The Toronto Raptors
The Toronto Raptors are currently ranked first in the Eastern Conference with a record of 23-7. They are 3.5 games ahead of the Milwaukee Bucks and the Philadelphia 76ers who are aching to catch up with the streaking dinos.
After what was a worrying back-to-back loss streak against the Brooklyn Nets and the Milwaukee Bucks, the Toronto Raptors responded against the Los Angeles Clippers and NBA Champion Golden State Warriors with back-to-back blowouts in California without Kawhi Leonard in the lineup.
After two impressive wins against two strong Western Conference teams and without their own best player, the Toronto Raptors are surely riding a high. After taking on the Portland Trailblazers, the Raptors will surely want to avenge a loss to the Nuggets from earlier in the month.
The Denver Nuggets
The Denver Nuggets are currently ranked first in the Western Confernce with a record of 18-9. They are currently just 0.5 games ahead of the third place Oklahoma City and tied with Golden State in win percentage.
While the Nuggets lost two recent tight games against the Charlotte Hornets and the Atlanta Hawks, they redeemed themselves by taking on the always tough Memphis Grizzlies as center Nikola Jokic led the team in points, assists, and rebounds on the night.
The Nuggets will want this win for some clout via boxing logic, as they’ve already beaten the Raptors who have now defeated the Golden State Warriors twice in a season. With an earlier-season win over the Raptors, the Nuggets will be gunning for some league-wide respect in this matchup.
What’s at Stake?
Historically, the Denver Nuggets and the Toronto Raptors have not met many times in their brief history. In 45 regular season games, the Denver Nuggets lead the all-time series 27-18.
Should the Toronto Raptors win this game they would go up an additional game over the Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers, should either of them lose one on the way.
The Denver Nuggets will want this win to break the current tie between them and the Golden State Warriors and gain some ground in the incredibly tight Western Conference.
Questions to Answer
Has Fred Vanvleet been the real key to the Raptors success?
What can’t Nikola Jokic do?
We’re going to compare the Toronto Raptors and the Denver Nuggets in an attempt to see who has the edge in this match-up of the NBA’s top two teams.
Fred Vanvleet Brings Steadiness to Both Ends
A candidate for last year’s sixth man of the year award, Fred Vanvleet may be making a case for another run at the award this year. Once again, he’s only improved when he steps on to the court averaging career highs in points (9.3), assists (4.3), and minutes (24.3) while shooting 50% from the field.
While his shooting has only come around recently, still a 40% career three-point shooter, his contribution of note so far this season has been his defensive ability. Currently boasting a defensive rating of 102.7, he ranks above every other Raptors point guard in defensive rating while always being the smallest man on the court.
Should Vanvleet’s shooting climb back to its heights of previous season, and every indication points to it doing so, Vanvleet is going to be a force for the Raptors this season. After going down with injury pre-playoffs last season he wasn’t quite the same. This year, Vanvleet is showing he may not just be a valuable backup, but possibly the Raptors point guard of the future.
Nikola Jokic Can Do it All, and Possibly More
Nikola Jokic was the 41st pick in the 2014 NBA draft, that’s right he was chosen in the second-round. Touted as a talented, but an unfit and possibly lazy center, the Nuggets took a flier on the Serbian big and it’s been all rainbows since then.
In 2015 Jokic was to play third string to centers Jusuf Nurkic and Joffrey Lauvergne, both have now been disposed of by the Nuggets due to Jokic’s stellar rise. While his stats are actually down across the board, he’s made the choice to be an all-star level glue guy in order to help his team succeed.
On some nights Jokic will lead his team in scoring, others rebounding, most nights it’ll be assists. Whatever the Nuggets need, Jokic can and will do for them. On a team with trigger-happy guards—Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Isaiah Thomas, and now Nick Young—Jokic uses his tremendous adaptability to succeed in whatever area his team is short. Leading them to first in the Western Conference.
Denver Nuggets Roster Notes
F Paul Millsap is targeting a mid-January return from a foot injury that’s ailed him since early December.
G Gary Harris is expected to need three to four more weeks to recover from a hip injury.
G-F Will Barton is being re-evaluated weekly before he can return from a right hip injury.
F Jarred Vanderbilt is out indefinitely with a foot injury.
F Michael Porter Jr. is out indefinitely with a back injury.
G Isaiah Thomas is targeting a return this December from his hip injury.
Toronto Raptors Roster Notes
G-F Norman Powell is out with a shoulder injury and unlikely to play any part in the Raptors road trip.
F Kawhi Leonard did not play against the Warriors due to a hip injury and is listed as day-to-day.
C Jonas Valanciunas (dislocated finger) underwent surgery and will be reevaluated after four weeks in a cast.
F-C Chris Boucher (two-way) has been called up by the Toronto Raptors coming off a 47 point, 8 rebound, 9 block performance, in an attempt to shore up the Raptors frontcourt with Valanciunas out.
Next Man Up, Greg Monroe
The Toronto Raptors famously have a motto of “next man up”. When one is not performing to standard or out due to injury, the Toronto Raptors expect equal production from the next player to take his spot. In this situation it is Greg Monroe who will be taking the stage.
C Greg Monroe has only made thirteen appearances for the Toronto Raptors this season and most have either been due to injury trouble or from garbage time. He did however post a solid 17 point, 9 rebound performance in a loss to his former team the Detroit Pistons.
While his numbers this season won’t blow you away, Monroe holds career averages of 13.5 PPG and 8.5 RPG while shooting 52% from the field. Via the eye test, everything about Monroe suggests he can fill Valanciunas’ previous role while he’s going to be out. It’s now just a matter of time before we see if Moose is still a contributor in this league.
Jokic is Going to be Challenged
Unlike most teams in the NBA, the Toronto Raptors have not abandoned the inside game. If anything, they’ve merely tweaked it in order to suit their needs and the Toronto Raptors centers have benefitted. With Valanciunas and Ibaka averaging a combined 29.6 points and 14.7 rebounds per game while shooting 58% and 59% from the field respectively, there’s no rest for any NBA center.
While Valaciunas is out, Jokic will be challenge by a similar game in Greg Monroe. Jokic will have to deal with the agile threat of Serge Ibaka as well as the low-post arsenal of veteran Greg Monroe.
Don’t be surprised to see Nuggets coach Mike Malone use the agile Mason Plumlee more liberally in this match. Seeing as the Raptors love putting Jokic in the screen and roll, having a player like Plumlee who can more capably recover will be an asset.
Toronto Raptors at Denver Nuggets Predictions and Odds
The odds makers have the Toronto Raptors favoured over the Denver Nuggets by 2, with an over/under of 109.