Tuesday night in Toronto, the Raptors will have a chance to avenge the worst loss of their season. On November 1st, the Raptors lost by 18 in Denver, which is the largest margin of defeat they’ve had all year. In that game, Nikola Jokic led the way with 8 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists while Jamal Murray scored 24 points on 8-10 shooting for the Nuggets as they put up 129 points in a fast paced game. For the Raptors, Norman Powell was their leading scorer with just 14 points, in a night that was over early for the starters, and wasn’t as close as the final score of 129-111, with the Raptors going on a run in garbage time to make it look more respectable, outscoring the Nuggets 40-26 in the final frame.
Since then, however, the Raptors have gone through many changes, including promoting OG Anunoby to the starting lineup, and those changes paid dividends through most of the season. Since coming back from injury on March 16th, however, Anunoby hasn’t quite found his form yet, and the Raptors starters have been struggling again defensively, giving up huge first quarter totals to several recent opponents. As well, the bench hasn’t quite looked themselves. In particular, Jakob Poeltl had established himself as one of the best backup centers in the league in January and February, showing impressive defensive mobility and rim protection, but has looked a step slow in March. The second year center is the only Raptor to play in every game this season, and the hope within the team has to be that the upcoming rest will help him return to form for the postseason.
This game holds postseason implications for both teams, with Denver currently sitting in 9th in the West, but having the potential to get into the playoff race if they can win their games and get some help along the way, with a large group of teams with similar records at the bottom of the playoff race. Denver, however, plays all of their remaining games against playoff teams, and needs to find a way to beat good teams to get there, starting in Toronto. For the Raptors, they held a five-game lead in the East just a few days ago, but that lead has slipped to 3.5 games as Boston has been winning despite several key injuries, while the Raptors have dropped three games in their last five.
As much as the Raptors will be looking for a win, though, they also need to round into form for the postseason, with just eight games left. They’ll be looking for Serge Ibaka to show why they traded for him a year ago again in the playoffs, and after a tough couple weeks it would be good for the team to see him bring a strong game against Paul Millsap.
One of the most important battles to watch in this one will be on the wings, where the Raptors have been at times struggling to cover shooters, and Denver’s offense, built around Nikola Jokic’s passing ability, looks to find passing lanes and open shooters for him to take advantage of. On the other end, Jokic should have his hands full with Jonas Valanciunas, who has been having a great season and has hit a three in each of his last 3 games, scoring at least 15 points in those contests while playing no more than 21 minutes in any of them. The Raptors will also be looking to DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry to have strong outings, after both struggled on Sunday against the Clippers, each scoring just 11 points while combining for 7 turnovers.
Kitchener native Jamal Murray will also be playing just the second game of his NBA career in Toronto, after having gone 0-4 and scoring just 1 point in 11 minutes last year in the third game of his career. Averaging 16.6 points per game this year and shooting 38.5% from three point range, it’s a safe bet it’ll be a much better outing this time around.
The Raptors come into this game looking healthy, with C.J. Miles having made his return on Sunday against the Los Angeles Clippers. With three days off after this one prior to playing Boston, and another two days off after that game, the Raptors will have lots of rest ahead.
With the Celtics now just 3.5 back in the race for the first seed in the East, and two games remaining between the two teams, the Raptors have to string together a couple victories if they want to ensure that they remain in that top spot going into the playoffs. While Toronto is healthier than Boston, they also have a more difficult remaining schedule, with six of their last eight games being against playoff teams. The Raptors have lost three of their last five games, and their last three against likely playoff teams.
PG: Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Delon Wright
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell
SF: OG Anunoby, C.J. Miles, Malcolm Miller
PF: Serge Ibaka, Pascal Siakam
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Jakob Poeltl, Lucas Nogueira
Gary Harris remains out for this game, with the Nuggets hoping for him to return Friday. They’ll also be missing depth forward Tyler Lydon who recently had knee surgery.
The Nuggets played last night in Philadelphia, where they took a tough loss at the hands of the streaking Sixers. With the records being tight from 3rd to 10th in the West, the Nuggets need every win they can get if they hope to make the playoffs, and they’ll be coming in desperate for a victory in Toronto.
PG: Jamal Murray, Devin Harris
SG: Will Barton, Torrey Craig
SF: Wilson Chandler, Malik Beasley, Richard Jefferson
PF: Paul Millsap, Trey Lyles, Juan Hernangomez, Darrell Arthur
C: Nikola Jokic, Mason Plumlee
OUT: Gary Harris, Tyler Lydon
The Raptors are 9-point favorites with a 227 over-under.