The Denver Nuggets opened their season with 3 losses, but have righted the ship. Winners of 5 straight games, they visit Toronto for their first of six roadies in a row. The bizarre nature of the NBA playoff rules, and the weakness of the Eastern Conference, combine to find the Raps in fourth place by right of leading the dreadful Atlantic Division. The Nuggets are sixth in the much tougher West, despite their superior record.
Denver starters epitomize the league-wide trend towards small, quick lineups. Their tallest man is centre J.J. Hickson at 6’9″, but they outrebound their opponents. Ty Lawson, Denver’s blindingly fast point guard, is one of the few NBAers the Raps’ Kyle Lowry can look down on. Yet Lawson averages 20+ points and 8+ assists per game, numbers Lowry doesn’t approach. Kenneth (The Manimal) Faried plays like he’s on fire, and will drive the taller Raps crazy on the boards unless he’s aggressively boxed out.
Denver hasn’t dominated in its recent victories, and they give up a lot of points. Toronto can win this game if they:
- Slow the game down. I don’t like to see the Raps in the half-court set, as it too often degenerates into The Rudy Gay Show. However, the Raps can’t play run and gun with the Nuggets. Instead, Lowry needs to let the big men get down the floor and establish their positions.
- Get the ball inside. Jonas Valanciunas has more than enough offensive skill and strength to back down Hickson, and shoot over him. Coach Dwane Casey has had a quick hook with JV all season, but he will need to leave him in there against the smaller Nuggets. I’d like to see more inside-out play, with JV dishing to an open, and red-hot, DeMar DeRozan.
- Find a second-unit combination that actually functions. The Raps have been sabotaged all year by the failure of anyone (save Tyler Hansbrough, who should be starting in place of Amir Johnson) off the bench to offer consistent play. The Raps’ backup at point is D-Leaguer Dwight Buycks; the Nuggets counter with ageless Andre Miller, whom I’d be happy to see starting for the Raps. The Nuggets, who have cornered the market on tiny guards, are getting points from Nate Robinson when he’s been called upon, whereas D.J. Augustin has been all but useless. Can Landry Fields emerge from whatever funk he’s been in to contribute some rebounds and defense?
The Raps need a win before heading out on the road. However, the schedule maker has done them no favours here. The Nuggets average 104+ points per game, and that’s too much for the Raps’ unbalanced offense to overcome. Denver prevails 102-98.
We may see: NOT Kenneth Faried, who’s been battling a leg injury, and is listed as a game-time decision….more of Quincy Acy, who appears to be over his ankle sprain….Steve Novak, who should be able to find open space to bomb away.
Brian Boake is Senior Editor for Raptors Rapture. “Like” Raptors Rapture on Facebook and follow us on twitter @RaptorsRapture for all the latest news and updates about the best damn NBA team from Canada.
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