to-1 to win the championship.
    • They’ve moved from 20-to-1 to 16-to-1 to win the Eastern Conference.
    • They’ve moved from 5-to-1 to 8-to-5 to win the Atlantic Division. I got Raptors at 5-to-1, and with the new lines, there’s a nice opportunity to middle by betting a bit bigger on the Celtics (2-to-3). I bet $100 on the Raptors, and if I now bet $400 on the Celtics at that line, I’d win $100 profit if either team won the division. I don’t have the kind of disposable income to gamble that aggressively, but if you do, there’s near guaranteed profit there, barring a 76ers  (10-to-1)push.
    • The lines for Kyle Lowry or DeMar DeRozan to win MVP have come off the boards.
  • According to Philly.com, the Raptors were one of the teams that called on Jahlil Okafor this summer. This is almost definitely Colangelo spin, attaching the rumor to a team that won’t outright deny anything to show that he definitely tried to move Okafor but other teams didn’t play ball. The report says the Raptors wanted Robert Covington in the deal, which, yeah, of course you’d want an asset like that. This very much strikes me as illegitimate, but if it were real, the domino effect would have made this Raptors team look fundamentally different – they probably don’t chase C.J. Miles if they land Covington, so maybe Cory Joseph is flipped to Philly in the trade, and one of the centers likely would have had to be re-routed (maybe they trade Jonas Valanciunas for nothing and keep DeMarre Carroll and their picks instead). Anyway, not much here, other than dreams of Covington.
  • Shout out to Jared Sullinger, who dropped a 46-25-7 line in China yesterday, shooting 15-of-28 with three threes. All big men on the league’s fringes should go to China, always. And chuckers.
  • The Raptors are obviously away from home for a while, but later this month we’re giving away another pair of tickets with InTheActionSeats.com:

  • Shouts to Juicy Fruit for the plug on some gum and a hoop I’m going to destroy my roommate on:

  • Jakob Poeltl and Delon Wright are participating in a charity event tomorrow in Utah:

The line
The Raptors opened as 1.5-point underdogs and the line has held there for most of the day, likely because everyone assumed Ibaka and Valanciunas were back, anyway. The over-under bumped from 213.5 to 215.

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